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

Seasonal Selections

Summer in September

Summer in September

My good friend Keena was working in India for the last few months and just returned to Seattle, eager to experience as much Pacific Northwest summer as possible in September. I'm with her on this one: It just so happens that towards the end of this month, the farmers markets I've been doing will also come to an end, so things seem like they're both simultaneously gearing up (hike! picnic! beach!) and wrapping up at the same time as I also feel a sense of wanting to cram in as much as I can before the days start getting noticeably shorter. And truly: there's no better recipe to commemorate such efforts than these fresh corn grits with oil-poached summer tomatoes.

Read More
Yogurt Crepes with Berries and Yogurt Whipped Cream

Yogurt Crepes with Berries and Yogurt Whipped Cream

For many years, I've always made a summer to-do list. I usually set to work on it right at the beginning of June when the days feel long and ripe with possibility. The list often involves things like learning to bake sourdough bread or making homemade ricotta, doing an epic hike I'd read about in a local magazine, training for a marathon, or reading specific novels. It is always a pretty aspirational list, and I generally don't make much of a dent in it -- resulting in the guilty feeling come late August that I'd wasted too many lazy afternoons when I could've been baking sourdough or making ricotta or doing memorable, epic hikes. But this summer is going to be a bit different: there will be no list. We wait so long in Seattle for long stretches of sunny days, and now that it stays late until 9:30 (or later?), I want to see more of our friends and find stretches of time to do not much of anything except catch up, tan our legs and eat farmers market berries. That's my list.

Read More
Sara’s Peach Derby Ice Cream

Sara’s Peach Derby Ice Cream

I received The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon cookbook in the mail not long before we moved to our new house, and I remember lying in bed and bookmarking pages I was excited to try but also feeling overwhelmed with where to start: the truth is that this summer has been a relatively low-inspiration / low energy time in the kitchen for me. I'd been chalking it up to pregnancy but when I think back and if I'm honest with myself, my cooking style tends to be very easy and produce-driven during these warmer months. I rarely break out complicated recipes, instead relying on fresh tomatoes and corn or zucchini and homemade pesto to guide me. But last night I cracked open Sara's book and pulled out a few peaches I've had sitting on the counter, fearing their season may be nearing its end. This morning as I was making coffee, I sliced up the peaches, toasted the pecans and churned away -- having a bite (or maybe two) before getting it into the freezer to firm up. 

Read More
Confetti Quinoa Salad

Confetti Quinoa Salad

We just returned from my mom's cabin on Lake George in upstate New York where we often spend the 4th of July. As usual, each bedroom was packed with family members (this year the couch was even occupied for a night), and our days with reading, lounging on the dock, swimming a bit, maybe jogging down the road or playing tennis if you were feeling ambitious. We drank a notable amount of seltzer water; I managed to read three books and my mom threw us a family baby shower complete with balloons, chocolate cake and Mike's rhubarb bars. In previous years, my mom has planned most of the dinners and  even some lunches, but for breakfast we'd all fend for ourselves. I'd often bake a pie or a batch of brownies in the afternoon and everyone would help out where they could, but she would largely do the shopping and brunt of the cooking. This year was different: having just moved from California to Vermont, my mom had a lot on her plate and sent out an email before the holiday weekend asking us all to chip in and help with the meals. Sam and I claimed Friday dinner: we grilled sausages and Sam made his famous deviled eggs. We cut up some unusually seedy watermelon that I found at the co-op in Burlington before we drove out to the lake, and I made a summery quinoa salad that I expected to be kind of epic. The trouble was that it wasn't. I overcooked the quinoa until it was kind of a congealed mush and everything just went downhill from there. But I knew that the idea was strong -- to pack a whole grain salad with all the things of summer (corn! tomatoes! basil!) -- so when we got home to Seattle I tried again. And this time it's a winner.

Read More