Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Pitmen Painters: Beauty From The Coal Mines Theatrical Outfit’s Exceptional Production

~Doc Lawrence

A Talented Cast 
Nothing fits a season celebrating beauty better that a play about the evolution of artists. Not your ordinary art students, but a group of coal miners and a dentist who are taught art appreciation in their limited leisure time and embark on a art career of historic proportions.

1934 in Northumberland’s coal country is the opening scene in Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters, a funny and stimulating play that tells the true story about this group of working class men and their remarkable ascent to renown in a brave new world of art. 

A pitman is a coal miner. The group who become painters speak in a Geordie accent, the common vernacular in that part of northeast England which has its origin in ancient language that many believe was spoken by Chaucer. With success and acclaim, famous artists become their friends, their works are exhibited in prestigious venues but they choose to return to the dangerous dungeon of the coal mines.

These are pure folk artists: self-taught, untrained, raw and unschooled. Their teacher is an accident. They were expecting an after-hours economics instructor. Fate intervened and a good man encouraged them to aspire to greater things beyond themselves, to contribute something from their soul and paintings were perfectly suited to do this.

They excelled, creating paintings that are permanent testaments to their creative core, that do nothing less than contribute to everlasting good. Pitmen is no Pygmalion. As they develop through the completion of more works, the reward of "seeing by doing,” they transform themselves, their leader and certainly the audience who witness a lesson of character over class and unleashed talent over unearned privilege.

It takes a veteran cast of actors to do justice to a play that is quintessentially English and under the direction of Adam Koplan, the lines are delivered by an outstanding cast who virtually take the audience to the first row of a theater in Newcastle upon Thyne. The Geordie accents quickly lose any trace of peculiarity and take on a sing-song charm. Pitmen examines the way we look at art and uncovers our desire for a deeper, more meaningful existence. It’s not surprising that when the painters see a Van Gogh exhibition, they express an immediate kinship.

During their rise to fame, financially successful artists become their friends, their work hangs in prestigious collections, and they are celebrated in high society. But they still return to the mines. Based on a true story, this heartfelt lesson about character over class and talent over privilege challenges the way we look at art and reveals our universal desire for a richer, more colorful existence.

Geordie is more than an accent; it is the DNA of a culture. The Pitman Painters is far more than a story about men breaking the shackles of class. It is a triumph of the human spirit that affirms art as an intrinsic part of our humanity. 

Through March 24.
(678) 528.1500
Photo Credit: Casey Gardner

Monday, February 18, 2019

"SPIT LIKE A BIG GIRL." A Triumphant Story; Magnificent Production

~Doc Lawrence

Stone Mountain, GA--A rainy Friday night in Georgia was made to order for a homecoming. Clarinda Ross brought her autobiographical play, “Spit Like A Big Girl” to the theater where she began her professional career as an actor and playwright. It was also, according to Art Station’s David Thomas who directed the production, the Southeastern premiere of the play.

Storytelling thrives in the South. Family, separation, birth and death are common themes that fill magazines, books, songs and of course the stage. What separates “Spit” is much of what makes the play compelling and relevant. For two spellbinding hours we join in the story of an amazing family of college professors, marriages and journeys buttressed with humor and more than a little sadness.

Clara, the developmentally challenged daughter, never actually appears but she surely stars and shines throughout the play. Her mother, Clarinda, takes us to places where mindless bureaucrats, thoughtless boyfriends and indifferent strangers somehow manage to find a way to make daily existence for mother and child a nightmare.

Floating around the audience was the unspoken but very profound question: How many of us have endured similar cruelty when we were desperately looking for help?

No need for a spoiler alert. “Spit” ends triumphantly, a victory for perserverance and a testament to the power of mothers everywhere who will not back down. If there is any deficiency, it is that we were not able to meet Clara, now grown and likely filled with the same spunk and grit of her devoted Mom.

Originally a one-person play, it has expanded to include the early days of Clarinda in Georgia and North Carolina masterfully performed by a young and gifted actress, Angelica Spence, a local talent, who early on matriculated at Art Station and now calls Buckhead home. Look for her in other productions. Her rising star shines brightly.

Clarinda Ross (L) and Angelica Spence
A paen to her college professor father who regularly cautioned “there’s nothing more dangerous than an educated redneck,” and kept a journal which manifested post-mortem to become a guide for his daughter’s career as an actress, playwright and storyteller, “Spit Like A Big Girl” is a lesson in the power of enduring love, seasoned with laughter, spiritual enough to prompt tears on demand. 

It’s very Southern. It almost has to be. God created us to be storytellers.

Through Feb. 24.
(770) 469.1105

Clarinda Ross

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


"I don't want to live; I want to love first, and live incidentally.”
                                     Zelda Fitzgerald

~Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-I just made my purchase. Four bottles of  Saint Amour, the wine that says everything on the day we celebrate romance. No gimmicks here, not another beverage from madman hype . This wine is the real deal: made in a region of Burgundy, named after the village of the same name, bright red like a Valentine heart and delicious with almost all food. 

We all recognize that this wine bears a name which is gentle to the ear and to the heart. It is the wine of poets and lovers. If it did not exist, life would be a little less charming. The village of Saint Amour gives its name to this wine. Before that, a long time ago during Gallo-Roman times, a centurion named Amor belonging to the Thébaine Legion, stationed in the Valais region of Switzerland and famous for his Christian faith suffered martyrdom. In all evidence, the ways of lovers, with their pleasures and sorrows, are rarely easy. 

Saint Amour legitimately claims to be the most romantic of the 10 Beaujolais Crus. It’s name translates to “Saint Love” and loosely to “holy love,” “pure love,” or a variety of other equally delicious and romantic terms. 

With both the enchanting name and the reasonable price, this wine is ready for romance.
Saint Amour remind us that love is grand in all its forms – through youth, middle age, and maturity – and that this good wine is always an excellent accompaniment to romance, particularly on St. Valentine’s Day.

Here’a toast to everyone: All you need is love!

Note: Sherlock’s in Atlanta has Saint Amour and if you are lucky, the J.Sanders label. Good wine stores throughout the world sell out of this delightful wine each 14th day of February.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Last Dinner-A Romantic Evening, A Prelude to Tragedy

~Doc Lawrence

The last dinner on the Titanic was a spectacle of romance entwined with luxury, music, high fashion and the finest cuisine served with almost endless glasses of Champagne. The dining room for the wealthy was named The Ritz, an orchestra serenaded diners and encouraged dancing. An evening we can only fantasize about during the days leading to Valentine’s, our special time to celebrate the majesty of love. 
Luxurious Dining

Here is the menu for that luxuriously appointed event. Most of the dishes are recognizable. Some are antiquated. It is a guide of sorts for those who at least dream about a special evening with someone we love. In a place where the best of everything is served amid lovely music in a room tastefully furnished, with guests who excel in advanced conversation.

Although this was a prelude to tragedy, take a moment and imagine the evening spent in this manner with someone you love. Another glass of Champagne? Shall we dance?

                                     The Titanic First-Class Menu
As served in the first-class dining saloon of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 1912
First Course
Hors D'Oeuvres 

Second Course
Consommé Olga
Cream of Barley

Third Course
Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce, Cucumbers
Fourth Course
Filet Mignons Lili
Fine Champagne Flowed
Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise
Vegetable Marrow Farci

Fifth Course
Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes
Green Pea
Creamed Carrots
Boiled Rice
Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes
Sixth Course
Punch Romaine  
Seventh Course
Roast Squab & Cress

Eighth Course
Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

Ninth Course
Pate de Foie Gras

Tenth Course
Waldorf Pudding
Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs
French Ice Cream

The repast was served with a different wine for each course. 
Following the tenth course fresh fruits and cheeses were available followed by coffee and cigars accompanied by port and distilled spirits like Scotch, Irish Whiskey and Cognac. 

May your Valentine’s Day dinner be elegant and romantic.

We plan and host host wine dinners and gourmet events.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Atlanta Recipes-Super Bowl Brunswick Stew

~Doc Lawrence

Responding to good-natured requests for recipes that actually have culinary connections to Atlanta and Georgia, nothing stands out more than Brunswick Stew. It's ours, born here and served here in select restaurants, particularly those that serve great barbecue. You'll find it on the menu at Mary Mac's Tea Room, a landmark restaurant that has deep roots here. Manuel's Tavern serves a critically-acclaimed bowl of this staple as well.
Scarlett O'Hara

Jim Sanders, the father of fine wines here and an Atlanta restaurant pioneer, served on special occasions his barbecue pork along with his treasured, venerable recipe Georgia Brunswick Stew, something he learned during his childhood days in Covington, Georgia. It remains a traditional accompaniment to genuine Deep South barbecue. For those looking for a viable alternative to chili, here's a winner that is delicious. Sources swear it was a personal favorite of Miss Scarlett O'Hara.


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.

Serve as entree or side with fresh cornbread preferably made with a Georgia heritage product, Logan Turnpike Corn Meal available at the Dekalb Farmer's Market in Decatur. 

Wines? A Beaujolais-Village, ever affordable, pairs well. Cocktails? Use your imagination. I will be enjoying several made with Coca-Cola (this is Atlanta), variations of the Cuba Libre and a few others. We'll open up everything before kickoff with a toast to our beloved Gladys Knight who'll be singing out all our love for America!

More recipes on request. doclawrence@mindspring.com
Atlanta Legend Gladys Knight

Monday, December 31, 2018

Champagne Serenade: A New Year’s Toast

~Doc Lawrence

A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred; the wits become more nimble.” Winston Churchill

The Champagne ritual has an exalted place in celebrations including the christening of a new aircraft carriers. Few events transcend the joys from crystal flutes overflowing with bubbly on New Year’s Eve. Each tiny rising bubble suggests optimism, a welcoming of yet unknown events during the next 12 months.  Abiding faith that we will enjoy the gift of life.

The word Champagne conjures up unfounded fears of burdensome expense. Because it is a sparkling wine-albeit a regal one-the more affordable choices are too often overlooked. Well-intentioned hosts opt for what is called grocery store wine, and open up bottles misleadingly labelled that promise no romance but are guaranteed to give everyone a stemwinding hangover.

The pleasures of Champagne and wonderful substitutes can be enjoyed for a very fair price. For those who don’t worry about costs (I’m not one of them), there are many smart choices that will add to the moment.

For a casual New Year’s Eve party, consider Lambrusco. The rustic Lini 910 Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna, Italy is widely available, affordable at $15, has bubbles galore and will be a big hit when burgers, wings or barbecue is served. 

This time of year, good people want to get tickled with bubbles. Spain’s wonderful Cava has that wonderful Champagne taste. Montsarra, a quality label will cost around $16 a bottle. Primarily made from three grapes, Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada, a little Chardonnay provides kinship to the famous bottles from France.

Consider a sparkling wine from Burgundy. Cremant de Bourgogne is produced methode Champenoise, and is as celebratory beyond what we expect. For less than $25, you can enjoy a few bottles NV Parigot Rosé made from 100% Pinot Noir that will make the occasion one to remember.

As the midnight hour approaches, after a full evening of cocktails and good food, something softer and friendlier like Prosecco should receive a big welcome. For $12, Riondo Prosecco, a popular Italian sparkler features abundant fruit, soft carbonation and a surprising lively, crisp finish. 
California’s Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noir, is bone dry and classically crisp. With every glass it becomes more enjoyable, a near-perfect companion to salty small bites and elegant canapés. A steal at $22.

For those who struck it rich in 2018, who light their cigars with hundred dollar bills, splurge with a bottle of Krug NV Champagne for a mere $150. This will comfortably accompany a rich dinner with a prime rib roast entree.

Instead of mass-produced supermarket sparkling wine, try an affordable estate-bottled delight like the Ariston Carte Blanche Brut Champagne for around $20. Likewise, there are so many elegant, smaller production grower-producer Champagnes. One, Franck Bonville Brut Millesime Blanc de Blancs Champagne is bright like a clear winter morning and recalls little green apples and toasted cinnamon bread.

Sparkling wines from New Mexico like Gruet, North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate and Georgia’s Wolf Mountain are genuine bargains, priced fairly and delicious. They’re out there. Try Whole Foods, the Dekalb Farmer’s Market (near Atlanta) or a top wine store.

Toss those plastic glasses into the rubbish bin. Fill crystal flutes with the good stuff. Toast to a better world, peace on earth, a healthy planet, the awesome power of love and the gift of good health and life. 

                                                     HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Oyster Stew For Christmas-Legendary Recipes and Wine Pairings

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.”
                                  Jonathan Swift

~Doc Lawrence

The colder weather of the holiday season harkens for tasty oysters. Early immigrants soon learned that what many had enjoyed in Europe were a staple in  much of the New World where Native Americans had been harvesting them for at least 3,000 years. Now, we enjoy them in stews, chowders, dressings, roasted and on the half shell. Boston’s Union Oyster House, opened in 1826, showcases gourmet bivalves. 
The popularity of oysters is omnipresent and here in the South, oyster stew is a ritual observed on Christmas Eve. Oyster dressing appears on the Christmas dinner table almost on cue. Enjoy these oyster recipes from the kitchens of experts. 

Oyster Stew For Christmas Eve
From The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.
 Makes 6 servings.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced (approximately 1 cup)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
5 cups of milk, heated
2 cups heavy cream
1 quart jar fresh “select” oysters, drained with their liquor reserved
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Melt half of the butter in a large nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling, add the onion and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring well to blend together. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and heavy cream and then the reserved oyster liquor, keeping it at low heat so that it doesn’t scorch. Keep it at a very light simmer.
Heat the remaining butter in a large skillet until hot and bubbling. Add the drained oysters in a single layer. Add sea salt and pepper and sauté until the oysters begin to curl around the edges.
Transfer the contents of the skillet into the saucepan. Add the cayenne, cover and remove from the heat to mellow for 10 minutes. Heat again to just below a simmer, and add more salt as necessary. Serve hot accompanied by oyster crackers or Benne biscuits.
A rich, glamorous winter side dish. Good at Christmas or anytime. Just don’t overcook the oysters! You want them at their creamy, velvety best.

Chef Joshua Butler, Atlanta

Chef Joshua Butler
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup chopped onion
4 green onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 cups crumbled Cornbread (either homemade or store bought)
3 cups bread crumbs, small dice*
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1 pint shucked fresh (live) oysters, drained (reserve 1/2 cup oyster liquid)**
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly butter a large rectangular baking pan.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Saute onions and celery in the butter until tender; remove from heat an add a small pinch of cayenne and let cool.
Combine cornbread and breadcrumbs in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sauteed onions, salt, pepper, and parsley.
Add beaten eggs and toss more; moisten with the reserved oyster liquid until moist but not soggy.  Gently stir in the oysters.
Pat the mixture into the prepared 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.

Fresh oysters in the shell as well as shucked can be found daily at Your Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia just outside Atlanta. Bonus, they are sourced from Apalachicola, Florida, Virginia and Washington State.

Wines: Champagne seems to have been created with oysters in mind. A bottle of bubbly, whether the real deal, or a Cremant from France, Cava from Spain or a sparkling wine from California’s Gloria Ferrer or New Mexico’s Gruet will add to the festive celebration.

                             Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!