Down South

the greenbrier
I’ve always wanted to be from the South. Odd because I’ve only been to Austin, TX and many would say that hardly counts. Last week I tried to pick up some tips while in West Virginia. Like Austin, there’s apparently quite a bit of debate about how truly Southern West Virginia is. But I’ll tell you, it was humid, there were mosquitoes, mint juleps, biscuits at lunch, “ma’ams” and “ya’alls”, a great deal of bacon, and bright floral wallpaper. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

the greenbrier
I stayed at The Greenbrier Hotel for the Professional Food Writers Symposium. It was other-worldly in so many ways: long hallways leading to blasts of color, a line of white rocking chairs looking out over an expansive lawn, horse-drawn carriages, farms and country roads, and porches with wicker chairs that hold you tight in the mornings and even tighter in the evenings as the light turns a dusky shade of purple.

the greenbrier
There were three very square meals, dozens of new friends, one Dorie Greenspan (!), uncountable oaks and sycamores, patches of inviting lawn, pages and pages of notes and handouts, and many a smiling stranger.

the greenbrierThere was afternoon tea in which couples would languish with nowhere else to go–continuing to refill their cups while listening to the piano until it was time to dress for dinner. Women pulling along tow-headed children in neat pastels with matching shoes. Men golfing in plaid shorts and families playing croquet and shuffleboard.

afternoon tea
So there were all of these things and more. But for me, most importantly: there were my people. One of the women at the symposium appropriately deemed it “our tribe.” For those of you who do any kind of writing, you know that sometimes it can be a lonely endeavor. It’s just me and my antique desk and some coffee and an existential battle to turn off twitter and unplug from email. Sometimes there’s a little dish of M & M’s and often there’s some Pandora. But that’s about it. Baking is also pretty darn lonely. It’s just me rolling out pie dough early in the morning. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember music or listen to a podcast, but often I’m running over thoughts in my head or sneaking out to talk to Sam for a few minutes while a sheet of cookies cools.

Rarely do I have people to talk to about my craft — people who are equally excited about new cookbooks, jam techniques, revolutionary ice cream methods, writers, authors, bloggers. People who talk about how they do things, what works for them, what you should try, who you should contact, who knows who and how the heck it is that we’re all connected. Talking, sharing, exchanging, advising, giggling, eye-rolling. These were the people who, all week, were right across the table from me at the crack of dawn gossiping over a soft boiled egg or drinking dry martinis in bright turquoise chaise lounges as the second hand neared midnight.

mint
I’ve been home for a little over a week now. I miss my tribe dearly. Reality has a way of forcing you to jump right back into daily life though, doesn’t it? I made almost 60 pounds of granola last weekend, baked pies for the farmers market, and managed to unpack, throw a load of laundry in and download these photos. I made an heirloom tomato salad and caught up with a few friends. My head is still spinning. In a good way. You see, that’s what happens when you’ve got your people around. That’s what happens when you’re challenged, baffled, inspired, and nourished.

In addition to all of the great networking and new friends, I’ve taken home a cocktail recipe that I couldn’t seem to get enough of while at the Greenbrier. The Mint Julep.

At the hotel bar, we’d meet before dinner and order mint juleps. They were served in the traditional silver cups and were just the way I like them: strong and not at all too sweet. The Greenbrier uses perfectly-shaped, pearl-sized pieces of ice and I actually spent some time searching these out here in Oakland with little success. So I settled on some good mostly-crushed ice. I know some of you on the East Coast are in fall mode right now, but in California it feels more like July than September. So there have been mint juleps this week. And I hope you’ll find time to squeeze one in before the evenings get too chilly. I hope you can enjoy one with “your people,” too. Whatever that looks like for you. It’ll mean more that way. Trust me.

Mint Julep

Mint Julep

  • Yield: 1 cocktail
  • Prep time: 5 mins
  • Total time: 5 mins

Ingredients

7 mint leaves
finely chopped ice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces bourbon

Instructions

Place mint leaves in the bottom of a glass cup or traditional silver cup. Add the sugar and muddle the mint and sugar together, breaking down and bruising the mint and making sure the sugar is dissolved. Fill glass with finely chopped ice. Pour bourbon over the ice. Stir well; add more ice if needed. Garnish with a few sprigs of mint.

Note: If you like your mint julep a touch sweeter, make a mint simple syrup and add 1-2 teaspoons, depending on taste. 

Comments

  1. Amanda

    I am now craving a mint julep!

  2. Ashley

    Oh that sounds perfect. Take me with you, I want to be one of your people.

    1. megang

      Ashley: you are one of my people :)

      Maureen: So lovely to meet you. Thanks for your sweet comment.

      Janet: Hehe! You never told me that story; I love it and can just picture the whole thing (why did you have spoons in your purse?!)

      Maris, Jessica, Casey, Bridget and Amanda: Thank you!

  3. Maureen Abood

    What a perfect love song to our time at the Greenbrier. Your words and photos are gorgeous and true. Thank you for this! Wish I was still out in CA so we could connect there....

  4. Emily Peterson

    I'm so happy to be part of your tribe. Also- the pictures are perfect - thanks for sharing! I did a horrible job documenting the place in photos and had a hard time describing the vibe, which you captured perfectly! Can I get your granola on the east coast/NYC area?

    1. megang

      Hey Emily! It was hard to step out of the moment and take photos, wasn't it? I'm so happy you're part of my tribe, too! Thinking about you over there in that chicken coop :) I do ship the granola, but it's not currently available in retail shops back East. Info. on the Marge Bakery website. Hope you're well, my friend!

  5. adam and theresa

    Always wanted to go to the south too and eat biscuits. I have a friend in Austin to visit, but like you say, I'm not sure how "south" Austin really is.

  6. Jessica Kyler

    Beautiful article, Megan! Lynn sent it to me this morning and it made my day. Love your photos!

  7. Sanjeeta kk

    Refreshing and delightful drink! Mint being my fav..will make it for sure.

  8. Janet

    I love hearing more about your trip! It looks and sounds amazing.

    Did I ever tell you my Mint Julep story? A friend and I ordered them at the Alembic a few years back, and they were crazy-strong. You probably would have liked them just that way but I was so not prepared for it! Not wanting to offend the snooty bartender (or embarrass ourselves, I guess), I actually ran across the street and bought a box of sugar. And I just happened to have purchased a set of teaspoons that day, which were in my purse (weird, I know). So we sat there, sneaking teaspoons of sugar into our drinks under the bar until the Juleps were more manageable.

    Totally ended up with sugar spilled all over my purse the next day.

    I bet yours are better.

  9. Antonia Allegra

    Megan, you captured the sense of "the tribe,"
    as well as the look and feel of The Greenbrier.
    Wonderful! Toni Allegra

    1. megang

      Thanks, Toni!

  10. Danielle

    I've been waiting for this post!! Short of a happy hour conversation, this is the next best thing to catching up. So happy to read that you had a great time, it sounds like the start of many an adventure and good projects, and it couldn't be more well-deserved :)

    I may have a bottle of mint julep mix in my cabinet that I won at some networking event a couple of years ago and is still untouched. Interested?

    1. megang

      Hmm generally don't turn down those kind of offers! Wonder if it's a super sweet, pre-mixed kind of affair? And yes, we so desperately need to catch up. I'll be thinking of you in NYC, my friend and our sort-of upcoming dinner. xoxo.

  11. kickpleat

    Sounds like a lovely trip! Hooray to being inspired and to drinking mint juleps. It's been ages since I've had one and I'd love to drink one down south in a traditional cup.

  12. casey Ross

    I love that "your people" :) I always feel lonely and that my kids, honey don't understand why I write. I do it for me and for no one else.

  13. Aaron from The Amused Bouche Blog

    Happily stumbled upon your blog! I too am enjoying mint juleps during this heat spell. Up here in wine country, it's been 95+ the last 3 days. Cheers to a possible Indian summer and mint juleps till the rains come.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Aaron! So glad you stumbled upon the blog and are enjoying it. It is kind of perfect weather though, isn't it: cool mornings and evenings and hot days? Happy (almost) weekend.

  14. bridget

    Beautiful photos and the drinks look lovely, love the little mason jars.

  15. merry jennifer

    What lovely photos. We're smack dab in the middle of the south where I live here in north Florida. I'd happily show you around sometime.

    The symposium seems amazing. I'd love to attend next year. I seem to be out of the loop with it.

  16. lori

    Such a lovely post. The mention of bacon reminds me of my first visit to my brother-in-law's farm, which is midway between the Greenbrier and Roanoke. We ate pork at every meal and it was so delicious I couldn't get enough of it. We all joked we'd need the pork patch when we left. There is something so wonderful about the languid pace of that area.

  17. momgordon

    Oh Megan! Once again you just captured the "essence" of the experience. The photos are beautiful! Dorothy Draper lives on!

  18. Eric G

    i'm so flippin' jealous, seriously! the greenbriar! i knew from the first image and i've never been! happy for you though to find your "tribe" and experience the g. let's talk!

  19. Melinda Ortley

    Wow. The Greenbriar looks AMAZING!! Thanks for sharing!

  20. RM

    And...was the once-top-secret Congressional bomb shelter on the tour?

    1. megang

      Oh my god, Rod: it was fascinating! I was kind of skeptical to go, thinking it'd be touristy and weird, but it was pretty great. Incredible that it existed for so long without anyone knowing.

  21. Mary

    What a week! So excited for you, Megan!!

  22. Sally

    Maaaan I am so desperate to visit the deep south! I wana go now!

  23. Terris

    You know what I love about your posts? You have the distinct ability to carry me away to another place. I have always wanted to go to the Greenbrier, and your post almost makes me feel like I have. Ok, I still want to go, but it was a really nice diversion! Thanks. :)

  24. Heather

    You captured the experience so beautifully my friend, wish we had more time to spend together. Plotting a trip out west for 2012. You are such a rockstar.

    Be well, until we meet again ;)

  25. Adriana

    Delicious! and love the pictures. I'm from Spain and I always say I really want to have a southern accent... if you heard me try, you'd laugh quite a bit! but the truth is, accent or not, I love grits and pecan pie.

  26. Brett Bralley

    As a writer (and aspiring food writer), it was very inspiring to read this. It can be a lonely task, and I understand the inspiration and camaraderie that comes with spending time with others who do the same thing.

    Also -- West Virginia is certainly southern, but you must experience time in the Deep South to experience southern culture to the fullest! Thanks for sharing!

  27. tracy

    how did i miss this post?! your pictures are absolutely gorgeous! jealous!

  28. Mary Kate

    Love theses photos, Megs! This seems like it was a lovely trip in a perfect place!

Join the Discussion

Winter Comfort Food

Winter Morning Porridge

Winter Morning Porridge

I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead. 

Read More
Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine).  Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).

Read More
Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard

Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard

If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype. 

Read More
Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup

Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup

People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.

Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.

Read More
Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust

Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust

It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little. 

Read More