Now that the dust has settled on Restaurant Week, I am cracking my knuckles and buckling down to share my favorite special. First, let me share that I am not, in fact, a BBQ connoisseur, but my proud Southern heritage defaults me to a position of expertise by the simple fact that BBQ, friends, has always been a staple of the human diet as far as I know. That smokey, tender meat harkens to our anthropological origins.
Ribs are not a dish I cook. Can one even say they “cook” ribs? Ribs are not a dish I feel I have the skill to cook. I rely on local experts to take care of my rib cravings. I made the mistake a few times of ordering ribs from mega chains only to be confused by the entire fix. Really, one should leave it to the experts. FloBama (downtown Florence) has mastered the rib.
A peppery and deep dry rub saturated the outside of the ribs and rendered its own smoked quality to the flavor of the ribs. As soon as I picked up the rib and gave it a slight tug, the meat peeled right of the bone with ease. Tender. So tender. And perfect with FloBama’s house BBQ sauce. FloBama’s sauce is kind of like a mix of a Carolina vinegar-based sauce and a Texas spicy and sweet sauce. It is a complex and balanced sauce that is great on everything. So, I did get a gift card from Florence Main street to try this so I am being upfront, but SERIOUSLY this is the best BBQ rib I have ever had. Real deal.
Now, those chicken wings are something else too. They aren’t your Buffalo Wild Wings, northern-style chicken wing. They are also rubbed, smoked, tender, loving, and deep with flavor all the way through. White sauce is a must on these. Have you tried the white BBQ sauce at FloBama? Most folks have and just love the creamy, peppery heat. So if you aren’t most folks, put it on the bucket list.
Sides…eh…I don’t care really. They are just kind of empty calories to me here. Baked beans were fine. Slaw is good! Fries are nicely crisp. The bread is just there to cool off your tongue from all that BBQ sauce.
My kids really loved it too. They have baked potatoes and chicken fingers so, of course, they loved it. Tip for families, go during lunch. It is slow at FloBama during lunch since it is primarily known for its night life. It has a large bar and stage for live music. I hear there is a family karaoke night. That would be a hoot (if we could all manage to stay awake).
The staff is so friendly too. We had great service with a smile. And that really makes a difference when you are a party of six!
My friend Jennifer drops by to buy the FloBama BBQ sauce by the bottle. That is not a bad idea. I think I will be doing the same now.
Florence Restaurant Week officially starts May 8, but we had a great time getting it kicked off at Singin’ River Brewery last night. In case Restaurant Week is a bit of a mystery to you, let me break it down.
1. Participating Restaurants have partnered with Florence Main Street to promote community charities by encouraging their patrons to VOTE for a favorite charity on the ballot at the end of each meal.
2. The charity on the ballot with the most votes at the end of the week will get $5,000 from McDaniel Window and Door.
3. The Restaurant voted most popular by diners on Florence Main Street’s online poll will be presented with a special FRW Award. (a.k.a. STREET CRED)
4. Food Bloggers are here to help walk you through this entire week of fabulous food and keep you FOCUSED on the task at hand. Which is EAT. VOTE. REPEAT.
Here’s my photo album of the Kick-Off. I am absolutely ashamed to say I forgot to photograph the venue, Singin’ River Brewery. It is an absolutely lovely, funky place where all the cool kids hang out. Booths were set up around the parking lot and brewery. Charities and participating restaurants were there to answer questions and chat with anyone wanting to know their business.
Oh, yeah, there was FOOD there too! Lots of it. Just take a gander.
Participating Restaurant are as follows. Follow them on our foodie blogs this week and on social media.
The Jealous Crumpet from Huntsville and Friday Date Night from Atlanta are covering restaurant favorites as well. Like, seriously, it is fun. Just read. You know these hard working folks making all this food. Read what these tourists have to say about your home-town.
I am sure I have more to say about FRW like use hashtags or something, but all that will come. I can only do so much at a time. For now just remember to EAT. VOTE. REPEAT.
It’s been too long dear blog of mine. After getting a full-time job, I’ve had less time to waste on the things I do in my own time, alone, for fun. But I have a little time to be silly tonight after reaching the shining achievement of weening my last child. It’s been a long road. A decade of nursing and/or pregnancy.
And this fact actually has a lot to do with why I happened to make the sweet mess Daniel Tiger cake seen here.
Margie turned two. I work full time. She stays with a beautiful configuration of friends and family throughout the week, and I feel I must try even harder to let myself break even. It was 9 p.m. the night before her birthday when I got up to frost the mommy-scratch cake. While I was melting chocolate chips and shaping Mamba candies into eyeballs, I started thinking about why I even do this. I order birthday cakes all the time. (We’ve given like 23 birthday parties by now.) And for sure, it makes me feel less guilty. It makes me feel like I REMEMBER how to do this. I guess I do it, because I GET to do it. I knew if I didn’t stop and do something for this birthday it would come and go and be gone, forever.
So it wasn’t to be healthy (Lord, that it was not!) or to be scratchy. It was just to be present. That sweet mess was therapy that night. And I find when I need to come home to something…when I need to be present…I do best making something for people I love(not so much cleaning, wish cleaning did the trick).
Now to the juice! Anyone remember that scene from Encino Man where they drink out of the slushy machines at the gas station and the clerk tells them, “No wheezing the juice!”? They, of course, have to pay. (If you haven’t seen this, just google the phrase.)
So today I juiced a giant bag of carrots with my son. Because we can. Because we get to. Because I need to REMEMBER how to do it and teach my kids that, you know, things come from things and work happens to make a thing.
I didn’t take any photos today, so I’ve worked up a little sketch for the events as they transpired.
Here we are. (My waist is totally this size!)
It was a giant mess. And that, too, was a thing we made. After we got everything cleaned up we had an orange quart mason jar full of carrot juice for smoothies. Yay, us. We paid the price, now we wheeze the juice.
I thought of the birthday cake,too. We make messes when we do it ourselves, and the pay off doesn’t seem to happen right away. It isn’t until I see the baby demolish that cake or take a big sip of carrot that I’m proud of this little contribution to world happiness. But there is so much damn joy in it. Such joy in knowing I did it. I made it. I didn’t have to. I did it, on purpose.
Now that I am on to a new stage in my life as a mother I am feeling content knowing I only have to try. Sometimes I am too tired. “I am sorry, I can not carry you up the stairs sweet 7-year-old.” Sometimes I am too busy. “I am sorry you were the LAST kid in carline AGAIN!” As long as they see I am trying, then maybe they will know that is all they have to do. We aren’t going to be perfect, ever. But we will walk in grace with each other and have fun making messes along the way.
I just thought I would kick this pumpkin post off with this macabre little nursery rhyme.
Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
Had a wife but could not keep her
He hid her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
I know! Crazy, right? I had a book with this poem in it as a small child. Well, that’s enough speculation into Peter’s motives and murderous tendencies. Let’s talk about roasting pumpkin.
I feel terrible that I have never actually cooked anything from fresh pumpkin aside from seeds for granola. I thought I would give it a try, but it is quite intimidating. Pumpkins are large. They are hard. They are messy.
They also have so much more pumpkin in them than does a can of pumpkin. The flavor is so bright as well. Farmer Steve of Jack-O-Lantern Farm (perfect) gave me some tips on how to cook one of his peanut pumpkins. He recommended one of these to me because of their flavor and thick meaty insides. It was $5 for a medium.
So I am going to shoot it to you as straight as he did.
All you do is wash it. Cut it up in wedges and get rid of the stem and hard center on the bottom. Gut all the strings and seeds out of it. Wipe the bottom of a cookie sheet with oil. Wipe the outside of the skin with oil. Lay the pieces on the cookie sheet meat side down. Cook them at 400 degrees until they are tender.
Pretty easy. Here’s the photo instructions.
We cut the pumpkin in half after we wiped it down.
I made a pumpkin soup that night.
This was really easy as well. I simply heated 2 cloves of garlic and a small red onion until soft. Then added 3 cups of puree and 4 cups of chicken broth. I turned the heat up to boiling and added some peppercorns, a pinch of salt, and some thyme. After it reached a full boil I turned it down to simmer for about 20 minutes. I pureed the soup in small batches to get the onion and garlic as smooth as possible. Maybe take the peppercorns out at this point. Mine didn’t process very well. Then I added some cream (really it was milk but certainly add as much fat as you would like).
Now, my friend Laura tops her with bacon because she is pro like that. Brilliant!
I’ve been thinking about farming a lot lately. In my youth I was never even remotely interested in raising food or (more frankly) ANIMALS. But there is an element to my soul that is begging to get to know the earth more intimately. Even the thought of raising my own meat doesn’t terrify me the way it used to. In fact, it almost makes me envious of those who participate in the grand sacrament-like process of raising food. The deliberate, thoughtful kind of food. The kind of food that revolves around the seasons and the gratitude of the planter. The food you know is nutrient dense and maybe even happy.
My grandfather was a farmer. When I am on a farm, I feel a connection to him that only tangible sensations can conjure. Buzzing bees, musky tomato vines, the heft of a basket of picked vegetables, grunting pigs, and flapping chickens are just sweet little bits of life Liz and Collins Davis experience every day. I couldn’t help but cry a little being at Bluewater Creek Farm, and thinking of my grandfather.
Collins and Liz Davis moved from Northern California to take Liz’s parents up on an offer to partner on a sustainable farm. Collins studied horticulture at Auburn. He managed an urban farm in Atlanta and his own farm in California before moving to Killen to start up Bluewater Creek Farm. Liz is a registered nurse and nutritional therapist who worked at Stanford Hospital before settling in at Full Life Wellness Center and Women’s Care in Florence. Both are extremely passionate about the food they consume and educating the masses. Abby, their two year old, is growing and exploring new things every day. They are a beautiful family.
The farm sits on an old cutting horse training facility. Collins and Liz have arranged the farm in a way that encourages self sustaining practices. Along the outside of the barn is a row of bee towers. When their first honey came in this year, they discovered it was one of the highest grades of honey because of it’s clarity and pesticide free environment.
Inside the cutting horse arena, they have set up a series of irrigated raised beds. These beds are full of their own compost and thriving vegetables. They even had some of their produce at Oddette this year. There are beds reserved for the upcoming winter gardens they will plant as well. Because of the large wall surrounding the arena, all the vegetables are protected from wildlife. Though, the bees were helping themselves to luscious flowering cucumber vines.
Outside the garden arena is the cutest little cabin. Liz has it set up as a guest house or a getting-ready room for wedding parties. They hosted their first wedding this summer. The barn is an absolutely beautiful setting for a reception. A ceremony on the creek can’t be beat either.
There are a couple varieties of heritage breed pigs on the farm. The Ossabaw Island variety was my kids’ favorite because she was long-haired. The American Guinea hogs were insanely cute though. Cute lard. I learned that the lard from the guinea hog actually one-ups olive oil. Because the smoking point of this piggy’s lard is much higher than olive oil, it is actually a healthy option for cooking.
The farm is sectioned off into separate paddocks. The cattle graze on the immense variety of grasses. Then they move along. Then the chickens move in to spread the manure and eat the larva and bugs. Then the grass has a period of time to regrow. There is a continual cycle to moving the livestock and regrowing their nutrients.
Anyone can notice almost immediately that IT DOES NOT SMELL. This is the only farm I have ever been to in my entire life that does not smell or have flies swarming around. It is because Collins just happens to know how to keep the ecosystem running smoothly.
It really is worth the trip out to the farm to witness the serene setting and chat with Liz and Collins about farming and nutrition. They are so generous with their knowledge and encourage everyone to spark an interest in their food system. We talked for hours about farming, butchering, groceries, health care, and child rearing.
I learned so much from the Davis family. I know I will be going back many times to explore and learn more. They are a new resource for our community and I am excited to support them. They have an Open Farm Weekend coming up actually. You can visit them the weekend of September 13 & 14. Take a tour, ask questions, fall in love with those little pigs and the Davis family!
Most people like to eat food. Our memories are embedded with smells, sights, and flavors that make up the stories of our lives. In fact, when I think of the word ‘culture’ I think of two things art and food. Both express the way we think of ourselves, nurture ourselves, seek pleasure, and search for the divine.
I remember when I first moved out of state for the first time I wanted to eat at McDonald’s all the time. I wanted to eat there because a burger at McDonald’s in Alabama tasted the same as a burger in Washington State. It was something I could count on being the same. But something DID change. I changed. When every meal was presented like a present, wrapped in paper, placed in boxes, I became increasingly aware of my role as a consumer. I realized the food from this chain tastes the same everywhere because it is not alive. It is, in fact, a product. There is no love in its preparation, compassion, conscientiousness, or even nutrition. I found myself wanting my grandmother’s food so badly, food I saw come out of the dirt.
The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.
Friday, I attended the SFA’s piggy bank dinner hosted by Natalie Chanin (of Alabama Chanin) at The Factory with featured chef Vivian Howard (of The Chef & The Farmer). This fund-raiser meal was such a treat to me (a birthday gift actually) because I was excited to see the faces interested in preserving Southern food culture. I got to listen to local farmers talk about food and local talkers talk about farming while eating the very best food in the South that night (seriously, no, I don’t care what you ate Friday, my dinner was better).
Why Vivian Howard?
Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight opened a farm to table restaurant called Chef & The Farmer in Kinston, NC after having successful careers in New York. Vivian came back to her home town and educated the locals on food while the locals educated her on farming. She and Ben also had twins during the process. This all plays out in the PBS series “A Chef’s Life”.
Pretty much, Vivian Howard gives a damn. She gives a damn how the food she serves is raised, prepared, cooked, presented, eaten, enjoyed, and thought about. She gives a damn about her community’s food culture and wants to suck up as much knowledge as she can about where their food comes from and how to make it. She gives a damn about the farmers that work hard every single day to feed a community as well as their families.
She has, with her own hands, butchered whole animals to use from snout to tail in her restaurant. She speaks with a tone of reverence and authority over the food she creates. And basically she is a food medium. She is confident, yet humble and puts us all into a place where we can visualize the care taken to prepare what we put in our mouths.
This farm to table dinner celebrated local farms and Southern food culture by bringing together the summer bounty into one meal among a diverse community of eaters.
Cocktails: Cucumber Limeade sponsored by Cathead Vodka
Cherokee Purple Tomato Toasts with Smoked Corn Mayo and Pickled Red Onion
Corn on the Cob with Citrus, Herbs and Pecorino Romano
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Cuvée Harmonie” (sponsored by Grassroots Wine)
I was so excited to see these little tomato toasts. Just the night before I had made some for all of us. The pickled red onion added another layer of great flavor! This was also my first time to have MINT on corn. Loved it!
Country wrapped Peaches with Gingered Goat Cheese, Spiced Pecans and Balsamic Vinegar
Charred and Pickled Pattypan Squash with Basil Pesto, Fresh Mozzarella and Stewed Tomatoes
Unfortunately, I did not get to taste the peaches in the second course since the plate didn’t make it to our end of the table. Next time I will sit at the end closest to the kitchen for sure. But the squash here was amazing! I will definitely be trying a version of this in my kitchen soon. The cheese and pesto with squash was so bold and warm!
Blueberry BBQ chicken with Squash and Fontina Casserole and Cucumber and Speckled Butterbean Salad (Chicken by White Oak Pastures)
Broc Cellar Valdiguié (Grassroots Wine)
The fontina casserole was a completely new experience to me. It was perfect for both the chicken and the butterbean salad. This wine was my favorite as well. It really went nicely with the cheese and the chicken. This blueberry glaze on the chicken was so fruity and bold! It was a new BBQ chicken experience. It is hard to make BBQ different. This was great!
Coconut Cheesecake Pudding, Graham Crackers, Ginger Infused Melons and Macadamia Benne Seed Granola
Louis de Grennelle Sammur Brut Rose “Corail” NV
Comments at my table were “WOW” “YUMMY” and “If breakfast was a dessert.” I will leave it there.
As I finished my dessert, I was thinking about all the lovely people I was with (including my precious husband who experienced it all with me). I sat with dear friends and met new ones. And that made my heart full as well as my stomach. I think SFA’s dinner achieved its goal here. Best birthday gift ever!
Consider going to one of SFA’s dinners. There are more planned for the future at The Factory. The next one features Ashley Christensen. This organization is a much needed refreshment in our fast food culture.
Lots of delicious summer harvest is coming in right now. Tomatoes, tomatillos, peaches, peppers, onions are all covering our countertops. Today, to use up some of the perfectly ripe gems, we are making 3 salsa dips. Well, one is actually a guacamole, but doesn’t Salsa Saturday sound fun?
I found these beautiful purple tomatillos out at the JOL farm shop the other day. They were so cute, I couldn’t help but get them! So I thought of a yummy salsa verde! Only I guess it would be SALSA MORADO.
After washing these cuties, I cut them in quarters and put them in the food processor with a quartered medium home grown onion, a jalapeño pepper, some pre-chopped roasted garlic, salt, and lime. Simple.
I also have these beautiful Chilton Co. peaches. The peaches of any Alabama child’s memories. They are super ripe right now, so they made a beautiful peach salsa.
First I skinned the peaches and cut them into little chunks. Then I chopped up a home grown tomato, and treated a half a purple onion and jalapeño pepper the same way. Then I mixed them together with some salt, cider vinegar, and lime juice. Just keep tasting it until it is right. You know…not too sweet. You want it to be sweet, savory, and a slight acidic zip at the end.
Last, guacamole. Everyone pretty much has guacamole down, so I am not going to pretend this is something really unique. But if you have never made it, here’s the deal. Cut up two avocados, a tomato, whichever kind of onion you like, however many garlic cloves you like, and mix them all with salt and lime. Zing.
I think when people make salsa at home sometimes they forget how IMPORTANT salt is. It is really important. Some would even say fresh herbs are just as important. Toss that cilantro into the guacamole and mint into the peach salsa and that would be great! Unfortunately the only herbs I have right now are basil. I could have tried the basil in the peach salsa I guess. Well, there’s always next time.
When someone gives their compliments to the chef, they acknowledge the creativity and skill that go into that dish that blessed their palettes. But it is not often one tastes a tomato or cucumber and thinks, “My compliments to the farmer!”
July 15th I had the special privilege of joining Florence Foodies for a special farm to table dinner provided by City Hardware and Jack O Lantern Farms. Jeff Eubanks, chef at City Hardware, knows the quality of his ingredients are what makes his dishes shine. He has a very special working relationship with Steve and Connie Carpenter of Jack O Lantern Farm who provide City Hardware with produce for their extensive menu. This dinner in particular was inspired by the chef/farmer relationship and perhaps more importantly the farmer/food consumer relationship.
Before I talk about the amazing dishes Jeff created, I think it is important to talk about the community surrounding this experience. Florence Foodies, an experimental dining group organized by Florence Main Street, brings people together from all over the city to dine together at a community table to enjoy a meal together. Folks purchase a ticket to whichever dining venue they favor or wish to try and feast with friends as well as strangers over a new and exclusive menu created by the restaurant’s chef. This gives us an opportunity to experience new foods and flavors with new company while giving the chef an opportunity to show off his/her skill and creativity. Many times the new dishes appear on the restaurant menus. Many times, new friends are made over a shared loved for food.
In this instance, the City Hardware instance, a community of friends and strangers gathered with the farmer, the chef, and the organizer to chew on something genuine and unique. This was truly a holistic dining experience.
Bonus: The Carpenters and The Eubanks are both families we love who give, give, give to the community every day.
First Course: Sauteed Shrimp with Buckwheat Noodle and Jack O Lantern Farms Heirloom Tomato Salad with Grilled Tomato & Sherry Vinaigrette
This dish was so well rounded and full of popping flavor! It inspired me to try to simple veggies with pasta and seafood with a dressing instead of always having to go with a heavy sauce. Very clean and fresh!
Second Course: Greek-style Meatballs with White Cucumber Tzatziki, Black-eyed Pea Hummus and Arugula Salad with Vinaigrette, and toasted Flatbread.
I think this course was my favorite in terms of something I could continuously eat until I feel I may burst at the seams. I scrapped every last smidgen of tzatziki and hummus with the toothy flat bread. The meatballs were absolutely perfect paired with the light salad.
Third Course: Boundary Line Bison “Bacon Cheeseburger” with Singin’ River Brewing Porter Bacon Jam topped with White Cheddar Pimento Cheese served with Hand-cut Fries
A REVELATION! BACON JAM. Need I say more? Made with local Singin’ River Porter and Bison from Piedmont, AL, this burger was crazy good. It was the perfect little package of intense flavor with the onion and porter in the bacon jam and the sharp white cheddar in the pimento cheese. LIGHT BULB for my tomato sandwiches. I must make cheese like this!
After the third course, Steve Carpenter shared a little about his experiences as a farmer. Steve and Connie and have owned JackOLantern Farm since 1996. They have expanded significantly. The work is difficult, but they are diligent about retaining food quality with no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic nutrients. At one point Jeff and Steve shared how the farmer has educated the chef in seasonal menu planning and developed a relationship of mutual respect and patience.
“If I could say anything to you all tonight it would be, support your local farmer. Support your local farmer, and keep your money here in the cities and counties. Support your local farmer and support families that live here as well,” Steve shared. The average age of the American farmer is over 60 years old. This is an industry we must support if we want to see a preservation of our local foods and stave off gentrification of our food system.
Fourth Course: Blackberry Cobbler with whipped cream and whipped goat cheese with bourbon white peaches.
This dessert was just so wonderful. This whipped goat cheese had an almost cheesecake kind of quality. Paired with the bourbon sauce with the white peaches, the cobbler had an earthy and warm profile.
Fortunately for Shoals residents, Jack O Lantern will start selling their produce, raw honey, and eggs at the new Court Street Market opening up downtown early August. Having farm fresh produce at our convenience will have us all spoiled seeing as how we all presently wait for Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday to visit the farm shop. It is vitally important that residents visit this local market for it to thrive. We often hear talk about jobs when these large mega marts move in, but at what cost to our local food producers? Let’s make our own jobs! Let’s make our own food! Let’s connect the dots and see our community thrive!
My good friend Amanda Green has quite an impressive home garden. She and her husband are always kind enough to share their bounty with us. (Because really, we’ve never produced enough for a whole meal even!) Last weekend I was over for a sec and she shared some of her large crooked-neck yellow summer squash with me. I was glad to take it off her hands for this baked pasta idea I was going to try on the kids.
2 large yellow squash
1 can of cannellini beans
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and Pepper
Toasted whole wheat breadcrumbs
First, I made a squash puree by steaming 2 large, cubed squash until they were soft and pureeing them in the food processor.
While the squash was steaming I boiled my noodles and toasted my whole wheat bread for crumbs (actually it was whole wheat left over hamburger buns). This will preheat your oven for you. Around 350 degrees is fine.
Then rinse the beans and puree them as well until they are nice and pasty. And process the toast to make crumbs.
When your macaroni noodles are still a little firm but mostly done drain them and put them in a large casserole dish.
Add 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt, 1 cup of shredded cheese, the squash puree, the bean puree, pepper, and salt. Mix it all really well. Top the mixture with the breadcrumbs, and cook it until it sets up (about 20 minutes). At the end, I did set the broiler on it for a few minutes to get a nice firm top.
Let it cool down a little before you scoop into it. It is blazing hot. Every kid loved it. The baby especially. I may have lied to them by telling them it there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. Only one of them tasted the real difference. The next day, after we had the left overs for lunch, I confessed. The oldest admitted she loved squash! Small victory!
Florence Main Street just announced the winner of the $5,000 charity prize donated by McDaniel Window and Door. The winner is…….drumroll…..Safeplace! This domestic violence program serves the six counties of Northwest Alabama. Their mission is to promote healthy relationships by providing education, intervention and safe places. (from nwalsafeplace.org)
Mike McDaniel of McDaniel Window and Door and Teryl Sheilds of Florence Main Street presented the check to Rachel Cabaniss of Safeplace. Rachel was shocked they actually won. She said in her acceptance that if everyone would just choose a cause close to their heart and help that one cause, we would be amazed at the difference we could make in the community.
While talking to Rachel after the presentation she said most people are surprised at how many people actually need their resources. EVERYONE knows or comes into contact with someone that has needed or needs Safeplace’s help.
If you know anyone who is suffering from domestic abuse, there are resources available to YOU for helping them find the help they need. Visit nwalsafeplace.org for more info.