Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren

Yearly Archive: 2017



June 2017



Adios Serenbe: The Nygren Family Vacation Moves to Mexico

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


Before all the Nygrens — including two son-in-laws, one son-in-law to be and a baby, plus Michael and Randy, Garnie’s best friends from New York — departed for Riviera Maya, several neighbors jokingly asked, “Does that mean we get to go crazy? Put pink flamingos in our yards?” I was like, sure, do whatever you want. I’m headed to the beach. 

45B9AB01-5D74-42AE-8F54-B1BFFB5AA979It started as an idea last fall, when Garnie and Matt returned from their honeymoon in the part of the coastline that stretches past Cancun. We usually make the annual trek to Alys Beach as a family, but Garnie sold us all on the idea of having our own space in the same house plus someone to do all the cooking and cleaning. She found the house, made all the arrangements and all we had to do was sync 10 different schedules and show up. 

The water was beautiful — a lovely clear blue. And there were no waves because we were in a little cove, which was perfect for Amos’ first beach experience. We all vied for our time with him; he’s such a precious little squirt. The older boys would swim, snorkel, kayak or just hang out in that beautiful water, which was incredibly therapeutic. 

I took The Nightingale with me but never cracked it. I plucked Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy off18953492_10105187281338513_3013393460570680388_o the bookshelf in the house and loved its beautiful use of language and vocabulary. 

The only thing on our schedule was yoga at 8 a.m., thanks to a thoughtful gift from Randy and Michael. We’d all sit together either by the beach or pool — it was more about being together than interacting with each other. Then we’d head back to the house for meals.  

Modern Mexican is the hot new cuisine. The New York Times just devoted their food section to it. While we were there, René Redzepi, chef/co-owner of the infamous Noma in Copenhagen, did a pop-up in nearby Tulum, sourcing food — and even his dishware and utensils — from all over Mexico. I’d seen Andrea Reusing, chef/owner of Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, before the trip and she asked if I was going. Matt was intrigued, but it’d been sold out for months, even at $750 a head.  

Instead we had ceviche every day. Oh the beauty of fresh fish caught the day before and served with four different salsas, guacamole and fresh tortilla chips. It paired well with the juice water made with cucumber, lime and mint. Unlike the ceviche, it needs to steep for several hours.

Just like our family, it’s better if you let it sit for a while. 



Cucumber-Lime Agua

  • Adapted from Bon Appetit; makes 6 servings
  • 1 pound Persian or English hothouse cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar or agave
  • 10 large mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish

Puree cucumbers, ice, water, lime and sugar or agave with 10 mint leaves in blender. Strain. Fill 6 glasses with more ice, pour agua over. Garnish with additional mint sprigs. 

This can be made up to 6 hours ahead. Just cover and chill. 



June 2017



Organized Magic: Excitement Bubbles Up at Serenbe’s 12th annual May Day Festival

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

View More:

Twelve years ago, Serenbe hosted our first May Day with a few artisans, a handful of visitors and our fledgling community.

Earlier this month, our May Day festival was so massive the tents were erected on Friday for the Sunday event that the marketing team, including my daughter Quinn, had been planning for months in advance. They have it down to a science — everyone knows what their part is and the job gets done in a very organized, graceful style.View More:

Having all the logistics nailed down leaves room for magic to show up in many different ways, like the perfect 70-degree temperatures and blue skies with clouds like puffs of cotton. And the bubble blower, whose wheelbarrow was stacked with buckets of his very specific bubble mixture. He dipped his sticks in, waved them in the air and created beautiful bubbles children chased in the fields.

Food trucks and artisans does not a festival make. It’s the joy of being able to bring some of the city to the country. Reconnecting to the innocence of being out in nature. And people out fully enjoying the magic and beauty that is Serenbe.

View More:

View More:

View More:




May 2017



Books From Beyond: A Message From Mother Makes Sense Years Later

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


Mother died June 28, 1998 in the house we built for her.

In 2001, a woman named Sally came to work for our bed and breakfast as a part-time housekeeper. She’d been with us for several months when she came to me and said, “Your mother wants to talk to you.” And I said, “Excuse me?” Sally had never met my mother. She said she was hesitant to approach me because some people don’t believe in ghosts.

margaret+lupoBut I do.

Sally was incredibly sweet. In the old days we would’ve called her “touched.” She had no filter, which left her  open to communicate with the other side.

I told her I was curious so we went to Mother’s house. Sally pointed to a spot, said Mother was sitting there and described things she couldn’t have otherwise known.

Sally said, “Mrs. Lupo, I brought Marie.” Mother wouldn’t talk to Sally so she said, “I suppose you’re going to have to go.” Off I went.

Sally came to me later and said Mother wanted me to read the last book she read. Mother was an insomniac in her later years and a voracious reader. The woman went through five books a week.

I had no idea what Mother read last, so Sally and I went back to the house with a box and started pulling books off the shelf. As I touched them, I had a gut feeling about one, but sent it home with Sally in the box.

She brought it and another book back with her the next day: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and All We 662Hold Dear by Kathryn Lynn Davis. The latter is the story of a young girl who searches for answers to a family issue — something her mother had been unable to accomplish. I was dealing with family issues at the time as well, so it felt right.

But I didn’t understand why she included Atlas Shrugged. I knew Mom had loved it. And even though I don’t believe in all of Rand’s philosophies, I had read and enjoyed the book long before Sally brought it to me.

Several years later, I was recounting the story of Mother, Sally and the books at a dinner party at our house, which is now the private dining room at the Inn. I was chatting away, connecting the dots, then looked at Steve and gasped. It finally hit me.

Sally gave me the book in 2001, just one year after we did the initial plan for Serenbe.

Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s diatribe against labor unions and how they can destroy society. In the book, labor unions fight against corporate CEOs. One by one, the CEOs remove themselves from the fight and disappear.

But one CEO, a woman named Dagny, stays and fights because she believes in capitalism. Eventually she too gets on a plane and is taken to a valley in Colorado. And there are all the CEOs. They all realized they couldn’t continue to fight anymore so they allowed the labor unions to take over. They knew the unions would eventually fail and their services would be needed. When it was time to return, they’d go together.

What Mother wanted me to know is that Serenbe is a valley of its own. A place for people to retreat. And it makes so much sense because some of the first people to get what we were doing and join the community were CEO types and business owners. It didn’t make sense on paper, and many said we’d fail. But sometimes you have to leave what you know to find what you need.

2016-05-05 11.30.51



March 2017



On the Same Page Hills & Hamlets Bookshop Makes Two Dreams Come True

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


We traded city life for the country years ago and I’ve never regretted it for a second. But one of the things I’ve always missed is having a bookstore nearby.

Back when we lived in Atlanta, Steve and I had a Friday night ritual. We’d eat at Surin Thai, then head to the bookstore. For many years it was called the Oxford Bookshop, then it became Chapter 11. When we created Serenbe, we dreamed of having a bookstore in the community.

This is one time when reality is even better than the dream.

undergroundbooks4web1-1We heard about Josh Niesse and Megan Bell from AIR Serenbe’s executive director Brandon Hinman, who’d somehow gotten wind of our bookstore dream. They own Underground Books in Carrollton, about 35 minutes away near the University of West Georgia. It’s mostly used and rare books, with a huge online business.

At the time, the Textile Lofts were being built with three spaces on the ground level. One seemed perfect for a bookstore. Brandon connected Josh and Megan with Garnie and what began as a conversation is now Hills & Hamlets Bookshop.

This little jewel of a space — named for the Chattahoochee Hills and Serenbe’s hamlets — was designed by Peter Clemens, a Serenbe resident and retired set designer. Peter fell in love with Josh and Megan and their bookstore in Carrollton. He knew they were on a budget and stepped forward to help with design. He even built all the cabinetry.

It’s charming: They have a little tea station and chairs, plusH&H 2 rare books in the back against the wall. They have great speakers and several book clubs going. I could go on and on, but Josh’s vision is as beautiful as the shop itself. Here’s what he says:

“The best bookstores today (and ever, really) are about the experience of a bookstore. The magic, the serendipity, the sense of discovery, the creation of community and connection with other readers, book lovers, dreamers and thinkers.

This stands in sharp contrast to the frictionless, one-click online book buying, or sterile big-box retail, that has come to dominate the American bookselling landscape.

What Serenbe is to suburban sprawl a good indie bookstore is to Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Serenbe is the perfect place to find people who appreciate conscious cultivation of community and creative placemaking. From our first visit to Serenbe, we were on fire with a vision for a bookstore in this one-of-a-kind place and our conversations with residents just added fuel to that fire until Hills & Hamlets Bookshop took on a life of its own. “



March 2017



Raising the Char: Kevin Gillespie Reimagines His Least Favorite Childhood Foods

Written by , Posted in Southern Chef Series

View More:

When chef Kevin Gillespie talks about food, he does so passionately. And with a striking combination of respect and knowledge. That red-bearded neighbor of mine can make the most humble head of broccoli seem like an adventure.

So it’s hard to imagine that he was ever a little kid who sat at a dinner table, scowling at broccoli and beets.

View More: he was. To be fair, that broccoli was usually frozen, then microwaved, then covered in processed cheese food. And the beets were both canned and bland. But like so many of us, he grew up, experienced those same foods in new presentations and thought, so this is what it’s supposed to taste like.

At his most recent visit to the Serenbe Chefs Series, Kevin prepared a winter-centric menu including milk-braised pork shoulder, saffron risotto, roasted pears with honey mousse and this pickled beet and charred broccoli salad.

I adore Kevin. He is Southern to his core and as good a person as he is a chef. So in many respects, I’m biased. But this salad is genius in its combination of pickled and charred. It makes sense in the same way we put pickles on a grilled burger, but in a much lighter, brighter way.

Pickled Beet and Charred Broccoli Salad

  • Serves 4
  • 4 beets, baseball-sized, about 2 pounds
  • 1 ½ cups red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup pickling spice
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long
  • 1 pod star anise
  •  1 fist-size crown of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • ¼ cup (two ounces) fresh goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup frisée, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 fresh grinds black pepper
  • ¼ cup (two ounces) feta cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon pumpkin seed oil

Peel the beets, slice off the tops and roots, and cut the beets into 1-inch wedges.

In a medium, non-reactive saucepan, combine the red wine vinegar, sugar, pickling spice, cinnamon and star anise. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves, about two minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and let the spices steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the spices. Return the liquid to the pot, add the beets and bring to a boil over high heat. Cut the heat down so that the liquid simmers, and cook for 10 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and let the beets cool in the liquid; they will finish cooking as they cool.

Heat a medium cast-iron skillet over high heat until smoking hot. Drop half of the broccoli florets into the dry skillet, being careful not to crowd the pan. After about 30 seconds, toss the florets and continue tossing as they char and cook, about 2 ½ minutes total. The tender florets will char easily, which is good; you want that smoky flavor. Transfer the first batch to a plate and repeat with the remaining broccoli. Refrigerate the charred broccoli until read to serve.

In a small bowl, whisk the goat cheese, lemon juice, water and a large pinch of salt until smooth. In a separate bowl, toss the frisée with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Drain the beets and discard the pickling liquid. Place the beets in a third bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and 3 grinds of black pepper. In a fourth bowl, toss the chilled charred broccoli with the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 2 grinds of black pepper. Yes, I realize you’ve got four separate bowls; it’s imperative that the components stay separate until they are plated. You don’t want the ingredients to mingle because each item brings a specific flavor, texture and color to the final dish.

Divide the beets evenly among four plates. Top with the broccoli, the frisée and the crumbled feta. Drizzle on the goat cheese mixture and finish with a few drops of pumpkin seed oil around the outside of the plate.



February 2017



Second Helpings: When the Boys Commandeer the Kitchen

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

How is February almost over when just yesterday was Christmas dinner? 

IMG_0997Our tradition of sit-down Christmas dinners started in 1997, based on a suggestion — actually it was more of a command — by my dear friend Father Austin Ford. For years he hosted Christmas Eve dinner and thought it’d be nice to have Christmas Day dinner at our house. 

It’s not one of those things where you say, let me think about it. You say, yes sir, I will. And I’ve done it ever since. 

This year the boys took over and I was happy to step aside. Garnie’s husband Matt and his brother. Paddy, created the menu. Kara’s husband Micah and Quinn’s boyfriend, Lucas, who’s Matt’s childhood best friend and former roommate, helped with the dishes.

Homemade chicken liver pate. Little radishes with butter. Charcuterie. French onion soup. Salad with buttermilk vinaigrette. Prime rib. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower. Stuffed cabbage rolls. French mashed potatoes with lots of cheese. 

For dessert, Quinn and Steve made their traditional chocolate roulade. When the girls took French classes years ago, they made a chocolate roulade with Steve and took it to class at the end of the year. 

The boys made everything offsite and walked it over to my house. The only dirty thing in my kitchen was the dishes, which they washed at the Blue Eyed Daisy while I relaxed on the couch with a belly full of mashed potatoes.

French Mashed Potatoes with Cheese and Garlic (Aligot)

  • Serves 6
  • The finished potatoes should have a smooth and slightly elastic texture. White cheddar can be substituted for Gruyere. For richer, stretchier aligot, double the mozzarella. 
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4 to 6 medium), peeled, cut into ½-inch-thick slices,
  • rinsed well, and drained
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium garlic gloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1-1½ cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (see note)
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (see note)
  • Ground black pepper
  • Table salt

Place potatoes in large saucepan; add water to cover by 1 inch and add 1 tablespoon salt. Partially cover saucepan with lid and bring potatoes to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender and just break apart when poked with fork, 12-17 minutes. Drain potatoes and dry saucepan. 

Transfer potatoes to food processor; add butter, garlic and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Pulse until butter is melted and incorporated into potatoes, about ten 1-second pulses. Add 1 cup milk and continue to process until potatoes are smooth and creamy, about 20 seconds, scraping down sides halfway through. 

Return potato mixture to saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir in cheeses, 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Continue to cook potatoes, stirring vigorously, until cheese is fully melted and mixture is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. If mixture is difficult to stir and seems thick, stir in 2 tablespoons milk at a time (up to ½ cup) until potatoes are loose and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. 



January 2017



Winging It: Serenbe’s First Faerie Day

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

View More:

One Saturday back in October, I was browsing around the Farmers Market when one of the neighborhood girls came up to say hello. I’d just seen a booth full of faerie costumes and asked the little girl if she had one. She said no, so I suggested we go pick one out so her mother could buy it for her.

She was very onboard with that plan.
View More:
I have always been enamored of faeries and decided Serenbe could do better than a booth. So I declared the last day of the Farmers Market was going to be Faerie Day.

The faerie fascination struck me years ago when I saw a movie called FairyTale: A True Story about two girls in WWI England who photographed faeries and no one believed them. Then two men came forward to champion their cause. They weren’t believers at first, but they took the photos to an expert who said they had not been altered in any way. Those men were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

I love England’s love of faeries. It’s more than just faerie gardens: Every year, Oxford University gives out a Faerie Award. I just love that they do that.

On this side of the pond, Serenbe’s first Faerie Day was a success. I had the faerie lady from the farmers market make me a skirt out from strips of glittery material. I also had a wand, headpiece and big purple wings. I’m already planning a flowing robe for next year’s event.

View More:, adults and their inner children came out dressed as their favorite faerie. I learned that faeries are not just winged creatures; they’re also trolls, mermaids, elves and such. There are sub-sets in the faerie world. Who knew?

We made faerie charms, I read a faerie book and the otherworldly dance experience glo performed and formed a fairy circle with the children. The Blue Eyed Daisy had faerie cupcakes. We showed Fairy Tale at the Inn. And then there was a unicorn.

Of course there was a unicorn.

Sandy Sue, one of the horses at Serenbe Stables, was a perfect fit with her gorgeous white coat. We adorned her with a horn and she was resplendent.