Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SEMINOLES IN ATLANTA


Seminole Chief Osceola

 FSU VISITS MY HOMETOWN

During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta I met James Billie, then chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A Vietnam veteran, the chief played good guitar and could sing country songs in Seminole that sounded like Hank Williams’ classics. We discussed his feelings about Native American nicknames used by college and Major League Baseball teams, specifically, the Florida State University Seminoles and the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had been viciously attacked by Minnesota sports media for their nickname. Billie, who recalled that Jim Thorpe had a superstar season with the Boston version of the Braves, told me that Indians “are honored when whites adopt our names as symbols of competition and courage.”

FSU’s football team plays South Carolina in the Chic-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta. The bowl, until recently known as the Peach Bowl, debuted in 1968 with FSU playing a victorious LSU in sleet and snow. The Seminoles played again in 1983 against North Carolina where it was 16 degrees with artic wind. Florida State won this contest.

No longer will weather matter. Inside the Georgia Dome, just a couple of blocks from the Georgia Aquarium, it’ll be 70 and comfortable. Beyond football, there are interesting facts that connect FSU to Atlanta. To this day the cadets of the Florida State University are one of four Army ROTC programs to wear a battle streamer for combat. In 1865, cadets from the school then known as West Florida Seminary, engaged the veteran Union Army at the Battle of Natural Bridge. Led by Colonel George Washington Scott, their victory saved Tallahassee as the only Confederate capitol not to fall during the Civil War.

The battle flag carried by the cadets is permanently exhibited at the Dekalb History Center, six miles due east from the Georgia Dome. It has a few bullet holes in it and was made in Tallahassee from the petticoats of Colonel Scott’s wife. Scott, a Pennsylvanian, ultimately settled in Atlanta and produced a popular fertiizer at his mill, founding a community, Scottdale, that is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Agnes Scott Collge, a top national college for women.

Prior to donating the flag to the museum, it had been stored and well-preservedby Scott’s descendants. His grandson, a family neighbor, told me when I was a kid that the storied flag rightfully “belongs to Florida State University.”

South Carolina’s Coach Steve Spurrier has a career 6-8-1 record againsnt Florida State, all accumulated while coaching at the University of Florida. After the retirement of FSU’s legedary Bobby Bowden, much of the intensity may have lessened, but it should still be a good game.


The Civil War began in South Carolina  at Fort Sumter. Natural Bridge was one of the last important battles of the tragic conflict. The revered Seminole Chief Osceola, illegally captured during a white flag peace conference, died at Fort Sumter where he is buried.

The Civil War Sesquicentennial officially begins on New Year’s Day. For those Seminole fans visiting Atlanta, don’t miss the Battle of Atlanta depicted in the Atlanta Cyclorama, and visit Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the carvings at Stone Mountain, the Margaret Mitchell House(Atlanta is Scarlett O’Hara’s hometown), and the toomb of Dr. Mr. Luther King, Jr. Close to eveything is the Carter Presidential Center, standing where General Sherman commanded Union forces during the ferocious combat. The view here of the Atlanta skyline at night is stunning.

The books are closing on this year. 2011 is a big unkown. If we’re here and healthy, that’s a solid start. Chief Billie taught me a Seminole phrase: “sho na bish.” It expresses gratitude. It means thank you. A polite acknowledgement of life and all that life offers.

NOTE: This appears in  Southwind, my column published in the award-winning newspaper, By The Sea Future. www.bytheseafuture.com.






Monday, December 27, 2010

CELEBRITY COCKTAILS


BRING ON THE NEW YEAR!

By Doc Lawrence

"I love to drink Martinis,
Two at the very most,
Three I'm under the table,
Four I'm under the host."
              Dorothy Parker

She loved Martinis, the original made with good gin and vermouth served in a Martini glass. Dorothy Parker, far and away one of America’s most gifted journalists, knew her way around the Manhattan cocktail crowd and somehow wrote brilliant pieces for The New Yorker while lifestyle copycats would have been immobilized. Her peers were no slouches.

It was Ernest Hemingway whose seemingly endless drinking provoked his friend Gertrude Stein to proclaim one of history’s most enduring lines: “You are all a lost generation.” Hemingway not only enjoyed good cocktails, preferring early on Absinthe and later on the Mojito, but he even invented one, the “Montgomery Martini.” Craig Boreth writes in his marvelously entertaining The Hemingway Cookbook:  Like James Bond with his Vesper, Hemingway, too, had his special martini: The Montgomery. Named after the World War II British General, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, who would not attack unless he outnumbered the enemy fifteen to one, Hemingway's martini contains that same proportion of gin to vermouth. The Montgomery is a house special of Harry's Bar in Venice.”

Hemingway’s favorite ingredients, according to Boreth, were Gordon’s Gin and Noilly Prat Vermouth.


Ringing In 2011 With Love and Cocktails

ROAD TO THE NOBEL PRIZE

You can, attests Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Barrack Obama win the Nobel Prize without being a heavy drinker. But, winning it for accomplishments in literature suggests that Bourbon, whiskey and martinis are somehow on the trail global acclaim. William Faulkner, joined esteemed Nobel Laureates like Hemingway and the great South American novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years Of Solitude), by writing Southern classics accompanied by libations.

In Absalom, Absalom! one of  Faulkner’s masterpieces,  his characters  aren’t fueled with demon rum, although according to friends and family he absolutely wrote every word with a glass of Bourbon nearby.  Santiago, Hemingway’s character in The Old Man and the Sea isn’t propelled by alcohol either, but the author regularly was. A Hundred Year’s of Solitude doesn’t hinge at all on cocktails.

Not to sing the praises of cocktails beyond the pleasure of experience, a case, however, can be made that there is a spirits connection among some of the most accomplished writers and their enduring works.

THE ALGONQUIN ROUNDTABLE

It was a loose, often open-ended assemblage of writers who met regularly at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City including many prominent scribes and stars of the day like Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber and Tallulah Bankhead. The cocktails were poured non-stop and many a good story was born during these marathon sessions.

What makes the Roundtable memorable, I think, is that the members, if not already successful were at the least emerging stars. The cocktails loosened their tongues, sharpened their wits and unleashed creative energy. It’s hard to imagine there was ever a dull moment.

With so many great writers and authors living in and around Atlanta (the biggest hit book so far on The New York Times fiction best seller list is The Help by Atlanta resident Kathryn Stockett), I wonder why there isn’t a local version of the Algonquin Roundtable, perhaps called the Peachtree Roundtable. The perfect place would almost have to be the Palm restaurant in Buckhead. The Palm’s ever-ebullient General Manager Willy Cellucci has the savoir-faire to accommodate such a motley group.

Author Margaret Mitchell drank martinis from Mason jars. She was famously successful and endearingly irreverent. Imagine opening a lunch meeting with a toast to Atlanta’s most renowned author and then engaging in all sorts of conversation for a few hours over libations. Would the next Margaret Mitchell or William Faulkner blossom from these hobnobs?

In social settings, cocktails play out much different than wine. I’ll go out on a limb and say that cocktails are a better fit in any gathering. People are not intimidated by ordering a martini. Or a Jack Daniel’s (Frank Sinatra’s favorite) on ice.

Why, asks Craig Boreth, has Hemingway remained the consummate drinking writer? “Because, for much of his life, he truly enjoyed drinking and it did help him to maintain his craft. The eventual devastation notwithstanding, the image of the smiling, boisterous Hemingway, drink in hand and surrounded by friends, is one of the lasting images he left behind. If we live in the moment, get caught up in his generosity and succumb to the charge he bestowed on a room upon entering, we may, with honor and respect, raise a glass to Ernest Hemingway and toast the good times. This may hint at another reason why the deleterious effects of drinking are often overlooked in Hemingway's case: he made it sound so damn intriguing.”

Meet me on New Year’s Eve at the watering hole. Bring along some good jokes and join the fun of living. To get everything going, let’s propose a toast once given by Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking class.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

GIFTS FOR THE HOLIDAYS


PRACTICAL TO ELEGANT


Basil Hayden's Bourbon

Nothing brings more joy than giving. It’s mutually rewarding when we give something useful that is not so readily available. Here are just a few suggestions that won’t break the bank and likely will appeal to the home chef and those who love the gourmet lifestyle.

The Beka Cookware 11-Inch Chef Crepe/ Pancake Pan is one of the most useful and practical ways to make crepes and is available at Amazon.com.
The Honey Baked company also produces the delicious HoneyBaked Ham Cajun turkey breast which pairs nicely with a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling. Talbott Teas has the Ultimate Gift Set.  Steeped in style and packaged in sleekly sophisticated tins, it explores combinations of unexpected flavors, spices and aromas. www.talbottteas.com

For that picnic or long trip, the VinniBag is an inflatable pouch that secures and protects wines by conforming to the shape, safeguarding fragile items against breaks and the rest of your bag from spills.  Specifically designed to withstand high altitude and cushion impact. www.vinnibag.com. From Hannon Group, the Sachi Vino Insulated Wine Totes, www.sachi-bags.com, holds up to three bottles with a fully lined insulated silver interior that makes it easy to transport wine and maintain the temperature.   Ayala’s Sparkling Herbal Water offers a mixer infusing unique herb flavors with your favorite alcoholic drinks, and makes for great holiday entertaining. Available at www.Herbalwater.com, it comes in three invigorating flavors, Lemongrass Mint Vanilla, Cinnamon Orange Peel, and Ginger Lemon Peel.

Cleaning with a green commitment is a snap with products like E-Cloth CleanSafe Screen Cleaning Kit, perfect for cleaning all electronic screens. The company, Tadgreen, www.tadgreen.com, produces Ecarcare Interior Car Cleaning Kit, E-cloth Glass & Polishing Cloth and E-cloth Drinkware Drying and Polishing Towel.
E-cloth's advanced fiber technology removes dust, dirt, and grease without damaging the screen's surface coatings
 
For 20 years, the Women's Bean Project has employed women from backgrounds of chronic unemployment and poverty, and helps them develop the work and interpersonal skills needed to function independently in the workplace and community. Through employment in the food manufacturing business, these women earn a steady paycheck, develop solid transferable work skills and strengthen self-confidence and personal responsibility. 65 percent of the nonprofit's revenue comes from its product sales which include gourmet ready-to-make food products (i.e. soups, mixes, dips, etc.), gift baskets, and jewelry specially designed for the Women's Bean Project. I recommend their products without hesitation. www.womensbeanproject.com.

From the legendary American Bourbon heritage of Kentucky comes Basil Hayden Bourbon, the Super-Premium small-batch bourbon with a distinct flavor profile that features a mild 80 proof and twice the rye of traditional bourbons, making it extremely smooth and approachable. With citrus overtones and a spicy finish, Basil Hayden’s balance of taste and flavor make this spirit a sophisticated choice for both bourbon novices and connoisseurs. One of Doc’s favorites and the ultimate stocking stuffer. Available at fine liquor stores.

Soirée is a "wine decanter" that fits into the top of a wine bottle. Made from handcrafted glass, it is a pouring device that infuses oxygen into wine and decants the wine while it’s poured. Aerating the wine helps to open up the wine, and allow all of the wonderful flavors to come out. A special gift for any wine lover, Soirée can be used for red or white wine, fits into any wine bottle and comes with a convenient drying rack/stand. www.winesoiree.com.

Champagne is the way we bring in the New Year and renew old acquaintances. Only flute glasses befit the ritual and the fines sets are from Spiegelau. The Hybrid set is boxed tastefully, and contains the flutes you need to kick-start 2011. www.spiegelau.com.

Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous New Year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

CATDADDY COCKTAILS

JUNIOR JOHNSON'S ELIXIRS

 “East-bound and down, loaded up and trucking. We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done!”
             From “Smokey and the Bandit,” by Jerry Reed


MEET JUNIOR JOHNSON
The fascination with alcoholic beverages is a Southern phenomenon with profound Florida connections, the stuff of songs, movies, NASCAR and some of the most colorful characters to grace the folklore landscape. It’s a gallery that includes actors Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason and Robert Mitchum along with racers Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts and the unbelievably colorful Junior Johnson. A proud one-time moonshine runner, NASCAR champion, Daytona racing legend and peerless raconteur, Johnson now has his own moonshine.

Except this batch is legal and doesn’t require delivery into states like Florida with a souped-up vehicle powered to run at near supersonic speed.

Piedmont Distillers, Inc is a small distillery in Madison, North Carolina at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It produces handcrafted spirits in a small-batch copper pot still, the only "legal" distillery in the state and operates out of a century-old old train station.

Piedmont Distiller's first spirit is called Catdaddy which. according to the owners, “stir[s] your imagination [to] deliver the most unique and satisfying experience.” It draws on a private- batch recipe that contains ingredients not used in any other product. True to the history of moonshine, each batch is from an authentic copper pot still.

JUNIOR IN THE BIG EASY

During this year’s edition of Tales of the Cocktail, I had Catdaddy served over ice and pronounced it as excellent. This is where cocktail enthusiasts from the world over met Junior. Johnson, who could teach the business world loads about entrepreneurship, sells country hams in his home in Wilkes County, North Carolina and has a big role in legal Carolina whiskey. Now a part owner of Piedmont Distillers, Johnson launched his moonshine called Midnight Moon currently distributed in 19 states.

Likewise, Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine is a unique spirits from Piedmont.  Every batch is born in a copper still and is handcrafted in very small batches.  Catdaddy is made from American corn and triple distilled. Joe Michalek, founder of Piedmont Distillers, won’t tell you what’s in it, but he will tell you the taste is a little sweet, with a hint of spice.  “It’s fun to watch someone,” Michalek says, “try Catdaddy for the first time.  The taste is familiar, but people can’t put their finger on it.  All they know is that they like it.” 

Junior Johnson developed his incredible driving skills and car building ingenuity while bootlegging his family’s moonshine and staying two steps ahead of the revenuers. Now 78, Johnson embodies the old and new moonshine culture. In the 1950’s he served 11 months in a federal penitentiary and was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan who had a soft heart for American heroes.  Later, he became one of the most successful drivers and team owners in racing history.

Junior Johnson prepares a solid southern breakfast for his family and anyone else who happens by every morning at his shop in North Wilkesboro.  Sometimes you see the local sheriff, an old buddy from the racing days or a new friend who stopped by on their way through town. Not surprisingly, the Bloody Mary is Johnson’s favorite cocktail.  The smoothness of his Midnight Moon, according to his legion of friends, makes it the perfect spirit for this classic cocktail.






Thursday, December 2, 2010

DOC'S NEWS: LIBERTY BOWL

DOC'S NEWS: LIBERTY BOWL: "RED CARPET FOR GEORGIA AT O’SULLIVAN’S  BULLDOG PARTY HEADQUARTERS  Silky Sullivan, owner and manager of Silky O’Sullivan’s Pub, the ..."

LIBERTY BOWL

RED CARPET FOR GEORGIA AT O’SULLIVAN’S



BULLDOG PARTY HEADQUARTERS

Silky Sullivan, owner and manager of Silky O’Sullivan’s Pub, the legendary watering hole and award-winning restaurant on Memphis’ storied Beale Street declared his operation as the top gathering spot for University of Georgia football fans visiting the city that gave birth to Rock and Roll during the Liberty Bowl festivities at the end of December. “My heart will always have a connection to the Georgia campus,” said Sullivan, a noted raconteur and the 2011 Mardi Gras King in New Orleans. Sullivan was a student at the University of Georgia in the early 1960’s.

Sullivan, who has close connections to the Liberty Bowl, said he would have his facility decorated in red and black, Georgia’s football uniform colors and unviel a new cocktail dubbed “The Rabid Dog.” Describing the concoction as “more than potent--one drink and you’ll go mad unless you get another.” Each fan, said Sullivan, ordering a Rabid Dog gets a free souvenir cup honoring the Liberty Bowl.

O’Sullivan’s, one of the best known party spots in the Deep South, features live Memphis-style blues and rock seven days each week and stays packed during Liberty Bowl revelry each year, according to Sullivan. “Georgia is different,” he observed. “They get preferential treatment at my club because I am a Bulldog with strong emotional connections and could not be happier that they will be playing in the city where I live and work.

O’Sullivan’s has a reputation, according to Mr. Sullivan, for attracting celebrities including Hollywood legends like Clint Eastwood and Brad Pitt, along with Memphis natives Cybill Shepard and Kathy Bates, an Academy Award winner. Sullivan, who grew up a short distance from Graceland also knew Elvis Presley well and counts among his customers sports and music stars ranging from Terry Bradshaw, Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning to Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bono, Willie Nelson and many others. The late Lewis Grizzard, a famous Georgia graduate and popular humor columnist, dropped in regularly for libations, said Sullivan. A Sullivan favorite was the late Sam Phillips, founder of Memphis headquartered Sun Records.

While music and cocktails are in abundance, Sullivan urged Bulldog fans not to overlook his menu. “We are proud winners at Memphis in May (the annual food competition that draws an international audience) for our ribs and for our seafood. A Southern cook and restaurant can’t get higher honors.”

“We’ll start welcoming Georgia Bulldog fans on December 27th,” said Sullivan, “and keep everything rocking until the game is over on New Year’s Eve. Then, we’ll finish off the year with the biggest victory party Memphis has ever seen.”

Silky O’Sullivan’s Pub is located one block from The Peabody Hotel, headquarters for the Georgia football squad and dignitaries, and is an easy walk to museums, art galleries, music landmarks and unique attractions in downtown Memphis.

 More information:
Silky Sullivan
(901) 525.3732


Thursday, November 25, 2010

CHEF JOSH BUTLER


GRANDMA’S OYSTER DRESSING

Josh Butler has been the executive chef for Florida’s governors beginning with Lawton Chiles. Many consider him Florida’s “Top Chef,” and considering those heads of state, members of royal families, Hollywood legends and legion of dignitaries who enjoyed his stellar dishes, there should be no debate.

Josh Butler, Florida's Top Chef

Chef Josh-still a very young man- maintains his Florida and Deep South culinary influences, incorporating them into so much of his cooking. Here is his signature Oyster Dressing, one he attributes to his grandmother. In Dixie, this is a holiday staple, perfect for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day feasts.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cups crumbled cornbread
  • 3 cups stale bread crumbs, small dice
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 pint shucked oysters, drained, reserve 1/2 cup liquid
  •  pinch cayenne
Preheat oven to 350°.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté onions and celery in the butter until tender, add a small pinch of cayenne, and let cool.
Combine cornbread and bread crumbs in a large bowl; gently fold in sautéed onions, salt, pepper, and parsley.
Add beaten eggs and toss more; moisten with the oyster liquid until moist but not soggy. Gently stir in the oysters.
Pat the mixture into a large lightly buttered rectangular baking pan (it should make a 1-inch layer in the pan). Dot with remaining butter and bake about 45 minutes, until golden brown and set in the center.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DOC'S NEWS: THANKSGIVING PRAYER

DOC'S NEWS: THANKSGIVING PRAYER: "Before we are overwhelmed by the delights of the table, ponder the spiritual meaning of this day. Everyone has something to be thankful for,..."

THANKSGIVING PRAYER

Before we are overwhelmed by the delights of the table, ponder the spiritual meaning of this day. Everyone has something to be thankful for, even if it’s just remembering a trumpet solo.

Thankful For A Gulf Sunset

 A prayer of gratitude was found in the belongings of a dead Southern soldier during the Civil War:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for
- but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.

This is the time to reflect. If we enjoyed a good year, we express thanks. If there have been difficulties, we are happy for what we do have and resolve to continue doing our best. The appreciation of life isn’t predicated on wealth or plenty, just simple gratitude for the beauty of the world.

HAVE A MEANINGFUL THANKSGIVING

Sunday, November 21, 2010

THANKSGIVING WINE


All-American Pairings

By Doc Lawrence

The year is winding down and we’ll help it go in high style. Gatherings and homecomings are highlighted by feasts.  Laughter permeates and for a little more than a month we celebrate. Joy is the prevailing emotion, mercifully shoving aside problems and disappointments.

Thanksgiving launches the holiday season where every day acknowledges joie de vevres. It is the most American of these wonderful days, incorporating much of what we hold dear. We return home even if the journey is just reliving precious memories. It is that day when we genuinely want someone-a lonely neighbor, a student far from home- who is alone to come on over and join the fun and share the harvest bounty.

Wine is enjoying growing prominence during holiday feasts and more wine is sold for Thanksgiving Day dinner than for any other meal of the year. With so many different flavors, tastes and traditions, Thanksgiving wine choices can be vexing. Given the great variety of foods and flavors, it’s smart to place different bottles on the table to reflect the many different dishes served. This is our special day so serve only American wines.

Because most foods on the dinner table are all consumed together, pairing wines appears a little daunting. Remember the most important consideration is taste, how each wine complements what you're serving and what you like. There are no hard-and-fast rules for selecting the right wines. But some are almost perfect with turkey and all the amazing fixings.

Begin the feast with an American sparkler. Serve a flute or two of Gruet Blanc de Noir Sparkling, a highly regarded bubbly from New Mexico.  And, if you want a gift for your dinner host, the safe path is a good sparkling wine and Gruet has some rarity about it combined with a solid reputation.

HOLIDAY WHITE WINES

Instead of Chardonnay consider white wines that are refreshing, tangy, floral and fruity, the dominant holiday flavors. Oregon’s secret weapon white is Pinot Gris.  Unlike Pinot Grigio (the same grape), Oregon Pinot Gris has personality.  King Estate Pinot Gris is a sure bet, and is nice on the palate between bites of turkey, dressing and gravy. It goes nicely with vegetables like asparagus.

North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley offers a cornucopia of food friendly wines. Acclaimed Rag Apple Lassie’s Viognier or Pinot Gris are regulars for my Thanksgiving guests.


Riesling and Gewurztraminer belong on the table. With a lovely, complex, and rich core of fruit flavors, and a bit of minerality, Gewurztraminer has enough acidity to work with holiday dinners. New York’s Finger Lakes is home to Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling, a benchmark for American Riesling that will lift Thanksgiving dressing, holiday oysters and shrimp and baked pork loin to new heights.  

RED WINES

Don’t hesitate to serve red wine with turkey.

Young bottles of Pinot Noir like those from Asheville’s Biltmore Estates are distinctively fruity with essence of plums, strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. Another respected North Carolina winery, Hanover Park, produces a Mourverde plus a Chambourcin blend labelled Courtney Red that add ecitement.

Take the path less traveled with Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel, a vineyard with vines dating back to 1913, planted with a smattering of other grape varieties like Carignane and Petite Sirah.

This is the time to reflect and express thanks. We toast to commence the Thanksgiving feast, happy to be together. The appreciation of life isn’t predicated on wealth or plenty, just simple gratitude for family, friends and the beauty of the world. Joy manifests in many ways: a Thanksgiving dinner or even a precious memory of a melody played on a trumpet long ago.

Pairing advice? DocLawrence@DocsNews.com

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NATURAL FLORIDA JOURNEY

ST. MARKS TO CEDAR KEY 

         By Doc Lawrence

“Travis McGee's still in Cedar Key
That's what ol' John MacDonald said
My rendezvous's so long overdue
With all of the things I've sung and I've read
They still apply to me
They all make sense in time.”
                Jimmy Buffett, Incommunicado


Foster Thomason Casts Into The Gulf For Family Dinner

CEDAR KEY, FL. The Big Bend on Florida’s Gulf Coast remains a lockbox overflowing with priceless treasures from the sea, countless crystal springs and legendary rivers with mysterious names like Wakulla and Steinhatchee plus some famous ones like the mighty Suwannee. Much of the area has been suffering economically, a tragedy that began with familiar destructive events that I only know from television coverage.

The region is where many of my happiest memories were made and when asked to visit, I accepted. I love the area and the people. It’s what Cross Creek’s Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote about: Florida’s indigenous Cracker culture with roots that extend back to ancient Spain. For generations, kids-including me- were first introduced to life-changing culinary experiences like raw oysters, smoked mullet, fried grouper sandwiches and even stone crabs.

This little village is genuine Florida. It’s known for clams, artists, expatriates and once supplied cedar for pencils. John D. MacDonald wrote his Travis McGee books about Cedar Key. Detective McGee became America’s version of James Bond. Instead of a luxury Aston-Martin, Travis McGee traveled and lived on a beaten-down boat called the “Busted Flush.” According to Miami novelist Carl Hiassen, Travis McGee is making a big comeback.

This is where I go to fish, meditate, drink when I please, eat what I like and dream. Here, for a few days, peace and tranquility reign over discord and troubles. Returning allows me look and listen, to tell some stories that need telling. About good, resilient people, part of America’s bedrock who created an enviable lifestyle. Should paradise be so fragile?

Monday, November 1, 2010

MARK TWAIN


A PERFECT GIFT

And why not? If it’s the first of three volumes by America’s all-time favorite author and storyteller, a genuine tell-all that is irreverent, hilarious, poignant and sad; a monumental work for the ages. It deserves to be wrapped in luxurious paper garnished with a satin bow and given to anyone who loves American literature. The Autobiography of Mark Twain, (University of California Press 2010), was at Twain’s instructions, not to be released until 100 years after his death. Twain died in 1910 and his orders have been honored just in time for the Holidays.

The book's release is timed beautifully for our gift-giving season. It is the product of Twain’s dictation during his final years to a stenographer with two more volumes to be released later.

Mark Twain never really died, did he? A year ago at Atlanta’s Emory University, I took a course in Mark Twain, examining his “darker side.” There was as much laughter during class time as there was when I saw Hal Holbrook’s magnificent stage portrayal, “Mark Twain Tonight.” Twain eludes classification.

The Broadway musical, “Big River,” based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and featuring Roger Miller’s songs, is a masterpiece of song and dance that I recently saw at Atlanta’s glorious Balzer Theatre. Like Twain, Huck, Tom and Jim, remain vibrant, mischievous, mysterious and lyrical. 

As intended, Mark Twain speaks to us from the grave providing uncensored remarks about his friends and enemies. The University of California Press said that “[t]he strict instruction . . . meant that he would be ‘dead, and unaware, and indifferent,’ and that he was therefore free to speak his ‘whole frank mind.’” And he did.

I couldn’t put the book down. The wit, the daring observations, the command of language and the unbridled passion is irresistible. Mark Twain talked to me like I was his closest friend.





Wednesday, October 27, 2010

JACK DANIEL’S BARBECUE

THE JACK IS PURE AMERICANA
                                     
LYNCHBURG (pop. 361), Tennessee. Five years ago it was the whiskey maker’s location and the Jack Daniel’s legend that caught my eye. I found to my delight that the venerable distillery in lovely rural Tennessee was host to the world’s most prestigious and selective barbecue competition. I've returned every year to my favorite event in America.
 
They came in October’s leaf season to compete in “The Jack,” as it is known, sporting names like Parrothead Smokers, Pickin’ Porkers, Phat Jack’s and Smokin’ Lipps, part of more than 100 American teams and 21 international teams including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and the United Kingdom selected for the 22nd Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. This is the world’s most prestigious barbecue competition where slow cookers battle the flames in Jack Daniel’s Hollow.  This year’s grand champion, QUAU from Brimfield, Illinois savored their cash prize and priceless bragging rights.

Lynchburg, like Jack Daniel’s, is pure Americana. Nestled in the rolling hills between Nashville and Chattanooga, the village has a Currier and Ives feel and all the color and whimsy of a Grandma Moses painting. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery, the oldest registered distillery in the United States, operates on the same grounds where in 1866 it began, a fabled fixture on the National Register of Historic Places. 

“Barbecue competition is serious business and the rules for participation and winning are strictly enforced,” said one of the high-profile judges, television celebrity Kelly Sutton, morning news anchor at Nashville’s WZTV. To compete at The Jack, domestic teams must have in the past year won a state championship with 25 teams or a competition of 50 teams, or have won an event considered an automatic to the event like the American Royal, Memphis in May or Houston World Championship.

More than 35,000 people descended on Lynchburg to bask in the aroma of award-winning barbecue. “Being on the professional barbecue circuit is a way of life, and many people spend their whole lives trying to get to The Jack,” said Lynne Tolley, great-grandniece of Jack Daniel.  “After a long season of cooking and qualifying, just getting here is a reward in itself. Every year we are amazed at how the interest grows.”

Silky Sullivan, the legendary Memphis restaurant and bar owner and high profile judge at The Jack, once prepared barbecue in Moscow’s Red Square. A peerless raconteur, Sullivan says “barbecue pairs nicely with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey.” It’s a natural fit, Lynchburg’s gift to the world.










Monday, October 18, 2010

THE DALAI LAMA

 TEACHING AT EMORY UNIVERSITY

 “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

ATLANTA--Emory University has a rather impressive Presidential Distinguished Professor. His name is His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama and he came to the Atlanta campus, a place he now calls “my university,” to lecture and participate in discussions. The weather was near perfect and the topics timely for students and adults.

The first all-day conference brought leading scientists and educators into dialogue with the Dalai Lama to discuss the state of current research on empathy and compassion, the scientific study of meditation practices for cultivating compassion, and the implementation of such meditation programs in various clinical and educational settings. The importance of empathy and compassion for human flourishing is being increasingly recognized in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, medicine and contemplative science.

The following day’s program brought together on Emory’s stage internationally known humanitarian and award-winning actor Richard Gere with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Georgia native Alice Walker for "The Creative Journey: Artists in Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Spirituality and Creativity."  The topics included: How do the arts help us to express, or indeed to uncover, our spiritual yearnings and questions or certainties?  What do the artist and the spiritual master have to teach each other from their respective disciplines?  What is the role of tradition (or, conversely, iconoclasm) in maintaining or renewing art and spiritual life?  Is the human being innately spiritual, innately artistic? 

Emory University continues to be the intellectual and academic epicenter of the New South and beyond. I will be writing columns about these momentous events, placing certain aspects of this special visit in context of Atlanta and the South’s history along with the development of new understandings and visions.




Tuesday, October 12, 2010

TEQUILA TRAIL

Spirits, Grandeur and Friendship


GUADALAJARA. The Tequila volcano peak reaches almost three miles, a mighty sentinel overlooking the primary Tequila distilleries and agave fields of Mexico.  According to legend, the agave embodies the spirit of the goddess Mayahuel, a divinity that possessed four hundred breasts to nurture four hundred offspring. Thus, some of the mystique of Tequila, made from the agave, a lily that thrives in the volcanic soil and blazing sunshine of the highlands and lowlands in the state of Jalisco.


Journalist Sheila Callahan at Casa Patron
Guadalajara, a city of approximately five million and host to the 2011 Pan American Games, is on same latitude as Hawaii. The universe was planned with more than one earthly paradise and here is the perfect beginning for traveling the Tequila trail.

Mexico is rich in history and heritage: Mariachi music, well-mannered people with beautiful children, remnants of ancient civilizations, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and, of course Tequila. The regal spirit’s essentials, when understood, opens the door to more drinking enjoyment. Blanco is clear and aged no more than 60 days in stainless steel tanks. Reposado (rested), the best-selling Tequila in Mexico, is aged in wood for a minimum of two months, while Añejo (old) Tequila, is aged in wooden barrels, which sometimes are used Bourbon or even Bordeaux barrels, for a minimum of 12 months with some aged up to four years.

Tequila appreciation begins with the blue agave, a very hardy plant harvested by rugged jimadores. The resulting heart or piña (it looks like a giant pineapple) finds its way to one of the distilleries in the region. It is cut, placed in ovens, steam baked and the carbohydrate transformed to fructose. Then it is fermented, distilled, bottled and labeled.

Many of the distilleries are quite familiar: Sauza, Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, Herradura, Cazadores and Patron are Tequila powerhouses with a global presence. These are dominant brands with technologically advanced facilities located in breathtaking venues that Mexico justifiably showcases. A week into the Tequila trail and you realizes that these are comparable to the Bourbon and whiskey distilleries of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Although spirits like Bourbon and whiskey are different in composition and taste, the share common ground with premium tequila. There are rigidly enforced procedures, formulas and regulations. Tequila’s trustworthiness ranks alongside Cognac and Champagne.
ENJOYING TEQUILA
 Some traditionalists say that Tequila should be consumed in particular ways that honor the spirit. A popular chaser is Sangrita, a tangy mixture of tomato and orange juice. Blanco and Reposado are often sipped out of a caballito or shot glass. Añejo, say many others, should be served in a French snifter. Atlanta Mixologist Stephanie Ruhe suggests a glass by Riedel, one she says is “similar to a flute glass. It’s delicately designed and aesthetically suitable for gentler Tequila enjoyment.” And, drinking straight spirits, even the noble Tequila isn’t always appealing to women. It gets hot here in the Deep South and there’s nothing taboo about ice.

Tequila is Experience Blacno, Reposado and Añejo and then determine what you prefer. Enjoy it straight, on rocks or add a splash of lime to a rich Añejo. Tequila, one of the world’s great spirits, is multidimensional. The added complexity from a measure of Cointreau, Triple Sec or Combier magnifies the Tequila experience. Design your own cocktail.

Tequila remains the blue agave’s gift to the world.



Saturday, October 2, 2010

TAILGATING DOWN SOUTH

AUTUMN'S OUTDOOR FEAST

It is a hallowed culinary ritual down here, inextricably tied to NASCAR races, college and NFL football. Tailgating is core heritage, vital bedrock, and a supersized, high-octane picnic as Deep South as grits with red-eye gravy. Many wonder where it began. Frank Spence, a former top Atlanta Braves executive and a respected student of Southern customs believes that the 1861 “Great Skeedadle” and the law of unintended consequences launched the first tailgating party. A native of Nashville, Spence was referring to the Union Army retreat after the first battle of Bull Run. “Accompanied by beautiful women, Congressmen set up colorful tents for a fancy hillside picnic to view the assumed destruction of General Lee’s rookie army.

Unaware of the looming disaster, party wagons-forerunners of today’s caterers- arrived loaded with picnic baskets filled with fancy food, and cases of expensive French Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Reacting to the sudden bad turn of events, lawmakers and their ladies fled back to Washington’s fortified safety, abandoning the delicious goodies. Exhausted Southern soldiers removed the food and wine from the rear of the wagons and celebrated, going home after the war to share the amazing memories with others.” Thus, claims the ebullient Mr. Spence, “tailgatin’ was born.”

FOOD FAVORITES


There is an art to producing a successful tailgate experience. The formula, according to authorities like Josh Butler, the acclaimed chef for three Florida governors, includes an outdoor venue, friends and family, wonderful food and  appropriate things to drink. “Combine everything,” says Butler, who can lay claim as one of Florida’s most accomplished celebrity chefs, “and you have magic, a feast for the ages.”

Tailgating food should be informal, even casual. One secret is the little things served. I found the combination of charm and down-home cooking in a line of products made in Norman Park, Georgia, not far from the Florida border. Lauri Jo’s Southern Style Canning, www.laurijossouthernstylecanning.com, features pickled okra, pickled asparagus and green tomatoes and much more. This began as a hobby at a local high school canning plant and blossomed into a full-blown family owned and operated business with sales in 16 states including the Florida Panhandle. The products are unique to the South. 

The pickled okra can be rolled in cream cheese and wrapped in honey ham for an unforgettable snack. The picked asparagus is a nice touch for a bloody mary stirrer and if fish-smoked, grilled or fried- is on the tailgate menu, the pickled green tomatoes provide extra mojo before kickoff.

LOCATION, LOCATION

The debate rages about the best tailgating culture. LSU, Auburn, Alabama, FSU and Florida make a convincing case, but then there’s Nascar. A weekend tailgating at Talladega just outside Birmingham will cast out any doubts that tailgating, just like barbeque and grilling, is solid, red-blooded Americana, a tradition that is only going to grow stronger.

Tailgating at LaGrange (Georgia) High School could put many colleges to shame.  Five years ago, a couple of students decided to form there own spirit group called the "Blue Crew" selling T-Shirts, using the profits for hot dogs and hamburgers given to those who wore the shits for football games.  The crew has grown. The night before each game, the guys go to the grocery store and purchase enough hamburgers and hotdogs to feed an average crowd of 200. The group is so large they have to start cooking early to feed everyone.  The young ladies are in charge of setting up the serving line and assembling the cheeseburgers and hotdogs while the guys cook. Out of this, chefs will be born.

SOMETHING COLD AND DELICIOUS


Beer or sweet tea remain constant staples, but based on my first-hand observations,  tailgaters are getting more sophisticated and gravitating to sparkling wines plus white and red still wines, particularly those that are light and handle a chill. Heaven knows, Tequila will forever have a prominent place with the tailgating bartenders. However, the objective is not serving alcohol; it’s compatability with the food. All these fit with the customary tailgating menu of Southern picnic-style dishes.

A variation would be Sangria. It’s easy to make, very popular and recipes are found all over the Internet and in cookbooks. For more drama, there are Mojitos, Daiquiris and even Martinis.

My favorite tailgating memory began after a game in the parking lot just outside FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium. Most football fans were tired and hot, but our gang was just getting warmed up. Some members of FSU’s marching band came by and we made a deal. If they would serenade us and beat wild rhythms on those amazing drums, we would include them in the post-game feast.

Three more hours of fun. A legendary tailgating soiree.








Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DOC'S NEWS: CIVIL WAR BOOKS

DOC'S NEWS: CIVIL WAR BOOKS: "THE GRANITE SENTINEL As a son of the South, my early and profound influences were formed largely through oral history and some very good boo..."

CIVIL WAR BOOKS

THE GRANITE SENTINEL


As a son of the South, my early and profound influences were formed largely through oral history and some very good books. I knew who fought with what army where in the War Between the States. I take pride in sharing DNA with some who did their duty and served these great armies and cavalries until all was lost. I supplemented my knowledge with even more books, notably Life in Dixie During the War, by Decatur, Georgia heroine Mary Gay and, of course, Gone With The Wind. These could have satisfied my curiosity about life back then, but reading George Coletti's monumental new work Stone Mountain: The Granite Sentinel, was an eye-opener, awakening me to how little I actually knew.

Prompted by Coletti's brilliantly told stories, I began visiting many of the places near my home. The Andrew Johnson cemetery, holding the remains of a Stone Mountain founding family, the Stone Mountain Cemetery with the mass graves in the Confederate section, an uncomfortable experience as you think of the wartime tragedy leading to such impersonal burial, knowing how their surviving families likely never knew what happened to them.

Grown men make war and everyone somehow loses something, a life, a few years of youth, a healthy body or hope. There are magnificent heroes in The Granite Sentinel to be sure, but the overriding sentiment is that war is senseless, attacking the core of our collective humanity. That's not to take anything away from the brave soldiers who gave their lives-my own family shares a similar heritage-but more a personal lament that any of God's children had to die unnaturally.

POIGNANT INSIGHTS

It takes a mighty effort to bring a reader's interest back to the events of long ago, but Coletti is equal to the Herculean task. The characters seem to leap from the pages grasping for a heartstring. There is a message: "Never forget us."

The United States approaches the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States and The Granite Sentinel is perfectly positioned to make these tumultuous events and brave, good people live once again through the power of good storytelling, something Southern writers have nailed down from time immemorial.

All the elements of greatness are drawn together in The Granite Sentinel: romance and love, loyalty and duty, chivalry and generosity, and most of all, honor. Reading the debate between two of the South's finest statesmen-orators, Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs during Georgia's Secession Convention in 1861, is a stunning example of the remarkable power of language, history, law and love of place. Two men destined to lead the Confederacy, one as Vice President, the other as Secretary of State. One opposed to Secession, the other in favor. Both were close friends and shared a love for the South that transcended differences.
 The Granite Sentinel is profoundly important and belongs in the home library of all who love both the South and America.

Because of George Coletti's epic saga so skillfully produced in Stone Mountain: The Granite Sentinel, those who read this book may feel moved to answer the calls from those gray spirits that seem to still cry out.

"Rest now. We will not forget you."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

MAINE VACATION


LOBSTER AND SERENITY IN ROCKLAND 

Rockland is a storybook village where almost everything is linked with the ocean. The lovely village provides the quintessentially American vacation encouraging visitors to slow down and smell the roses.

My abode for a few days was the grand Lime Rock Inn, www.limerockinn.com. Tucked away on a quiet street in Rockland’s Historic District, the magnificent bed and breakfast is a pleasant walk to the world-class Farnsworth Museum, fine dining, interesting shopping, and the Atlantic shore. Encircled by a wraparound porch and landscaped gardens, this beautiful turreted Victorian mansion exemplifies Queen Anne architecture and harkens to the enviable lifestyle of 19th Century New England.

Lime Rock became my Rockland headquarters, combining luxury amenities, a dream-inducing bed, topped off with delightful breakfast conversations with Frank and PJ enjoyed with just baked pastries and hot gourmet coffee.

Like the other historic inns, The Captain Lindsey House, www.lindseyhouse.com, is near Rockland’s many wonders.  Innkeepers Ken and Ellen Barnes retired as owners of the windjammer Stephen Taber – the oldest documented
schooner in continuous recorded service – and wove their maritime life into the ambience of this luxurious escape. World-traveled mariners, the gregarious couple’s combined talents include careers as highly respected professional actors, directors and set designers. Originally built in 1835, the Barnes’ purchase of the inn saved it from demise, allowing guests to behold the stunning collection of furniture and collectables from their world travels.

The Old Granite Inn, www.oldgraniteinn.com, began in 1840 as a Federal Colonial house built of gray granite quarried nearby in St. George. The house was both the residence and office for at least two physicians and their families. Today, Joan and Edwin Hantz manage the Inn, furnished with an artful counterpoint of genuine antiques and modern pieces.  The extensive front porch is positioned to greet the day and inspire late afternoon conversation with tea or a glass of wine.

The stately Berry Manor Inn, www.berrymanorinn.com, was once the home of one of Rockland’s most prominent merchants. Built in 1898 with all the grandeur of the Victorian age, Cheryl Michaelsen and her husband Michael LaPosta bought it a century later, converting it to an elegant bed and breakfast now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  Recognized as one of Maine’s most romantic inns, the Berry Manor Inn is renowned for its room amenities and overall hospitality, an ideal vacation home for exploring Rockland’s cultural treasures.


LOBSTER EXPERIENCES

The "Captain Jack" is an authentic downeast working lobster boat. Like thousands before me, I got on board for a glimpse of seals, the legendary harbor porpoise, an occasional sunfish and maybe a whale. Captain Hale (his real name) hauls in his traps so guests can get up close and personal with the lobsters and crabs.
 
The trip is a photographer’s dream with ocean views of Owls Head Light house and the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse amid sounds of herring gulls, black back gulls, terns and osprey all combined with local history and experience the daily life of a local lobsterman
. Bonus: you’ll leave knowing the difference between male and female lobsters.

SO MUCH CULTURE

Few small towns in America offer cultural advantages like the Bay Chamber Concert series, www.baychamberconcerts.org, and the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center, www.farnsworthmuseum.org.  Local museums include Maine’s Lighthouse Museum, www.mainelighthousemuseum.com, exhibiting the largest collection of lighthouse lenses, the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, www.owlshead.org, with a fabulous collection of early cars and planes. Among the most renowned art museums in New England, The Farnsworth exhibits works by great names in 18th and 19th-century American art including Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, Thomas Eakins and Maurice Prendergast. The museum also houses works by premier 20th-century sculptor Louise Nevelson. Its Wyeth Center exclusively features works of Andrew, N.C. and Jamie Wyeth, America's first family of art.

ROCKLAND DINING

When Food Network brought Bobby Flay to Rockland, this confirmed that the local gourmet reputation is now national. The Historic Inns of Rockford, www.HistoricInnsofRockland.com, offers a gourmet progressive dinner at three restaurants with a specially created tasting menu that during my stay included Café Miranda, In Good Company, Amalfi on the Water, Suzuki Sushi, Rustica Cucina Italiano and Lilly Bistro. My evenings with chef/owner John Stowe at Rustica and Kerry Altiero’s spectacularly eclectic Café Miranda provided memorable cuisine.











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