Wednesday, December 28, 2011



"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr.

By Doc Lawrence

LOUSIVILLE. Bourbon is all over the pages of newspapers and magazines, even featured on network television news. For a product that has been quintessentially American since the days of George Washington, in his own right a highly successful whiskey maker, one might think that intrepid investigative reporters had recently discovered this elixir.
No amount of sleuthing can uncover anything new except that Bourbon has returned to it’s place of prominence in a way that parallels the return of red wine over white to the casual enthusiast. Dark or brown drinks now threaten clear ones dominated still by vodka.

My Bourbon experiences are up close and personal, garnering wisdom and a better-educated palate by traveling to Kentucky to drop in places like Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Michter’s and more. After several Kentucky trips, I decided the most memorable moment was a recent afternoon tasting Wild Turkey in its various forms with the legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell. In the private bar outside his office in the distillery’s Lawrenceburg headquarters, he poured each of his products sold in the market, told how he made them while I, like an obedient student, dutifully sipped. This, I thought, must have been how the first person who tasted Dom Peringon’s bubbly felt after sampling the monk’s Champagne centuries ago.

The evening before, I had dinner with Kentucky’s heralded bartender, Joy Perrine in the Oak Room, a place frequented by the rich and famous in Louisville’s luxurious Seelbach Hotel,

For the record, the ebullient and eloquent Ms. Perrine, the best known and most acclaimed bartender in Louisville. rejects the  yuppyfied mixologist label.

Joy gave me a signed copy of her book, The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, co-authored with Susan Reigler, (The University Press of Kentucky, 2009), and ordered everyone an Old Fashioned, arguably America’s first cocktail, and told me how to make a great one.

Here is the one Bourbon cocktail that has been served since time immemorial. It’s an American classic and a splendid drink for the holidays.
Joy Perrine’s Old-Fashioned
1 orange slice
1 maraschino cherry
1/2-ounce simple syrup
5 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon

In a rocks glass, muddle the orange slice and cherry with the Simple Syrup and bitters. Add the bourbon and a few ice cubes and stir well.

Enjoy the story about Koinonia, the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity:

Friday, December 23, 2011


                   By Doc Lawrence and Lynne Brandon

One priceless holiday tradition is serving homemade egg nog to family and friends. Like Bourbon, one of the primary ingredients, it’s as American as anything that comes to mind. George Washington served it at Mount Vernon, as did Thomas Jefferson to his Monticello guests.
Because this is the first year of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, we searched and found the treasured General Robert E. Lee family recipe for the egg nog. Other recipes include one from the founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Dale DeGroff, the most respected mixologist in the country today. More than anyone, DeGroff returned the art of the cocktail to the gourmet culture where it originated.

And there’s one from NASCAR legend Junior Johnson featuring one of his own distilled spirits, making the case that egg nog tastes even better when accompanied by a good story.

From THE ROBERT E. LEE FAMILY COOKING AND HOUSEKEEPING BOOK, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1996, a highly recommended resource for home entertaining. Minimal editing added refrigeration.

The Recipe (makes 1.5 gallons.)

12 Eggs, Separated
12 Tbs, Sugar
7 Wineglasses of Brandy (approx. 5 ounces = 1 wineglass)
5 Wineglasses of Rum (or Bourbon)
2 -3 Quarts of Milk
1 Quart of Cream
Fresh Nutmeg
Beat egg whites till stiff. Beat yolks with sugar till sugar is dissolved (should not feel grainy when run between your fingers).
Fold egg mixtures together. Pour in the brandy and rum, and stir. Let stand for 30 minutes to an hour. Add 2 quarts of milk and the cream. Taste – if too strong, then add the 3rd quart of milk, otherwise sprinkle with nutmeg, and let stand overnight on cool porch, or in refrigerator.

From Dale DeGroff (1 batch - 6 people)  

"This was my Grandmother's brother's recipe. He submitted the recipe to the Four Roses whiskey people in some kind of contest and the PR people or who ever handled the advertising in those days sent a release for him to sign for its use on the bottle and in ads. An engineer, Angelo Gencarelli owned a Granite quarry in Rhode Island and figured out a way to build stone jetties into the ocean without renting barges and tugboats. His Italian stone cutters cut the stone in the quarry in such a way that on side the stone was flat and the trucks could drive out on the jetty as it was being built. He built a lot of the jetties along the East Coast especially in New England, but some here on Long Island as well.

Angelo always had two bowls of egg nog at Christmas, one for the kids and one for the grown-ups. Here is the recipe, and incidentally what made the recipe special was its lightness, twice as much milk as cream and the white of the egg whipped stiff and folded in to the mix, so it was almost like clouds on top of the egg nog."

6 eggs (separated)
1 qt. milk
1 pint cream
1 tbsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup sugar
6 oz. bourbon
6 oz. your favorite medium bodied rum 
Put the whites aside in the fridge for the time being. Beat egg yolks well until they turn very light in color, adding half a cup of sugar as you beat, when you think you have beat them enough beat them a little more. Add milk, cream and liquor to finished yolks. Stir well and Chill this mixture. Then when you are ready to serve beat egg whites with 1/4 cup the remaining sugar until they peak. Fold whites into mixture. Grate fresh nutmeg over drink.

Whisk together and cook (stirring constantly for about 30 minutes) until mixture reaches 160F:
8 eggs
3 cups 2% milk
1.5 cup fat free evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
Strain the cooked mixture into a large bowl, then add:
1 cup Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine
1/2 cup Myer’s Jamaican dark rum
1/2 cup Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
3 Tablespoons St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1 Tablespoon homemade cinnamon syrup
1 teaspoon Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
Cover and let age in the refrigerator for as long as you want.
Serve with a dusting of ground nutmeg.

Warmest Wishes For A Wonderful Holiday Season And A Happy New Year!

Enjoy this story about a farm in rural Georgia, the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity:

Thursday, December 15, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

Celtic and Appalachian traditions, high spirits and mystical song share a Christmas legacy this time of year, confirming the importance of cultural heritage.  Deep in the Appalachian Mountains the ancient hymns and Christmas songs are brushed off for festivals, celebrations and religious services.

And you can find the song and dance of the season here in Atlanta.

This year marks the 19th annual Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert which takes place on Dec. 17 at Agnes Scott College’s Presser Hall. Hosting the concert is a good friend, James Flannery, the Winship Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Emory University. An internationally renowned Irish tenor and theater producer, Flannery is a scholar of W.B. Yeats and directs the W.B. Yeats Foundation, which produces the concert. Flannery long ago reintroduced audiences to the Celtic-Appalachian connections where they are most recognizable in music, dance, hospitality and reverence for things sacred. A casual examination of dance forms popular in Southern mountain communities today-buck, clogging or flat-foot-manifests similarities with Irish step-dancing, recalling many scenes from “Riverdance.”

According to Flannery, “the principal appeal of the concert to people of all ages and religious affiliations lies in the way it expresses the quest for spiritual renewal at the heart of the Christmas season.”

Featured performers include renowned Irish folk singer Moya Brennan and her ensemble; American banjoist and Grammy-Award winner Alison Brown; storyteller and fiddler Joe Craven; Irish guitarist and songwriter John Doyle; and the Emory Celtic Chorus, who will sing “Quis Est Deus?” (“Who Is God?”), a choral piece based on a seventh-century Irish poem in which a fairy questions St. Patrick about the nature of the Christian God he
is bringing to Ireland. Other performers include three Grammy winners: “First Lady of Celtic Song” Moya Brennan; Celtic and bluegrass banjo virtuoso Alison Brown; and “Riverdance” composer Bill Whelan with a stunning choral setting of a seventh-century Irish prayer poem.

Also featured are the soulful harmonies of Rising Appalachia, a dynamic duo winning applause with their innovative interpretations of traditional Southern music. Other performers include madcap percussionist Joe Craven, renowned Irish balladeer John Doyle, uillean piper John Maschinot, The Buddy O’Reilly Band, the Rosin Sisters and other top traditional musicians of the Southeast. The vital Southeastern Celtic music scene will be represented in both the Irish tradition and in the Scottish, as well as many forms of Appalachian-style music with its close connections to the Celtic lands.

“People tell us that they return to the Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert year after year because they find a sense of community,” says Flannery. “People feel free to join in with laughter, clapping hands, even shouts of encouragement as fiddlers and dancers take flight. In a real sense, at the Celtic Christmas Concert, the performers onstage and the members of the audience become a family, joined by the wonder and joy of all that we share together.”

Enjoy Lynne Brandon’s wonderful North Carolina holiday story, “City of Lights,” at

 See "Atlanta Celtic Christmas" on Georgia Public Broadcasting:

Friday, November 25, 2011




"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well,
if one has not dined well."

                         ~ Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

By Doc Lawrence


They gathered at Atlanta’s Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, celebrating the good fortune of four chefs with food, wine and cocktails. Atlanta has evolved as a gourmet destination, reaching well-deserved heights and there’s no getting around the tireless effort by the Ritz-Carlton to maintain its position as the best here.

 This was a special dinner inspired by Esquire Magazine’s selection of Ritz Chef Todd Richards and three other masters as chefs to watch, rising stars who produce, as the magazine feature said, “The Best Food in America.” Introductions and commentary were from the magazine’s highly regarded food critic John Mariani who selected the four chefs for Esquire.

And joining Mr. Mariani at The Café in the Ritz Buckhead were the four chefs.

The reception featured a touch of North Georgia elegance, flutes of Wolf Mountain Blanc de Blanc, served with The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead’s Chef Todd Richards’ canapés: duck croquette with duck sauce, local apple, pork belly with acorn squash puree, plus seared scallop with chorizo crisp, lemon sabayon, and Blue Ridge Mountain trout roe.

More than a few guests clamored for something original and daring.  Mixologist magician Christa Sladky answered, serving her “Buck Stone” Sidecar, a knockout cocktail welcoming everyone to Atlanta.

Chef Sachin Chopra came from All Spice in San Mateo, California to prepare the first course, roasted mini-pumpkin with truffled wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, spicy pumpkin spread. The gifted Sommelier Linda Torres Alarcon poured her delightful white wine selection, Chanson Mathier, “Les Cabotines,” Montlouis, from the Loire Valley of France, and it seamlessly blended with everything on the plate.

Next was Chef Tyler Brown who commands Nashville’s crown jewel, The Capital Grille in the legendary Hermitage Hotel. His second course of capers glade clams was served with “dirty” Anson Mills faro and paired with Ms. Alarcon’s delightful choice, a Gruner Veltliner from Austria.

The third course was Mangalitsa pork neck with braised radish, pesto, cardamom and chickpea prepared by another Esquire rising star, Scott Anderson, the acclaimed Chef at Elements in Princeton, New Jersey. It was time for a light, fruit-filled red wine and the generous pours of Chiroubles, a Cru Beaujolais, magnified the majesty of this dish.

Chef Todd Richards heads the gourmet kitchen at the Buckhead Ritz, and is among Atlanta’s food elite, that upper echelon who sets the standard for epicurean excellence. The event pièce de résistance was his dessert, a maple panna cotta with a touch of Bourbon. The accompanying wine was Cocchi, Barolo Chinato from Italy’s Piedmont.

In his comments, John Mariani observed that Atlanta and Nashville, represented in Esquire by Chef Todd Richards and Chef Tyler Brown, “show how far southern cooking has come without losing what made it great in the first place.”

Four rising star chefs, three courses, one dessert, a new cocktail, five classic wines and a trove of priceless memories.

We dined well.

NOTE: Jack Daniel's World Champion Barbecue. Read the story-

Sunday, November 20, 2011




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 church bell ringing or a haunting trumpet solo.

Thanksgiving was officially introduced to Americans by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. The Civil War Sesquicentennial began this year and extends through 2015.  A prayer of gratitude was found in the belongings of a dead Confederate 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.

Thanksgiving 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 quiet acknowledgement for the gift of life and the beauty of the nearby world.

Warmest wishes,
Doc Lawrence
Stone Mountain, Georgia

Friday, November 18, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

Most music fans today may not be familiar with songs like “Work With Me Annie, “ and “Sexy Ways,” but in my baby days whether high school or college, these were anthems for Saturday night dances. Hank Ballard, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was banned from white radio stations during rock music’s early years. Like all mindless censorship, this only made his records more popular with listeners like me.

Hank’s band, the Midnighters, has no counterpart today. These guys could boogie all night.  They did Hank’s music, not some stranger’s. I saw him many times at Atlanta’s legendary black nightclub, The Royal Peacock, where he sang and danced his own creation, “The Twist.” Chubby Checker was a poor imitation of the real thing.

I was on my college homecoming committee and persuaded them to book Hank instead of The Glenn Miller Orchestra, assuring them that the Midnighters were family entertainment.

FSU tossed around the idea of expelling me.

Long gone now, Hank Ballard would be 83 today. I became a musician in college, played in a good band, making a little walk around money and dated pretty girls. Deep inside, I know I got the rhythm and swagger from Hank. These are precious memories today, and I still play “Annie Had A Baby,” when I have weekend cocktails. I think of him and his magnificent live performances and just feel good all over.

Happy Birthday, Hank! From me and millions of grateful fans.


Thursday, November 17, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

CHEROKEE, N.C.- As part of American Indian Heritage month, the highly-respected Museum of the Cherokee Indian launched a series of new programs showcasing Ostenaco's and Henry Timberlake's historic journey to each other's countries as Emissaries of Peace two hundred and fifty years ago. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian will celebrate their stories and explore their two cultures-Cherokee and British-with seven events in four states in through the new year.. 

"We are looking forward to these exciting events, and taking this story of two cultures to a wider audience," said Ken Blankenship, Executive Director of the Museum and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  In 2006, the Museum created the exhibit, "Emissaries of Peace: 1762 Cherokee and British Delegations." It was designated a "We the People" exhibit by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  This designation is awarded to projects that encourage and strengthen the understanding of American history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America.

During 2012, seven events and a public television broadcast will tell this story to new audiences.  A battle re-enactment, festivals with eighteenth century Cherokee living history, scholarly symposia, a television broadcast and a trip to London take place from Memorial Day through November. Additionally, a smaller version of the Emissaries exhibit will be on display at Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington, Penn., and at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tenn., while the original exhibit resides at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C.

Performances throughout the year bring history to life. Henry Timberlake and Ostenaco will provide first person historical interpretation.  The Warriors of AniKituwha, a traditional Cherokee dance group sponsored by the Museum, will be performing at all venues.  As official cultural ambassadors, this group has been at the center of cultural revitalization for Cherokee people. They have inspired pride in a little-known period of Cherokee history when Cherokees took part in global events. Timberlake's description of the War Dance that welcomed him is the basis for their revival of this and other traditional Cherokee dances. Research used in the exhibit has inspired and helped create cultural revitalization in traditional dance, Cherokee clothing, pottery, fingerweaving, feather capes and more. 

The exhibit has been viewed by more than two million people since its opening in 2006. It was the first exhibit created by an American Indian tribe to be displayed at the Smithsonian, opening in 2007 at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It has been on display at the Frank McClung Museum in Knoxville, Tenn., the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla., and the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. 
For more:


Tuesday, November 8, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

The forests around Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park, one of the most well-maintained and popular urban parks in America, have Indian paths. The Cherokee Trail is fairly well marked; the Hightower (Etowah), which is the boundary between Gwinnett and Dekalb counties is mentioned on a few historical monuments, and there are others you will find only by some expert searching with a local native. I have one guide, a friend who is part African, part Creek, part Blackfoot and knows what he’s doing.

Each year, Native Americans gather here at the park facing the Confederate memorial carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and for a few days perform dances accompanied by drums, chants and very informative introductions. I come over from my house to enjoy the color, children, and photo opportunities and to absorb all the irony.

This was once their land. Period. Stone Mountain has spiritual and heritage importance to Indians. One, my friend Howard, an elderly and very pleassant man who lives in nearby Shermantown, once told me to “walk up the mountain without shoes.” He explained that the mountain has healing powers. He also has spring water from a deep well he drilled in his yard adjacent to the mountain. When I feel a little down, I trade Howard a bottle of wine for a gallon. It’s a Southern tradition.

He’s convinced me it’s the best water in the South.

The event is top notch and due to the absence of all alcohol is family friendly and completely safe. The tom-toms kept up a pulsating beat, the chanters stayed on track and the dancers kept going until everything came to a close.

You leave and wonder why in heaven’s name native people were treated so badly? They honor this land that was once theirs.

Thanksgiving Wine? It should be American. Read the story:

And don’t forget to join me with Esquire Magazine’s Four Chefs on Nov. 14 at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta:

Thursday, November 3, 2011



I met Todd Richards while he was the Executive Chef at Louisville’s Oak Room in the Seelbach Hotel. When he assumed the gourmet helm at Buckhead’s Café at the Ritz-Carlton, I quickly booked a reservation and dined, confirming glorious memories of my previous dining experience and realized that Richards was rapidly advancing his seemingly unmatchable wizardry with food.

Now, here’s some great news for Atlanta. Chef Todd Richards was just named one of four new “Chefs to Watch” in the November issue of Esquire. For those who haven’t experienced his menu, Richards, along with the other three "Chefs to Watch,” will gather at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead for a first-ever collaboration to create lunch and dinner on Monday, November 14.

Each chef will prepare one course of a four-course menu. Adding even more to this event, acclaimed sommelier Linda Torres Alarcon will be pairing wines. For lunch, the courses will be slightly different and smaller, and the wine pours will also be appropriate to the portions.

Esquire lavished praise for Chef Richards: “Following European masters at the Ritz, Richards, an American, shows his own sumptuous style in dishes like foie gras with huckleberry gastrique.” This recognition follows Richards’ well-received recent appearance and lively cooking demonstration with Al Roker on NBC’s TODAY.

The other chefs are Tyler Brown The Capitol Grille, Nashville, Sachin Chopra, All Spice, San Mateo, California and Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton, N.J.

Lunch begins with a reception 11:30 a.m. with seating at 12 Noon and $65 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuities The Dinner reception is 7 p.m., with seating at 7:30 p.m. $85 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuities.

Monday, October 31, 2011




By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA--Mark St. Germain’s play Freud’s Last Session, the longest-running Off-Broadway show was inspired by the book The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and The Meaning of Life by Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. On this magnificent downtown Atlanta stage, two of the world’s most brilliant men, legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud and rising Oxford professor C.S. Lewis address the greatest questions of all time and clash about love, sex, the existence of God, and the meaning of life, just weeks before Freud ends his own.

On the day of this imaginary 1939 meeting, Hitler has just invaded Poland, Neville Chamberlain is on BBC radio and Freud is dying of cancer. Two of the western world’s most renowned intellectuals face off in a debate (friendly, witty and tasteful) about their respective works and exactly where God fits in. The weighty issues are skillfully argued between 80-year-old Sigmund Freud and his guest, a younger intellectual C.S. Lewis.

Directed by Jessica Phelps West and starring Andrew Benator as C. S. Lewis and David De Vries as Sigmund Freud, the story is fast-paced, highly entertaining and propelled with exceptional visual authenticity by the magnificent set, a replication of Freud’s office in London.

Theatrical Outfit is not the place to find the ordinary. Under Tom Key’s visionary management, each season radiates with a rich mixture of the best plays presented anywhere in the South and Freud’s Last Session only enhances the company’s already stellar reputation.

The only regret-and a mild one- was watching someone other than Key portray C. S. Lewis. Since 1977, Tom Key has presented his one-man show C.S. Lewis On Stage to golbal acclaim.  It’s still the best view we have of C. S. Lewis.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011





By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA, GA- They made journalism as exciting as space exploration. Long ago, two unknown reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate story for the Washington Post and they are making a limited number of appearances in commemoration of 40th anniversary the Watergate break-in. I will be there with them to share their remembrances of the tumultuous times that they, in part, set in motion culminating in the resignation of Richard Nixon and the criminal convictions of myriad Nixon subordinates including the Attorney General of the United States.

Their work set the standard for modern investigative reporting, for which they and the Post were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Together, Woodward and Bernstein wrote two classic best sellers: “All the President’s Men,” about their experience covering the Watergate story and “The Final Days,” about the denouement of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Forever enshrined in the classic Hollywood movie, “All the President’s Men, “ starring Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward, the onc-time beat reporters in Washington now occupy a prominent place in American history.

I’ll tell you all about them later, hopefully sharing a few facts heretofore kept secret.

NOTE: Here’s the first Civil War story from my recent Kentucky journey:

Plus fine dining in Louisville:

Thursday, October 20, 2011




By Doc Lawrence

SUMMERVILLE, GA- The Rev. Howard Finster, a folk artist who gained global fame with his divinely inspired works, departed this earth 10 years ago on October 22. Attention spans are short these days and Georgia, like the entire art world, suffers irreparably should the legacy of this messenger of things noble and worthy find a place in the scrap heap of history and heritage.

Thanks greatly to the unselfish efforts of Chicago’s David Leonardis, Finster’s magnificently powerful art survives. Much like Atlanta’s High Museum of Art which has an impressive collection of Finster originals, Leonardis, who was with his close friend Finster just hours prior to his death, displays these works and has events incorporating all facets of this ostensibly simple man who was in truth as complicated and mysterious as any scientist or philosopher I’ve met.

Leonardis created the Howard Finster Vision House in Summerville where Howard once lived. Despite a poor economy, his plans to have a living art center including a bed and breakfast are progressing impressively. Like his artist hero, Mr. Leonardis doesn’t buy into despair or quitting.

While Finster spent the better part of his life as a country preacher, when he was 59, he received a vision which he interpreted as a message from God instructing him to begin painting sacred art. Thousands of paintings later, Finster’s artwork is in the Smithsonian, the American Folk Art Museum in NYC, the Library of Congress and major museums and collections around the world. Howard Finster painted album covers like R.E.M.'s Reckoning and Talking Heads' Little Creatures, which Rolling Stone named “Album Cover of the Year.”

More than any person I have known, Rev. Howard Finster remained true to his core beliefs. There was never the slightest doubt when I was with him that God was there. Heaven was in his eyes and his voice. There was  comfort and a peace. My own demons were silenced.

I miss this great man. He transformed my life and his art remains more than a precious memory. It is alive with universal truths.

David Leonardis the country’s largest collector and dealer of Finster’s art, is founder and curator of the Howard Finster Vision House in Summerville, just south of Chattanooga and about a two-hour drive from Atlanta. The house is where Finster saw a vision of God prompting him to create sacred art.

NOTE: I will be in Lynchburg, Tennessee this weekend as a judge in the fabulous Jack Daniel’s International Barbecue Competition. It is one of North America’s greatest festivals and I hope to see you there. 
Memories of last year:

Monday, October 17, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

LYNCHBURG, TENNESSEE—It’s my favorite festival, a gala gathering of Americans and guests from other countries here in beautiful bucolic Tennessee. With the legendary Jack Daniel Whiskey Distillery next door, barbecue teams from throughout America are in their designated spaces practicing their food preparation techniques, joined in the nearby international courtyard by championship barbecue teams from many countries like Ireland, England, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and many others.

The stakes are high here with the competitive goal to win one of the coveted awards announced late Saturday afternoon. It’s big cash along with the priceless prestige that comes with bringing home a trophy from the best event of its kind on the planet. “The Jack,” as it’s called, is the Super Bowl of championship barbecue.

Friendships just naturally come from this one-of-a-kind event. Here is where I first met the legendary Johnny Majors, the football player and coach who is held in much the same esteem here as other Tennessee greats like Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett. Coach Majors, the quintessential Southern gentleman, is a longtime judge at “The Jack,” whose family pioneered this area where he grew up and lives.

Look around and you’ll see folks like Frank Spence, a Nashville native, former ranking executive of the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons and the nation’s top authority on Tailgatin.” Bruce Shelton, another Nashville denizen makes a frequent stop here and is one of the top folk art collectors and dealers anywhere. Olivia Thomason, one of America’s top folk artists, came to work on new paintings about the color and spirit of the event.

The countryside is bucolic and this city looks like a priceless painting by Grandma Moses. A tour of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery prompts an urge for a glass of the elixir over some ice and the Bluegrass music inspires some toe-tapping and even Tennessee-style cloggin.’

I come here because I love this place and the people. It’s Americana, Deep South, and historic but very contemporary in its own way. Here, good food, hickory smoke from the hundreds of grills and Tennessee whiskey blend perfectly with a diverse group of people from the earth’s four corners. Laughter, live music, children playing, adults devouring barbecue dominate everything. Good will abounds.

I come to perform my duties as a judge, but I am also here to interview and tell stories in my columns. For a few days each year, there is no better place to be for a curious writer.

NOTE: Read more about The Jack:

Thursday, October 13, 2011




By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA--Autumn just began, and I celebrated with some great wines from this emerging wine-producing nation. A nice afternoon tasting wines at Atlanta’s St. Regis Hotel with winemaker Simon Fell of New Zealand’s Villa Maria Estate provided an introduction into his new Riesling along with New Zealand staples like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. One thing New Zealand wines have down to perfection is food-friendly wine.

Villa Maria was founded in 1961 and Mr. Fell continues a tradition that led Villa Maria to become a New Zealand wine icon, often pushing the boundaries of winemaking in this country.  Villa Maria was the first wine company in New Zealand sealing all wines from the 2004 vintage onwards with a screw cap and was also the first New Zealand producer to employ professional viticulturists. 

Simon Fell revealed that he sources grapes from New Zealand’s grape growing regions of Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Waipara and produces wines in Auckland and Marlborough. “The Villa Maria portfolio,” he said, “consists of four wine ranges-our private bin, cellar selection, reserve and single vineyard.” We sampled glasses of wines representing each of the four, pairing them with Deep South gourmet staples including cheeses, soups, scallops and vegetables which showcased the fruit-driven New Zealand style.

Inspired by this delightful experience, and because autumn is here, I asked the accomplished Chef Derek Barnes who owns the award-winning Derek’s Culinary Casual restaurant in Sarasota, Florida to provide an October recipe that pairs with the white wines of New Zealand. From Sauvignon Blanc to newcomers like Riesling and Viognier, you will discover some taste thrills with this combination.

                                        ROASTED PUMPKIN BISQUE
                                           Derek’s Culinary Casual, Sarasota, Florida

3# pie pumpkin, halved, seeded and roasted
4 c. vegetable stock
2 T. aged sherry vinegar
5 T. butter
1 small onion, small dice
5 garlic cloves, minced
¼ t. cloves, ground
¼ t. mace, ground
¼ t. ginger, ground
¼ t. allspice berry, ground
kosher salt & white pepper to taste
1 c. heavy cream
In a medium size soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic cloves in the butter until translucent, about four minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the vegetable stock and the vinegar and add the roasted pumpkin.  Add the spices and simmer for 1 hour.  Take off the stove, purée and add the cream.  Season and enjoy.

NOTE: I will be at the incredible Jack Daniel’s International Barbecue Competition in Lynchburg, TN on Oct. 22, serving as a judge. Stop by and say hello and I’ll introduce you to some of the BBQ champions from Switzerland, Ireland, Canada and the good old USA.
Also, check out

Thursday, October 6, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

LAWRENCEBURG, KENTUCKY—It’s an industry like no other anywhere with roots that predate the Declaration of Independence. Whiskey is in the equation that defines us, right alongside baseball and apple pie. And in the Bluegrass state, Bourbon whiskey is a staple, a popular cultural icon  that rivals Bill Monroe and Bluegrass music and even native son, George Clooney.


 My trip to the great Kentucky distilleries began at Wild Turkey, a colossal operation along the Kentucky River. I sat down for a chat with perhaps the most renowned Bourbon maker on this planet and during some sipping of his different brands of Bourbon, learned enough to keep my spirits and cocktail columns loaded with anecdotes for a long time.

Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has been making Bourbon in Lawrenceburg for 54 years. Growing up just five miles from the distillery, Jimmy followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, learning time-honored traditions and techniques uniquely suited to the heart of bourbon country. He trained under Bill Hughes, Wild Turkey Bourbon’s second master distiller, and Ernest W. Ripy, Jr., the son of the original owners. It’s a small community of men who have mastered bourbon, and within this brotherhood, Jimmy Russell has gained a reputation as “the master distillers’ master distiller.”  From the first selection of grains through the entire distillation and aging process, he has fused experience and wisdom to create the finest examples of America’s spirit.

Loaded with whiskey pedigree, Jimmy Russell  rebuilt George Washington's Mount Vernon
Distillery the way it was in the in the 18th century. Washington had the largest whiskey distillery in the country and under the guidance of Jimmy Russell, the operation is back in business making great rye whiskey. 

A visit with Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey will, in the words of the old Bluegrass Gospel song, “set your fields on fire.”

Read more about my trip through Kentucky’s Civil War sites at and the story about Florida’s own vodka at

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Mighty Mullet Maritime Festival


By Doc Lawrence

PANACEA, FLORIDA. The Mighty Mullet Maritime Festival is coming up on Saturday, October 29, and it remains one of my favorites. Kids learn how to build a boat, adults gather oysters, and enjoy a seafood cooking demonstration by Florida’s Top Chef John Minas, who heads the culinary program for the governor.

Panacea is just down the road from the Wakulla Springs resort and a short drive from lovely Tallahassee. The purpose of the event is purely beneficial, raising money for a maritime center in this ancient community by the bay while showcasing the very best fresh saltwater fish, Florida mullet, for seafood lovers,. For the uninitiated, mullet is the preferred fish of many great chefs familiar with the best choices from the sea. This fish is a vegetarian and when fried, baked, grilled or smoked, it is truly delicious.

This action-packed day has it all:  maritime history reenactors, displays and presentations, arts and crafts vendors, toe-tapping live music, the crowning of a Festival King and Queen, and (for children) toy boat building, white boot races, live sea encounters, rides, and much more.  Mullet and other great local seafood will be served up by some of the best area restaurants and food vendors.

The all-day Festival begins at 10 a.m. at Panacea's Woolley Park, just off coastal highway 98 on beautiful Dickerson Bay. The event is perfect for families and you will not meet friendlier people or eat more delicious seafood anywhere in the Sunshine State.

I'll be there and can't wait to make new friends.
For further information, visit
For festivals, great restaurants and autumn travel, go to