Friday, December 20, 2013



By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-Few things remind me more of  special Christmas celebrations than egg nog. The drink, an essential part of the festivities, has quite a lineage and the fact that it is still popular affirms flavor as much as tradition.

I collected recipes for over a decade from historic figures like General Robert E. Lee and contemporary beverage experts, and found some common denominators. Brandy, rum, whiskey, eggs, milk, spices along with crystal cups and glasses are essentials.

Vajra Stratigos, the highly respected beverage director for Atlanta’s gourmet company, Fifth Group Restaurants presented me with his special egg nog recipe, “Lightning and Thunder,” a name that embodies his creative talents and zest for the good life.

“It’s a sweet spot for me,” Vajra said recently. “Growing up, I think egg nog made for some of my most memorable taste experiences over the holidays.”  Like so many celebrants, Vajra offers that he “remain[s] a glutton for the thick rich festive potion.” His recipe is aglow, a versatile and festive Atlanta original that “is really delicious, can be made ahead or a la minute and really fits the classic profile.”

Lightning and Thunder Nog

1t xxx sugar (or confectionary will work also)
1 oz heavy fresh cream
1 fresh egg yolk (pasteurized if you are worried)
2 oz Brandy or Cognac

.75 oz Flor de Cana 7 or 12 year aged rum
.50 oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
I small orange peel
Add egg, cream and sugar to the pint glass and shake hard to emulsify. Then add the dram, the rum and the brandy and shake again. Finally add ice to fill half the glass, cap and shake hard till the shaker is cold and frosty. Strain the contents into a stout tumbler or festive footed stem and garnish with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg and some orange zest. shake once more. Pour into a cocktail glass and finish by shaving a bit of fresh nutmeg and cinnamon on top.


Stone Mountain, Georgia's  Rusty Hamby, a brilliant schoolteacher and an expert on local Civil War history, generously provided this treasured recipe.

The Recipe
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.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Football, Jazz, and Holiday Dining

By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-You could enjoy food and cocktails before going to a football game here and suddenly change your mind, opting for a Broadway-quality play, a visit to a mighty aquarium, a tour of a magnificent museum or a few hours of ecstasy provided by the Atlanta Symphony. You would not have far to go here in Atlanta, the cultural epicenter of what many still call the “New South,” where sports like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball reign. However,  the college football extravaganzas this time of year enjoy equal footing, playing before sold out stadiums.

This holiday season began with a double header: Georgia played Georgia Tech in one of the nation’s oldest college football rivalries followed by the SEC Championship game between Auburn and Missouri at the Georgia Dome. The holiday's are capped off with the Chic-Fil-A Bowl, always a sell-out.

For those who believe the holidays must include the gourmet experience, there are many restaurants and bars near these games. Many are exceptional.

Visiting Atlanta will be an empty experience without spending a little time on the “Gone With The Wind Trail,” an assemblage of sites that pay homage to Margaret Mitchell and the city’s grande dame, Scarlett O’Hara. The Margaret Mitchell House faces Peachtree Street close to Georgia Tech’s campus. A veteran bartender will make the legendary Scarlett O’Hara cocktail on request. Like the Old Fashioned, good cocktails never fade away.

The dining mainstays in Atlanta include the world’s largest hot dog purveyor, the venerable Varsity adjacent to Tech and its stadium. The Varsity is an institution and has been serving students, locals and visitors for more than a half century. The place rocks and if you look around, you might see Bill Clinton, Charles Barkley, Julia Roberts or Wynton Marsalis enjoying a chili dog with onion rings accompanied by a Coca-Cola, which, by the way, is headquartered just a few blocks up the street.

Between games, enjoy the sights, tastes and sounds of genuine holiday treasures. Don’t miss the Fabulous Fox Theatre where Elvis performed just before stardom and the Georgian Terrace Hotel across the street where the cast party for “Gone With The Wind” danced the night away in 1939. A few beautiful women say they’ve seen a man at the bar who looks a lot like Clark Gable.

Authentic Southern cuisine Atlanta-style is de rigueur at Mary Mac’s on Ponce de Leon near the Fox.  Not many restaurants in North America can claim His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a diner.

Cocktails? If ambience is important, the bar at Atlanta Grill in the Downtown Ritz- Carlton offers hand-crafted drinks served jazz..

The bar in the Atlanta Palm in Buckhead has always claimed the top spot. Plus, it’s next door to Lenox Square with the best holiday shopping experience this side of Bal Harbour.

Fine dining? Too many to list, but my favorites for years remain Restaurant Eugene in Midtown and Chef Joe Truex’s masterpiece, Watershed on Peachtree. Truex, a pure Southerner, was mentored by New York City legend Chef Daniel Boulud.

The lights of Christmas are omnipresent: Callanwolde near Emory University is ablaze with colors of the season while Stone Mountain Park has the lighted tree on top of the giant monolith. Stroll around the historic Stone Mountain Village where 150 years ago the “March to the Sea” began. See the holiday musical at Art Station Theatre.

Decatur, the impressive pedestrian friendly city adjacent to Atlanta features unforgettable dine around experiences with a rich mixture of diners representing in large part Atlanta’s acclaimed universities. The U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey is a Decatur resident.

Music is bedrock Atlanta. Theresa Hightower, the South’s top jazz vocalist entertains at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead across from Lenox Square. Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points regularly features top acts from Austin, Nashville and beyond and Decatur’s Eddie’s Attic long ago achieved exalted status as a music mecca. The Tabernacle, across the street from Ted Turner’s flagship, Ted’s Montana Grill, has big name acts and is a short walk from CNN and the Georgia Dome.

If you haven’t overdone it with football and tailgating, take in a performance of O.Henry’s Christmas classic “The Gifts of the Magi,” a stellar production at the Balzer Theatre. Founded by the incomparable actor/director Tom Key, The Balzer is emblematic of Atlanta’s rich arts tradition. And there’s the amazing Kris Kayser stealing stage thunder as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Alliance Theatre Company’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens’ timeless tale takes on new energy.

Welcome to Atlanta, the best place in the South for tailgating and shopping during the holidays. Enjoy Chef Lara Lyn Carter’s special All-Georgia recipes for our guests.

Aunt Pittypat’s Roasted Cornish Hens 

For the Hens:
6 Cornish Hens
1 Navel orange
1 Vidalia Onions
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Wash and pat dry the hens. Sprinkle the hens evenly with salt and pepper. Cut the orange and the onion into 6 sections and place one piece of each in the cavity of each hen. Roast the birds in a 425 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. When the hens have cooked for 15 minutes, begin basting them with the glaze every 10 minutes. Remove the hens from the oven, baste them again and allow them to rest 10 minutes.
For the glaze
½ cup hot pepper jelly
½ cup sweet Georgia peach preserves
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 orange
Mix the ingredients together and heat over low heat until the jellies dissolve and all ingredients are mixed well. Divide the mixture in half. Use one half for basting and the other can be served alongside the hens

Georgia Holiday Casserole
4 cups of cooked basmati rice
2 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic minced
1 Vidalia onion
10 oz. package of frozen spinach thawed and drained
2 eggs beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese shredded
1 cup Smoked Gruyere cheese shredded
In a skillet over medium heat melt the butter. Dice the onion and sauté the onion in the butter until transparent. Add the garlic and sauté an additional 2 minutes. In a large bowl combine the rice, onion mixture, spinach, eggs, milk and cheeses together. Pour the casserole into a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Bake the casserole in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes.

                                AND A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY SEASON!