Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



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.



May 2016

Ramen and Women: My Mother’s Day Meal

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As April became May, Kara asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I thought about it for a little while, then replied, “Why don’t’ y’all cook for Mama?”

I could already see the wheels spinning in her head.

On Mother’s Day morning, Steve and I flew back to Atlanta from an Urban Land Planning Institute meeting in New York. After we got unpacked and settled in, we sat down to a gorgeous table full of flowers brought by Quinn and her boyfriend, Lucas.

My family knows how much I love Asian food, so Garnie’s boyfriend Matt and his brother Paddy spent hours creating homemade spring rolls, dumplings, steamed buns and chicken and pork ramen in a delicious broth with egg, cilantro and scallions.


Kara and Micah brought dessert. Micah picked fresh mint from the Inn and made brownies with a cream cheese topping full of fresh mint and crushed Thin Mint cookies. He even arranged them into an M on the platter.

And Michael, Garnie’s best friend from college, brought a homemade card. Steve and I call him our bonus child.

At one point, I looked around the table at everyone talking, eating, sharing and loving each other. The meal was wonderful, but that’s the real gift right there. When all my babies are around me, every day is Mother’s Day.



May 2016

Quail Eggs In the Suitcase: Dinner With David Sheppard

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tableIn the weeks following Kara and Micah’s wedding in September, many guests reached out to say how touched they were by the beauty and tenderness they experienced over the weekend. We received calls, emails, hand-written notes and one very special promise.

David Sheppard, Kara’s godfather and one of Steve’s oldest friends, went so far as to say it was one of the most beautiful moments of his life. When he lived in Atlanta, David was an interior designer and theater producer who created one of the city’s original cabarets, the Manhattan Yellow Pages. He moved to New York City, spent years as the executive director of DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) and retired to Margaretville, New York. After the wedding, David called and said he wanted to host a dinner party for the family at Serenbe as a way of showing his gratitude.

I’ve never had anyone show up at my house from another state with a suitcase full of food, placemats, napkins, menu cards and vases, but David had that plus a vision and a plan. For weeks he’d been sending me photos of bowls and platters, asking me if I had them in a certain size. He arrived on a Wednesday, started prepping on Thursday and was in full-on meal mode on Friday.

In the hours before the dinner, David was feeling the hostess heat. I assured him all would be well and arranged for him to have help so he could enjoy what he’d worked so hard to create. He’d never had help before and it changed everything for the better. I doubt he’ll ever host another dinner party without it again.

He started with roasted pumpkin seeds for nibbling, then did an amuse bouche of crostini with blue cheese spread, a great relish with collard greens and a quail egg. I had no idea you could get hard-boiled quail eggs in a can. Next course was carrot and crystallized ginger soup, then duck tenderloin with roasted asparagus and parmesan and mashed celery root sweet potatoes. For dessert he made almond cakes baked in crème brulee cups and topped with fresh blueberries.

Having David here with us was a treat. Having him cook for us was nourishment on another level. Something special always happens when friendship and food cross paths.

Davids dinner grouping



May 2016

Hogging The Spotlight: Matt’s Pop-Up, Pork-Filled Dinner

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IMG_0703Most people celebrate spring by changing out closets, putting a fresh wreath on their door or just standing in the sunshine and taking a moment to be grateful for all the new sights and smells.

Serenbe Foods chef-in-residence Matt Adolfi celebrates spring by breaking down a 300-pound pig from Double T Farms with his brother, Paddy, and throwing a pop-up dinner for 35.

The plan was to host it in my backyard, but as the date got closer, the weather got colder. So we did cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at my house and dinner at the Daisy.

Michael Taylor, Garnie’s best friend from college who lives out his dream of owning a restaurant by planning these dinners, asked what we could do to make the Daisy look like less of a sandwich shop. So I did a little pruning at the Inn’s gardens the morning of the event and filled up the back of the Gator with tall viburnum branches and some very petite roses. Back at the Daisy, I worked some flower and candle magic — even though it’s not my forte — while Matt and Paddy worked their food magic in the kitchen.

A few hours later, guests had pate and chorizo plus fried pork belly with tomato jam and pickled okra served in metal Japanese soup spoons, which was my favorite bite of the night. After we’d picked the big, beautiful wooden serving boards clean, we walked across the street to the Daisy, which felt transformed into a bistro. Matt’s menu combined the best of our local farmers and artisans:

  • Cured North Georgia trout
  • Beet root, buttermilk, rye 
  • Braised Many Fold Farm lamb shoulder
  • Brebis agnolotti, oyster mushrooms, English peas, fennel lamb consommé
  • Double T Farm slow-roasted porchetta
  • Potatoes boulangere, roasted asparagus with Serenbe Farm egg emulsion, thyme onion rolls
  • Many Fold Farm Garrett’s Ferry
  • Kumquat marmalade, funnel sultana crisp
  • Crepe cake with Georgia strawberry preserves
  • Chevre & pine nuts

As if that wasn’t enough, Matt always sends guests off with a takeaway and this time he did chocolate meringues — chewy chocolate cookies with chunks of chocolate inside, packaged beautifully in cellophane with a tiny pin and Serenbe Foods tag. Even if he’d shoved them in a Ziplock bag, they would’ve flown out the door. They are oh-my-God good.

Chocolate Meringue Cookies

  • Makes approximately 24 cookies
  • 9 oz. egg whites (by weight) at room temperature
  • Dash of cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons dutch cocoa powder
  • 18 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ cup roughly chopped toasted walnuts
  1. In a Kitchen-Aid mixing bowl, beat egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Be careful not to over whip — it should be glossy with soft peaks.
  1. Slowly add granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until add is incorporated.
  1. Remove mixer from stand and fold by hand the cocoa, chocolate and walnuts into the meringue.
  1. Using a 70# scoop, place scoops of meringue onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  1. Bake at 275 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes, rotating once after half of baking time. Cookies are done when they lift off the paper. Cook completely uncovered and store in an airtight container.



April 2016

Fair Weather Friends: Serenbe Playhouse’s ‘Carousel’ Was the Wheel Deal

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How do you improve on Carousel, one of the most beloved musicals in American history? If you’re Brian Clowdus, founder and executive/artistic director of Serenbe Playhouse, you put a stage in a field, surround it with a fully operational carousel, ferris wheel and fair games and sell out every seat for every show.

When Brian first came up with the concept, he called numerous carousel operators around the country, asking them to build a fair in our field and run it during the three-week span of the show. Everyone said no, but he kept dialing. He was down to his last potential vendor but refused to give up. He picked up the phone, explained the project for the millionth time and the man said, “Sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it.”

It was pure magic. There were kiddie games with prizes, one of those strongman games with the mallet and bell, beautiful county fair signage and strung lights all around. While the play was in progress, the ferris wheel would start up and go round and round.

Steve and I took family and friends to see it on a Thursday night. During the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the rain — which wasn’t supposed to come until much later — started to fall while they were singing these lyrics:

When you walk through a storm

Hold your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm 

There’s a golden sky 

And the sweet silver song of the lark

Some people got up, but the actors stayed, so we stayed. The rain only lasted for a couple minutes and felt like it was part of the play. Some magic just can’t be planned.

Brian’s next adventure is bringing Charlotte’s Web to Serenbe Farm, complete with live animals. Reserve your tickets for the May 27-July 31 run of the show here.



April 2016

Basket Case: Hunting Down The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

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On the surface, community Easter egg hunts seem like an easy thing to organize: Put someone in a bunny costume and a bunch of plastic eggs in a field and let the kids do their thing, right? Not so much.

The annual Serenbe Easter Egg Hunt has been a work in progress since it began in 2010 — each year we have made wonderful memories, but also a few logistical mistakes. This year Garnie had the most brilliant idea in the history of Serenbe Easter Egg Hunts: put Kara in charge of it.

Kara is the queen of lists: Nothing makes her happier than organizing something. Back when the girls wereView More: in high school, we’d host pre-prom dinners in the backyard for 55 people — they’d organize; I’d cook. When Kara was a senior, she decided we could pull off double that amount. I decided to hire a caterer. She hired two buses and organized it to perfection. We set up a buffet on the Hawthorne patio and I have the best picture of her, clipboard in one hand, fork in the other, eating directly from the buffet because she didn’t have time to sit.

But it was brilliant. And it was fun. That’s our Kara.

Before she moved home from Seattle, Kara contacted all 20 counselors from Camp Serenbe to help out with the event. They distributed 8,000 plastic eggs — yes, you read that right — and navigated all four age groups of kids through their designated hunt times. If the counselors were lucky, they got to hold one of the five battery-operated bullhorns Kara purchased so everyone could hear the announcements.

She had three face painters, two balloon artists and envelopes with tickets and wristbands for everyone who pre-registered online. She even had Easter baskets available for purchase in case someone forgot theirs or didn’t have time to pick one up the week before. When parents arrived, they got their envelope and hopped off to have fun.

View More: though the weather was gray, it all worked out perfectly. We had 800 people here that day, 350 of whom were children, and it never felt like chaos. Parents were happy, children were happy and we even got to take advantage of the set from Serenbe Playhouse’s production of Carousel, which was surrounded by real fair rides and games.

And what would a Serenbe event be without food? The Inn did a locally made bratwurst from local Double T Farms with chips and a drink and The Children’s House, the Montessori school in the community, did an old-fashioned bake sale table. Steve and I bought lots of goodies, but my favorite was the chocolate chip cookie. They were absolutely delicious, so I reached out to the daughter of the woman who made them to see if she’d share the recipe. I got this in response:

“I have bad news (maybe).” She said she just followed the recipe on the back of the Yellow Bag (aka Nestle Toll House Morsels). She likes to cook them a little longer so they get nice and crispy.

“It makes me feel better knowing that even Alton Brown wouldn’t do a show on chocolate chip cookies because he said the Yellow Bag recipe can’t be improved.”

Nestle Toll House Cookies

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-ounce package) Nestle Toll House semi-sweet morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9-11 minutes (or longer, for crispier cookies) until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.



April 2016

Man of His Word: Give and Give with Poet Anis Mojgani

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photo by Carra Sykes from

photo by Carra Sykes from

The first visiting artist to stay in Serenbe’s new Rural Studio cottages was spoken word poet Anis Mojgani.  Also a visual artist and musician, Anis lives in Portland, Oregon, was born and raised in New Orleans and graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) here in Georgia.

He’s been on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and has toured for years doing poetry slams and performances all over the world. He’s published three collections of poetry — Songs From Under the River, The Feather Room and Over the Anvil We Stretch. The month he spent at Serenbe was focused on a children’s book.

“I have a batch of picturebook ideas and stories for young readers that I’ve been thinking on and developing for a few years now,” Anis said. “So I came with those, to see which of them bubbled most to 12383462_1665646870389533_1482272687_nthe top to ask for time and attention while at Serenbe. Of those, there are three I mostly worked on, shaping and fine-tuning the actual story of them, and putting down on paper the visual storytelling of them.”

On one of his last nights here, Anis shared some of his poetry with us around a bonfire at the Art Farm. One of his newer pieces about beauty really struck me. Anis is the poetry: He’s one of those artists that fully embodies their work.

Steve and I soaked it all in, then looked at one another in disbelief that an artist of this talent and caliber had come to gain inspiration from what we’ve created. I’m not going to say it’s a give and take — it’s a give and give.



March 2016

Batter Up: Making Scratch Pancakes For The Home Team

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12771845_10103794972830923_3553577696846724648_oThe last little chick is officially back in the nest.

Kara and Micah packed up and left Seattle a few weeks ago, starting a glorious cross-country trip that ended at their new home in Serenbe.

They texted gorgeous pictures from Zion National Park in Utah, where Kara hiked five miles in her fifth month of pregnancy. They explored Santa Fe and crossed paths in Texas with Micah’s mother, Kristen, who was on her way to Joshua Tree. Kara reconnected with a sorority sister in Austin then they drove to New Orleans where they had beignets at Café du Monde, a muffaletta at Central Grocery and a fantastic meal at Peche.

After they arrived at Serenbe, Micah looked around and said, “This isn’t a visit. We’re actually going to live here.” They have a house in the Grange hamlet.

Steve and I decided that, now that all three girls are home, we’ll start having family dinner every Sunday night. Since Gerry Klaskala was here for the Southern Chefs Series on the first Sunday night after Kara and Micah’s arrival, I did a family breakfast instead. Ever since they started having sleepovers, the girls have loved a pancake breakfast. It was the one time Steve got in the kitchen.

I cracked open my 1956 edition of Joy of Cooking and flipped to my favorite pancake recipe. What makes IMG_5510it special is that you separate the eggs and whip the egg whites to make a better batter. After everything’s been sifted and whipped, all you need is a hot griddle — I prefer a cast-iron skillet — maple syrup and good butter.

We are complete now. People ask me all the time: How did you get all your kids to come home? And I usually say with a smile: You build a town and your kids might want to live there, too.

In all seriousness, the girls generally do like to hang out with us and it’s ultimately the most gratifying thing in the world that they want to live and work here.

Of course, the little boy in ever-growing belly makes it all the more special. Steve and I just look at one another and say, oh my God, we’re going to be grandparents. Every chance I get, I lean down and say, hello baby boy. I want him to know my voice.

And soon enough, there’ll be a brand new chick in the nest.

Pancakes, Griddle or Batter Cakes

  • Courtesy of Joy of Cooking, circa 1956
  • Makes about 14 four-inch cakes 
  • Sift before measuring:
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • Resift with:
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  •  Beat lightly:
  • 1 or 2 eggs

When using 2 eggs, you may separate them. Add the yolks to the milk mixture. Beat the whites until stiff, but not dry and fold them lightly into the blended batter, after adding the milk and butter.

  • Add:
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 to 1 ¼ cups milk