Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Balm for the Spirit

"Sacred Harp just grabbed me, and I thought, this is the music I've been waiting for all my life.” -- Andrew Albers

By Doc Lawrence

DECATUR, GA-The songs are hauntingly beautiful and more than one observer has confessed feeling surrounded by peace. Sacred Harp, often called shaped-note music, is an ancient but living art form. Always performed a cappella, it has deep roots extending back to the 18th century. While it is categorized as a folk music form, be aware that it doesn’t come easy: You have to be taught the techniques to sing it properly.

No lessons are needed to attend a singing and listen. That alone is a wonderful experience.

Singing friends Carol Buche (L) and Laura Densmore
Memorial Day wasn’t a holiday for lessons. Historic Oakhurst Baptist Church (where three visionary men conceived of Habitat for Humanity which was soon born at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia) provided the venue for spirited harmonies to work wondrous things for the mind, body and spirit. In the middle of the four hours of singing, participants took time to enjoy another Deep South tradition, a covered dish dinner.

Sacred Harp has a unifying quality. Almost magnetically, people come together, often from far away places. Laura Densmore lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania and joined her friend Carol Buche from St, Paul, not to see a Braves game or visit the Georgia Aquarium, but “to sing for a few hours.” They are well schooled in the techniques and warned me that this music can become addictive.

I hope so.

Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers
The first time as an adult I heard Sacred Harp singing was on a Saturday spring morning when the Georgia Sacred Harp Convention was singing en masse at the old courthouse in Decatur. The huge windows were open allowing the songs to soar out. The music worked magic, triggering childhood memories of attending the funeral at an old country church outside Rockmart, Georgia of my great-grandmother who lived during the Civil War. The  ancient uplifting harmonies seemed to defy death.

The origins of Sacred Harp are well documented. With nothing but archetypes to back me, I’ve always felt that it predated the Roman conquest of Western Europe. Go to a local sing, close your eyes and absorb. Something within will stir.

John Plunkett said that everyone is welcome to attend and try singing, but you can just listen which is a terrific experience. Everything is relaxed. and religious or political affiliation is irrelevant. Historically, Sacred Harp singing has been interdenominational.

If you are looking for an experience that lessens the exigencies of daily living, Sacred Harp delivers.

Interested? The Atlanta Sacred Harp Association embraces you with lots of warmth. More information:

NOTE: A vacation idea:

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Celebrating with Rusty Hamby and Olivia Thomason
Stone Mountain’s Colorful Race
By Doc Lawrence  

STONE MOUNTAIN, GA-It had all the bright colors of a Grateful Dead concert decades ago. Men, women and children-“well over 5,000,” estimated Kim Cumbie who manages the historic city’s Visitor Center-came to run and walk for the annual Color Vibe 5K, and get themselves doused in harmless powder making them look like images from the Beatle’s Sgt. Peppers album cover.

Let the Race Begin!
What to do on a lovely mid-spring Saturday morning? Delightful Ann Hamby and her son Rusty invited friends and neighbors over for breakfast al fresco to watch the contest just about at the starting point. Positioned on a hill beside their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home barely beyond the reach of the neon-bright blue, fuchsia, and chartreuse spray, hot coffee and juices were served accompanied by eggs, sausage biscuits, rich pastries and ample amounts of good cheer and contagious laughter.

Nobody does hospitality better than the Hamby’s.

The 5K route traversed the showcase village adjacent to the mighty granite mountain, crossing Indian trails and the area where “The March to the Sea” began. Everything was fun. Grandparents and grandchildren from the region gathered to dance to the pulsating sounds from the event stage. There was magic in the air, a prelude for the Memorial Day weekend and the fun that summer always brings.

It’s one of the ways we enjoy a Saturday down South.

A Deep South Saturday Morning

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Food Friendly and Affordable

By Doc Lawrence

Carolina Stupino Pours Barbaresco
ATLANTA- Italy grows more grape varieties than any country in the world.  I attended and thoroughly enjoyed a high-level introduction to these great wines produced by the Leonardo LoCascio Collection and themed as Vini d' Italia held at the prestigious Studio C at King Plow Arts Center

More than 1200 grape varieties are grown in Italy producing more than 3000 specific wines. For Southern enthusiasts, the most familiar Italian reds include Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Nero d’Avola, and Negroamaro. Well-known Italian whites are Pinot Gris, Glera, Trebbiano, Cortese, and Garganega. Italian white wines are generally easy to drink and seafood-friendly, while the reds are hugely varied. 

Italy is surrounded on three sides by bodies of water. These help regulate temperature and water supply. This is important in southern Italy, where it would otherwise be too hot to grow grapes.

Almost like a spine, the Apennine Mountains run through the length of Italy, creating valleys with thousands of microclimates to grow grapes. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia are hot and dry with plentiful sunshine. In northern Italy, cool, dry winds blow down from the Alps. The rivers that course through the Alps are used to irrigate northern Italy’s plains.

I became particularly interested in Castello Di Neive’s vast portfolio. After wine and conversation, I decided that a trip there is necessary to enjoy the astonishing beauty of the Castle, the friendliness of its owner and  staff and, of course, for all of its remarkable wines, particularly its famous Barbarescos.

King Plow Arts Center is located in an old plow factory not far from CNN Center.. Here, you’ll find the nationally acclaimed theatrical company Actor’s Express, along with dozens of studios and offices representing everything from Hollywood  movies to high end catering.

The wine event introduced exceptional wines from Italy.. Many of the wines pair beautifully with the cuisine of the Deep South and the future here for such glorious products is endless: Seafood, delights from the grill and our own interpretations of dishes from Italy.

Monday, May 11, 2015



“Essential for Memorial Day & July 4 Celebrations.”

By Doc Lawrence

Stew Cooked in a Cast Iron Pot
STONE MOUNTAIN, GA- Truman Capote’s Aunt Sook in A Christmas Memory, announced “fruitcake weather” when the days got colder. It’s May and time to cook  Brunswick Stew. There’s an ongoing friendly debate over its origin. Both Virginia and Georgia claim it. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Cross Creek Cookery said the recipe came from Germany. The late Jim Sanders, Georgia’s wine pioneer and a French trained chef, made a persuasive case for Georgia.

Sometimes recipes are kept secret. The most famous is the formula for Coca-Cola. The Masonic Lodge in Stone Mountain, Georgia has a barbecue each May and their stew, slow cooked pork and homemade desserts draw those who love the real thing. I asked the nice ladies serving it for the recipe. “Can’t tell you,” they replied with laughter. “It’s a secret.” Mayor Pat Wheeler confirmed that it was indeed protected and guessed that it has been used here “for at least 100 years.”

The Stone Mountain version is not only delicious but doesn’t separate and is easy to freeze and serve months later.
Monument for Brunswick Stew

There are many recipes for Brunswick Stew. I am the unofficial trustee of Jim Sanders' recipe, which he confided had been in his family since the Civil War. Here it is as Jim recorded it long ago.


1 four-pound baking chicken
4 pounds ground pork
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1-tablespoon chili powder
1-tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup red wine, preferably Rhone style
3 to 4 tablespoons bacon drippings 
36 ounces tomato juice
4-ounce tomato catsup
3 cups cut corn
Kosher salt and black pepper

Boil the chicken until it is very tender, cool, de-bone and chop the meat finely. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, braise the pork until half done. Add half the chopped onions, one chopped garlic clove, chili powder, thyme, cayenne pepper and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Continue to braise until the meat is well browned, stirring every few minutes to break up any lumps and combine with chicken. Add the tomato juice and catsup and simmer for 11/2 hours. Add the rest of the chopped onions, another chopped garlic clove and simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste for salt and spoon off the fat before serving.

Beaujolais goes well with Brunswick stew. It does not fight the spices and it has a lot of refreshment value.

Over three decades, Jim Sanders taught thousands in his wine classes in Atlanta. Although a product of the Deep South, Jim was more French than anything. After World War II, where he was wounded five times in the Pacific campaigns, he went to France, bicycled the countryside and found his passion in wine and food. He learned to cook in Lyon and Paris and met Armand Cottin, president of Labourie-Roi and through this brotherly friendship, developed his own cuvee of 179 Burgundies garnering numerous awards. Each day, in the rear of his retail wine shop in Atlanta’s Buckhead, Sanders served most anyone who came in wonderful dishes he prepared along with pours from countless bottles of perfectly paired wines.

There was no charge.

This recipe works even better when it is shared with friends.


Thursday, May 7, 2015



“My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph has begun

Oh, come angel band come and around me stand
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home.”

                                  Performed by Emmylou Harris

By Doc Lawrence

A child of the Depression and World War II, my mother represented the finest of the Deep South. Although she never said it, her role model had to be Scarlett O’Hara. Survival and accomplishment were embodied in a beautiful woman who faced fate squarely and despite unconscionable losses along the way including the death of her youngest child, moved forward relentlessly. 

Her name was Carrie and true to the good manners of her time, she was addressed as “Miss Carrie.” Poverty denied her much formal education, but she loved to read and found time to read bedtime stories to me before I was in kindergarten. Books, newspapers and magazines have been vital parts of daily living thanks to her.

She departed this world before my first book was published, but she is the reason it happened.

Southern boys often talk about their mother in the context of cooking and dining. To this day, I have yet to experience staples like fried chicken that compared to the quality of Mom’s. She would ask me on Saturday what I wanted for Sunday dessert and the answer was always her lemon meringue pie. When I came home from college for the holidays, the pie would be waiting to be sliced and served after the feast.

Big name pastry chefs have never served me anything half as delicious.

She enjoyed working, earning some extra cash to keep her three children a little ahead with occasional extras. While I was a skinny teenager, she worked in the record shop at Rich’s, a legendary department store in Atlanta. She brought home promotional sample records, and I was introduced to obscure names like Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Bo Diddly, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Patsy Cline and Elvis. A new world of rhythm and harmony opened and I became a rocker with a party band in college, following in her footsteps by earning some money through music.

I was never happier.

I believe she attended all of Elvis’ concerts in Atlanta. One morning during the Dog Days of August, Mom called and informed me of his death. I still remember the pain in her voice.

A devoted Atlanta Braves fan, Mom would not die during baseball season. Her time on earth ended during the December holidays while her beloved Braves were in recess.

Like Emmyloe Harris, Zelda Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Tallulah Bankhead and Truman Capote’s Aunt Sook, Mom was an Alabama girl. Born and raised in the northeast corner of the state, Lookout Mountain forms a spectacular backdrop for lovely. Sequoyia Valley. I always thought it would be a wonderful place for a child.

I’ll visit her grave early Sunday morning to bring roses. As the Georgia sun peeks through the pines, sometimes the air stirs a little. During moments of great peace, I listen carefully for the flutter of angel wings.

Monday, May 4, 2015


“Baseball is the greatest game there is!”

                                        Ted Williams

By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA- A baby blue cloudless Sunday sky merits a trip across town to Turner Field for a Braves game. Surrounded it seems by turmoil, divisions, hard feelings and seemingly irreconcilable differences, I’ve always found the national pastime a personal balm in Gilead. Maybe it’s just a local tradition-good cheer, friendliness and courtesy. But with very few exceptions this is where I observe vastly different people cheerfully gathering to have fun.

Top billing on this glorious Sunday Down South was a shared success between Braves pitching ace Julio Tehran who was masterful in a shutout of the Cincinnati Reds and tenor Timothy Miller singing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch with all the power and emotion you expect from an accomplished opera singer.

Timothy Miller During the 7th Inning Stretch
 Watching the game from the right field stands triggered nostalgia, something baseball is well suited for. Memories of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine,” the dominant National League team decades back when Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose could attract sellout crowds here when the Braves weren’t always competitive.

On this glorious day, the women seemed a little prettier, effective clarions for the majesty of springtime in Atlanta. Men of all ages were well behaved. There was a noticeable absence of drunks. No explanation other than maybe more people are coming around to the notion that over-indulgence has a huge downside.

Julio was Masterful
Turner Field has a promenade exhibiting large roster photos of each team for the past 50 years, this being the half-century celebration of their opening night in Atlanta. Fresh out of Emory University, almost penniless without a care in the world, I was there. The old squad images brought back special days and nights. Watching the incomparable Sandy Koufax pitch his last game for the Dodgers here before a sold-out audience who came to say goodbye to a hero. The games Phil Neikro pitched knuckleball victories, literally carrying some mediocre teams to heights they otherwise could not reach. The night “The Hammer” broke Babe’s record.

The years we were blessed with the talent and good character of Dale Murphy, twice the National League’s most valuable player and to this day wondering why in heaven’s name this great player is not in baseball’s’ hall of fame.

Sunday down South is personal, a prelude to paradise.

 NOTE: For cooks, enjoy Georgia Magazine’s six pages of recipes from top chefs and great home cooks using Coca-Cola as an ingredient: 

Braves Girls of Summer