Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



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.



August 2014

Camp Serenbe Cooking Class, Part 1: Kids, Knives and Simple Souffles

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IMG_0049 copyWhen my daughter Kara approached me about doing a farm-to-table cooking class for Camp Serenbe, I agreed. But not without some trepidation.

How was I going to occupy 14 hungry children, ages 8-13, for four days? And was I really going to give them knives?

I needn’t have worried. We had an absolute blast. They were all so well behaved and every time they cracked an egg or stirred a roux it was a new, exciting adventure. Plus, I can’t deny how good it felt to have all those adoring eyes looking at me like I was the most amazing chef ever.

IMG_0004By the end of the week, I wanted them to understand how to make a complete meal. The first day was about knife skills, so they picked basil and tomatoes at The Inn at Serenbe, then came back and chopped. We added some extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and made them into a beautiful uncooked tomato sauce.

On the second day, they went to Many Fold Farm, a nearby family-owned farm that produces organic eggs and fresh sheep cheeses. When they returned, we sat down with 15 dozen eggs and learned how to separate them. Once they mastered that, we whipped them up and added them to a cheese soufflé. People are mystified by soufflés, but nothing could be simpler. It’s much harder to get everyone to pronounce “croissant” correctly.

Stayed tuned for next week’s post about homemade blueberry cobbler and what we did with five quarts of fresh whipped cream.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

from Joy of Cooking

Makes enough for 1 pound of pasta

  •  5 large, ripe tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Drain the tomatoes in a colander for 20 minutes. Remove them to a large bowl and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Let stand for at least 30 minutes. Serve the sauce at room temperature. If serving over hot pasta, sprinkle each portion with 1 to 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.

Fannie Farmer’s Cheese Soufflé

  • 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 heat.

Beat the egg yolks until lemon-colored and add them to the mixture.

Beat the egg whites stiff, but not dry. Cool the mixture and fold in the egg whites.

Pour into a buttered 1 ½ quart mold and bake 30 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees



July 2014

Chow Bella! My Italian Dinner with Chef Chris Hastings

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Chris HastingsWhen chef Chris Hastings and I paired up on an auction item for the TumTum Tree Foundation—a non-profit that provides funds for children’s charities across Alabama—everyone assumed we’d do Southern food.

But we both cook Southern for a living and wanted to do something different. “What should we cook, Marie?” Chris asked. I said, “Let’s do Italian.”

It doesn’t exactly come out of left field: Before he opened Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris was the executive chef at Bottega, Frank Stitt’s iconic Italian restaurant in Birmingham.

Chris was all over it and I was just as excited, though we could’ve been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all I cared. I just adore Chris and, though we donated the dinner to the foundation, getting to hang out with him was like giving a gift to myself.

No assistants, no nothing—just me and Chris and a bunch of fantastic food in my kitchen. The guests—who also did an overnight stay at The Inn—hung out with us and we all sat down together to eat in my backyard.

We did two pastas: The tagliatelle with chanterelles and another with pesto, arugula and pistachios. We made salad with warm balsamic vinaigrette. Chris did an Alabama lamb with ratataouille, whole roasted gulf snapper with shrimp and a beautiful plum swirl sorbetto with biscotti.

But that’s not all. We started with a huge platter of Chris’ cured meats and this brushcetta with cheese from nearby Many Fold Farm. It’s savory, sweet and a simple way to start off any Italian dinner.



Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Honey
  • 8 pieces crusty bread, sliced ½-inch thick
  • 1 cup Brebis or soft mild goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • Honey
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ½ pounds onions, sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until the onions begin to soften, about five minutes.

Stir in the sugar and cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Toast bread over a wood fire or under a broiler. Pour a bit of the olive oil on each slice.

Spread cheese on slices, then spoon a bit of onions on each. Drizzle with honey. Garnish with edible flowers, if desired.



July 2014

How To Paint A Beautiful Salad

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Last week I wrote about the roasted pork I made for a cooking demonstration at our weekly Farmer’s and Artisan Market. You know, the one with the gorgeous and flavorful tomato, peach, Vidalia onion and mint mixture on top.

In that same demonstration, I also made a salad of mixed lettuces with oranges, fennel, mint, pistachios and orange balsamic vinaigrette. Many consider salads an afterthought—lettuce, tomato, dressing, blah, blah blah—but I think they allow for more creativity than any other part of the meal.

Not sold? Pick up a platter, Picasso. It’s time to paint.

Imagine your platter (or bowl) as a canvas. And think of your ingredients as the colors. Now compose the salad as you would a painting. This doesn’t mean that it has to be perfect or even beautiful; it just means make it whatever you want it to be.

When I do cooking demonstrations, I always talk about how important it is to have fun while you’re cooking and entertaining. Be
with your friends. Enjoy your family. Don’t get stuck in the kitchen trying to make perfect plates like you’re in a restaurant … because you’re not.

Don’t get me started.DSC_0327

My favorite part about salads is that there are no rules. No rules! Want to add nuts for texture? Fine. How about some seeds instead?
No problem. You can make it sweet and fruity, savory and salty or a combination of both. And it will be fabulous.

For this demonstration, I wanted something to complement the tomato, peach, onion and mint topping on the pork, and this salad did just that. I tossed it with a vinaigrette comprised of orange juice, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and kosher salt. Then, as artists do, I stood back to admire it and decided it needed one more thing: Edible nasturtiums. Perfection.

Mixed Lettuces with Oranges, Fennel, Mint, Pistachios and Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • 6 cups mixed lettuces
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, chopped
  • 6-8 nasturtium blossoms, optional
  • Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

In a bowl, combine vinegar and orange juice. Add in a slow, steady stream and whisking constantly, the olive oil. Once emulsified, taste to season with kosher salt. Set aside to assemble salad.

In a large bowl, place mixed greens. Pour desired amount of vinaigrette and toss gently to coat the leaves. Place on individual plates or on a lovely platter. Sprinkle the oranges, fennel, pistachios and pistachios on the lettuce. Garnish with nasturtiums and serve.



July 2014

Georgia On A Plate: Pork with Peaches and Tomatoes On Top

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When we moved to Serenbe full time, my youngest daughter, Quinn, was six years old and heading into first grade. One day, after picking her up from Woodward Academy, I saw a car with a Woodward license plate frame getting off at the Palmetto exit. I didn’t know anyone else in our area who sent their child to Woodward, so I followed the car and pulled up beside it at a stop.

The driver looked at me like I was crazy when I motioned to roll the window down. “Hi there,” I said. “Do you have a child at Woodward?” That’s the way I started a conversation with Sharon Thompson, whose daughter Olivia became Quinn’s lifelong best friend.

The Thompsons have lived in the Chattahoochee Hill Country for generations. They were pork farmers decades ago, then got out when big business took over the pork trade. Now that the tides have turned and heritage pigs are hot again, they’re back selling some of the best swine in the south as Double T Farms.

I used one of their beautiful Berkshire pork loins for a demo I did recently at the Serenbe Artists and Farmer’s Market. The dish—roasted pork with tomatoes, peach, Vidalia onion and mint—is a version of my recipe that appeared in the July issue of Atlanta magazine. They wanted me to use chicken because my family has been known for fried chicken for decades, so I did paillards because they’re so much easier for the home cook. But at the demo, I used pork because it’s delicious at room temperature.

I rubbed the pork with grapeseed oil, kosher salt and pink peppercorns because I thought black would be too strong and not marry well with the topping. For some reason, pork and peaches go well together, but I’d never tried peaches and tomatoes together. It worked beautifully—a make-ahead dish perfect for summer entertaining. You know what they say: What grows together goes together.

Roasted Pork with Tomato, Peach, Vidalia Onion and Mint topping
  • 1 three-pound boneless, center-cut pork loin
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pink peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 450. Rub the oil, salt and peppercorns evenly over the entire surface. Place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 150 to 155 degrees.

Remove to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 15 minutes. Skim off the fat in the roasting pan, leaving behind all the pan juices.

  • Tomato, peach, onion and mint topping
  • 2 cups heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium peach, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ cup diced Vidalia onion
  • 2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

Place tomato, peach, onion, mint, oil and orange juice in a bowl and toss together. Season to taste with salt, place on top of the pork and serve.