Athens, GA – All Grown Up Now

gatheatretscemail The Athens of my college days brought R.E.M., the B-52s and Georgia Bulldog football but a renaissance in one of America’s quintessential college towns is now more likely to highlight great southern chefs like Hugh Acheson and host a Southern C summit to celebrate southern food and music. IMG_0921 Today, the New York Times has its own take on a downtown revival I can’t wait to see for myself. Check out the piece here. For additional help planning your trip, visit Southern Living and Garden & Gun to get their lowdown on this great little Georgia town.

Send Peas, Please

ImageThere is much to love about summers in New England. There’s the waves of blue hydrangeas, summer days in shorts and summer nights in sweaters. Lobster rolls in restaurants by the shore and Red Sox baseball at Fenway Park. And just like down South, the sweet smell of honeysuckle fills the early evening air as kids chase fireflies with Mason jars.

But there’s one thing New England can’t provide and the thought of that usually takes my southern heart below the iced-tea line.

I miss peas!

That’s right. I miss the produce that can only be found in the hot and humid climate of the south.  I miss all the varieties of field peas grown in the deep south.  Purple hull, crowder, white acre and zipper peas.  Part of me just loves the buttery, creamy goodness of those delicate legumes and another part of me longs for the memories associated with those peas.

In my family, growing our own fruits and vegetables was a part of our culinary heritage.  Not only did we prefer the taste of our homegrown produce, it was cheaper and was something our family did together. Whether it was being awakened by my dad to pick peas at 6am before the summer sun became unbearable or walking through rows of orchards with my mom filling our baskets to the rim with sweet juicy peaches, I made a connection with who I was and where I came from.

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I can remember many summer days spent shelling peas until my thumbs were stained and tender.  It was a family affair where my grandmother, dad, brother and I would shell the peas while we watched the Braves lose another ball game and my mom would be in the kitchen bagging the peas up for freezing.

For the last three summers, I have resorted to having freshly shelled peas shipped up to New England overnight on ice. Bailey’s Produce and Nursery in Pensacola, FL has always been my go-to.  A little expensive, I know, but we all have our guilty pleasures. Somehow, having those little quart bags of green jewels in my freezer whenever I need a fix is worth every penny.  During a power outage two summers ago, my first concern was saving the peas.  I’m pretty sure I confused a few of my friends up here with the intensity I showed in saving my Southern imports.

But my need for peas is far more than a food craving. It is a part of me. A part of who I am. A connection to my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have been gone for a while now.

So, its time to call my friends and family and order up another care package from Dixie.  I’m ready for a shipment of peas, please!

Pictures from Bailey’s Produce and Nursery.

Holy Smokes…Big Apple BBQ Block Party

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Summer is upon us! And that means one thing…it is time for barbecue.

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For one weekend in June, Madison Square Park in New York City is transformed into a 6.23 acre backyard barbecue party.  And for the 11th year, Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group along with Southern Living lined up the best pit masters from all over the country to show off their mouth-watering versions of barbecue. These guys loaded their trailers and rigs with their smokers and pits and drove  hundreds of miles to set up shop in Madison Square Park for two days.

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The smoke from all that bbq drifted blocks away and drew everyone in like moths to a flame except in our case it was hungry southerners looking for a little comfort. This past weekend was the perfect time for my southxnortheast world to come together. It was awesome to see some old friends from down south like the folks from Southern Foodways Alliance and even show a little SFA love by sporting one of their tattoos. (My 9-yr-old was very proud.)

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Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q from Decatur, AL, took home the prize in my book with Chris Lilly’s ridiculously good pork sandwich. Apparently everyone else at the event on Saturday thought so too.  The fast-pass line was longer than the regular line.  There was no such thing as a shortcut.

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And of course, our buddy from Tito’s Vodka, Matt Purpura, had the perfect lime-jalapeño infused concoction to wash down all that barbecue.

Eleven Madison Park set up a whiskey bar right outside their restaurant complete with cloth-covered tables and a picket fence. It was hosted by none other than  Julian Van Winkle of the cult-bourbon brand, Pappy Van Winkle.  Bands like The Crooners and The Dirty Guv’nahs provided an incredible soundtrack to the weekend.

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My friends at Jim ‘N Nick’s never disappoint and can even make a saltine cracker look good.

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The take away here is if you aren’t a carnivore, this was probably not the place for you.

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So when we got too full to put another bite of BBQ into our mouths, we walked over to the IKEA tent where the best of the best like Mike Lata, Chris Hastings, Sean Brock,  John Currence, Joseph Lenn, and Ashley Christensen offered a little variation on the meat theme and shared recipes and ideas on everything from cocktails to oysters.

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The Block Party was a chance for these masters of  ‘cue to shine and show off their unique style of barbecue. The methods these mostly southern pit masters used were as old as the south itself. They took pride in their heritage and said, “That’s how my daddy did it.  And his daddy before him.”  As my fellow southxnortheaster put it: “It is so nice to find people up here who know the difference between barbecuing and grilling.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself. Until next year…

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Photography by Kley Sippel

Go to Jackson, MS to “get a helping of all things Southern” and where “the servers are as sweet as the tea.”

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Photos by James Patterson for The New York Times

In today’s travel section of the New York Times, Laura Tillman takes us through Jackson, MS in 36 hours . She highlights the cultural, historical and culinary richness of the City of Soul.  June is the month you can celebrate the life of civil rights hero Medgar Evers with a historic tour and film festival. Or pay homage to Jackon’s literary heritage by visiting Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Euroda Welty’s house and by heading up to Lemuria Books, a Jackson institution for over 38 years.

And of course, the Old South’s traditions always seems to return to the table.  The Times piece celebrates Jackson’s eclectic food scene in a city landscape that combines old-school soul-food diners with impressive new restaurants that highlight sophisticated Southern cuisine.

Check out the entire feature on Jackson here.

Andrew, Evelyn and the Fight Against Autism

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This past month was Autism Awareness month and as the disease is personal to our family and friends,  I was glad to see the efforts of national organizations like Autism Speaks and many local support groups across the country push to educate the public on this issue. Back when Andrew was diagnosed, no one had really heard about autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In fact, I had to seek out information about Asperger’s syndrome on the internet to really piece together what the diagnosis would mean. Over a decade later,  the CDC estimates that 1 in 50 children has an ASD. With those statistics, it is critical for organizations like Autism Pensacola in my Florida hometown to get out front and provide information about the disease.

This week Autism Pensacola has partnered with the University of West Florida to host a regional conference in the beautiful city of Pensacola. Flying High with Autism is bringing in speakers like Dr. Temple Grandin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to discuss ASD research and therapy and to provide a forum for sharing the challenges and triumphs of individuals and families living with the diagnosis.

But this post isn’t just about promoting an autism conference.  It’s about a connection between our family, our hometown, and our friends. 180719_108065022604856_4369713_n

Andrew, who is now 22, understands his challenges and struggles on a daily basis to calculate his words and actions. He has learned how to communicate with others in a way that we take for granted.  After helping him navigate through the brutal (under any circumstances) teen years with this condition, we know just how important awareness is not just for those diagnosed but for those who interact with them.

My incredibly talented friend Evelyn Savage, who is responsible for many of the gorgeous photographs on this blog, is not only a photographer but also an amazing, supportive and brave mother of a child with autism.  Her son Laws was diagnosed 6 years ago with an ASD. She has redefined her role as a mother and has devoted her life to giving him the unconditional love, supporting environment and tools he needs to get through every day.  You can check out her raw and honest account of raising a child with autism here: A Little Boy Blue (and his hero sister, too).

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So it is only fitting that this blog celebrates Andrew, Pensacola and Evelyn.  Thank you Andrew for blessing us with your persevering spirit, your kind heart and all the ways you make us smile .  Thank you to our friends in Pensacola for caring enough to promote this cause very dear to us and for helping Andrew find his way into adulthood. And thank you Evelyn for capturing in photos what words can’t describe.

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Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

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The long, cold New England winter has made the first taste of spring all the sweeter. Of course, spring did not come to me. I had to chase it down in Northwest Florida. And that was no easy task. But three cancelled trips, a stomach bug and ear infection later, I am sitting on the back porch listening to the waves crash on the Gulf of Mexico.

Heading home to the panhandle of Florida has not just warmed my body, it’s warmed my soul. I have soaked up every last ray of sunshine and love during this vacation. I’ve missed the slower cadence, laughter with family and friends, sugar-white sands, fresh Gulf seafood, eye-popping azaleas, slamming screen doors and sweet tea. (Thank you Martha Foose for the best cookbook title ever.)

The down-home feel and sense of belonging when I come home is not exclusive to the South. Beachside villages and towns along the Atlantic seaboard from Sag Harbor, L.I. to Bar Harbor, Maine have been calling families back to the New England coast for generations. Clam bakes, oyster roasts and days spent on the water around weathered cottages remind me of days and nights along Gulf Coast beaches like the one that is framed by Highway 30-A.

Southerners have been flocking to South Walton for one hundred years. My own family has been going there now for over three decades. The tradition continues again this year as Kate and Jack celebrate their spring break from school along the same stretch of beach highway their parents did before the first Seaside cottage was built.

I have no doubt that a generation from now, their children will be slamming screen doors, gulping sweet tea and playing in the same snow-white sands.

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Nothing Ordinary About the Holy City’s New “Temple of Seafood”

As I head to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival this weekend, it seems only fitting to pay homage to one of the Holy City’s most talented chefs, Mike Lata.

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to try Chef Lata’s latest culinary offering, The Ordinary. This Charleston restaurant stands as a shrine to the fresh and fabulous Lowcountry seafood. The James Beard award-winning chef partners with hometown fishermen to cultivate the  best tasting seafood in the region. Combine that with Lata’s creative and seasonal preparation and you are sure to enjoy one of the memorable dinners you have had in some time.

My fondness for Chef Lata is only increased by the fact that he is a true SXN’oreaster, with a food career that began in Martha’s Vineyard where he overcame his aversion to seafood. Lucky for us! Lata then took his passion for cooking and love of local food sources to the South where he created two great culinary establishments, FIG and The Ordinary.

You can discover more about Lata and The Ordinary in the latest issue of Departures Magazine.

Photography by Evelyn Laws.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The Oscars have arrived and all the excitement and anticipation of Hollywood’s red-carpet event will be played out tonight.

It’s not surprising the biggest box office year in history brought with it some great Best Picture nominations. Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, and Beasts of the Southern Wild have grabbed headlines and made millions.

But tonight SXNE will cheer for Beasts of the Southern Wild, the breathtaking work inspired by Southern screen-writer, Lucy Alibar, who co-wrote the screen play.

Lucy was raised in Monticello, a small town in the Florida panhandle. Her fundamentalist Southern roots provide the flavor of this Southern folklore masterpiece. The story portrays and the strained relationship with her ill and sometimes abusive father. It’s also about her struggle to survive in a storm-ravaged community in the Mississippi Delta. The tale includes fantastical ancient beasts, “aurochs”, and hardships and heartbreak visited on a six-year-old girl.

Ms. Alibar’s own story has taken a remarkable path, too. After high school, she moved to New York, studied at NYU, and struggled as a starving artist. The big break came as her screen play was nominated at Sundance. Now, Lucy Alibar is basking in the success created with her long-time friend, co-author and producer, Behn Zeitlin. I think Alibar is the sentimental choice of ex-pat Southerners everywhere who will cheer for this fellow southXnortheasterner tonight…and for a long time to come.

Husk, Where Have You Been?

I must say, I am getting pretty darn excited about going to Charleston for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (CFWF). Just like Music to Your Mouth, I will be surrounded by some of the greatest chefs in the country.

One of those chefs, Sean Brock, recently had a restaurant ranked in the top 3 of the country by Bon Appetit. It’s no surprise his restaurants receive such accolades, considering the star chef running them has been given the James Beard award for “Best Chef Southeast”, winner of Food Network “Next Great Chef” and competed on “Iron Chef America.” Chef Brock has been in this business for a long time now and has built a reputation of not only preparing the most mind-blowing dishes but of leading the movement of heritage foods preservation and refining the farm to table efforts now sweeping the country.

I was in Charleston recently with my partner in crime, Evelyn, and paid a visit to Mr. Brock’s establishment, Husk. It was an early Sunday brunch on our next to the last day in the city. More importantly it was (gasp) our first time in. We moved quickly after scanning the menu and did what any two proper Southern girls would do…we ordered one of everything.

Okay, maybe not one of everything, but more than enough. Our waiter suggested her favorites and we picked some other irresistible dishes. The first course included three appetizers (we weren’t messing around). We had the trend-setting Fried Chicken Skins, Pimento Cheese crostini, and the Kenutckyaki glazed pig ear wrapped in lettuce and served with orange marinated cabbage slaw with toasted peanuts and cilantro. Yep. You heard nothing after glazed pig ears, did you? I was a little skeptical about them myself, but the older I get the more open I am to trying new things. (Not ready for the lamb “fries” just yet, though). All of the first courses were equally divine but my favorite was the Pimento cheese crostinis.

Our next course was the classic low-country dish–shrimp and grits, offering a less than predictable and delicious version that was a lovely surprise with every bite . It was a marriage of creamy charred scallion grits and sweet corn, peas, and bacon in a bowl with plump red shrimp thrown in there, all topped with a poached egg.

Incredible.

When we decided it was time to leave Husk–they weren’t going to bring us any more food–we paid our bill and left by the way of the wall-sized blackboard in the foyer listing all local sources for their foods. Quite impressive, as were the shelves of canned vegetables stacked neatly in front of the open kitchen.

I was so pleased to finally eat at Husk. We loved the whole experience and can’t wait to see what the Chef whips up for the wine and food festival in a few weeks!

Photography by Evelyn Laws.

Winter Shows Off in Woodstock

“You can’t get too much winter in the winter.”

Robert Frost

The beauty of nature is so easy to capture in Vermont. I love the simplicity and strength seen in the barns and buildings scattered over the countryside.

The layers of weathered wood and chipped paints on the structures have many stories to tell but they all seem to reflect the strength and perseverance of the people and region.

I can’t imagine there being a bad season to photograph Woodstock, but winter seems to be the season made for showcasing its loveliness.

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The perfect composition of winter whites in Woodstock, VT is one reason this New England town keeps topping our winter travel list.

This quintessential Vermont hamlet, founded in 1761, is right out of a Robert Frost poem. From quaint shops and scenic covered bridges all the way to the slopes of Suicide Six, it’s one of the best small towns New England has to offer.

Suicide Six, a ski resort founded in 1934, sounds ominous by name butnhas great slopes for skiers of all levels. And, the staff are the friendliest lot of people you will find north of the Mason-Dixon line.

We discover more with every visit to Woodstock, and it’s for more than those just interested in winter sports. There’s something for the antique shopper, the bibliophile, the nature worshiper, and the small-town lover in all of us.

If you’re a foodie, you have to try the Mile-High Apple Pie from Mountain Creamery. Three pounds of apples in each pie! Amazing!

Robert Frost said you could never get too much winter in winter. I agree and have learned you can never get too much of Frost’s favorite season in this corner of Vermont.

Photography by Susan Scarborough, Joe Scarborough, and Clayton Collins.

Evening at Jean-Georges

Chalk it up to the old saying that it never hurts to ask. That was the case this past weekend when my friend, Kristine, and I visited Jean-Georges on Central Park West and asked to meet the legendary chef after our fabulous meal. Chef Jean-Georges was gracious enough to come out and patiently listen to our rave reviews.

He also came bearing great news for foodies everywhere. He shared he is planning to open a new Latin-Mexican restaurant in Manhattan. I’ll be counting the days until the city is graced with another Jean-Georges creation, but until then I’ll keep returning to the chic Columbus Circle restaurant that serves as the “jewel of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s empire” and continue to be smitten with innovative dishes like scallop sashimi, egg caviar, sea urchin and sweet potato soup with Parmesan foam.

Thanks to Chef Jean-Georges and his entire staff for making our night extraordinary!

(In Manhattan now? Make reservations!)

Photography from Jean-Georges. Scallop Sashimi image from Foodish Fetish.

Chowing Down in the Big Easy

Not only are those ‘49ers and Ravens fans coming into NOLA during the most festive time of the year in New Orleans, they are stepping into a town where great food is as sacred as Mardi Gras.

Since I’m not attending the game, I’ll be doing the next best thing by preparing some of my favorite Cajun recipes. Maybe some chicken and sausage jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, muffalettas, and a little BBQ shrimp…

But, for those of you who are looking to eat out in New Orleans this weekend, here’s links to some of SXNE favs in NOLA:

Cochon Butcher (930 Tchoupitoulas St.) for the most amazing sandwiches set in a cozy little butcher shop/bar. They also have a seriously rich pancetta mac ‘n cheese. (Reserve a table here.)

Mother’s (401 Poydras St.) claims to have the world’s best baked ham. Maybe so, but if you don’t try the Ferdi’s you will never forgive yourself.

Domenica (123 Baronne St.) will take care of you in a big Italian way with their signature pizzas by rising chef Alon Shaya. (Reserve a table here.)

Central Grocery (923 Decatur St.) has bragging rights on the world’s best muffulettas.

Lüke (333 St. Charles St.) was voted best raw bar in New Orleans last year but I have it on good authority that John Besh serves up one of the best burgers in town, too. Anything that has Allan Benton bacon piled up on top has to be good. (Reserve a table here.)

What are your suggestions? Email us or tweet @southxnortheast #NOLA.

Happy Super Gras!

The Big Easy has never been one to shy away from a party. Or two. That’s why it comes as no surprise that Super Bowl XLVII is sandwiched in the middle of Mardi Gras. Some are even dubbing it “Super Gras.”

No doubt in my mind, New Orleans is capable of juggling both. The city spent three years prepping for what might be the largest tourist event in the history of NOLA. They are expecting nearly a half-million visitors. And I think each will be pleased with what they find considering the Crescent City was voted “Best American City to Visit” by Travel + Leisure magazine.

So, good luck my friends in NOLA and Laissez les bons temps rouler!


Photography by Evelyn Laws

Peter Dale at City Grit


When you serve good food on a big table you build a bridge to many things–family, fellowship, and friends to name a few. Tonight, City Grit built a bridge from New York all the way from Athens, GA.

Having moved to New York from South Carolina, I fancy myself an ambassador of my homeland. Sarah Simmons shares this passion with her creation of City Grit, a supper club in lower Manhattan dedicated to Southern food traditions.

So with two tickets in hand, I invited my friend Jeff for a taste of the South. Originally from upstate New York, he intends to move South. Has he visited? Nope, he just knows it’s that great. The family-focused, laid back lifestyle draws him in, but I wanted to show the food-focused life is worth the move, too.

Peter Dale, chef at The National in Athens, GA prepared a great 5-course meal, featuring his Ecuadorian heritage and Southern roots. We started with a New Year soup of blackeyed peas and amazing cornbread croutons. Cornbread croutons–brilliant.

Next, Peter stewed some amazing shrimp in a plantain sauce with peanuts (from Georgia, of course).

He gave a culinary shout out to my home state and the Palmetto Tree with an amazing beef tartare with hearts of palm. It was a close second to my favorite entrée, the chicken thighs with endives and a surprisingly refreshing orange marmalade. Definitely a new spin on chicken thighs for me.

But oh my word–the Carolina plantation rice pudding stole the show. The lady beside me phrased it perfectly: “It’s like rice pudding got in a fight with crème brûlée and they both won.”

The only un-Southern thing about this supper was I couldn’t go back for seconds, which I would have with rice pudding…multiple times.

Photography by Kley Sippel

Rhett House Inn

We all have attachments to our childhood. For some of us, the cravings or longings to return to the places of our youth are based on memories of families, seasons, friendships and first loves. For others, the wish to return home is founded on idealistic notions of a life we wished we would have had.

I fall into the first category. When I think of my home in foothills of the Smoky mountains, I get an overwhelming sense of belonging.  Nostalgia flows over me and I get lost in memories. In a more honest moment, I admit my intense love for the Palmetto State might be shaped by a wish for simpler times. Who doesn’t miss a life with fewer responsibilities, and a time before the realities that come with growing older?

But there is much more than memories for this historically rich, complex state.

I got a chance to go back home this past weekend. Not the upstate I usually call home, but a visit to the Lowcountry. The culinary super-fest,  Music To Your Mouth, was held in Palmetto Bluff.  My timing was a little late on booking accomodations at the resort so I thought I would make the most of it and book something in nearby Beaufort.

At the last minute, I came across the historic Rhett House Inn located in the heart of downtown Beaufort, just overlooking the water. It’s a beautifully restored Greek Revival antebellum home turned bed and breakfast. The property is surrounded by live oaks draped with spanish moss and resurrection fern. My favorite feature was the wrap around porch with the blue-painted ceiling.

We were greeted at check-in with a glass of champagne before being shown to our first floor room off the parlor. We hardly had a chance to put our bags down when were offered a plate of rich mini red-velvet cupcakes. This place was amazing.

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Before we rushed out the door that night, our host let us know that every evening guests of the inn were invited to the parlor for drinks around the fire. It looked so cozy but we didn’t have time. That is until we were stopped in our tracks with the quintessential Southern melt-in-your-mouth cheese wafers brought out warm from the oven. I couldn’t stop eating them and to be honest, I helped myself to more than my fair share over the weekend. They were so good in fact, I begged for the recipe before I left and they were kind enough to oblige.

The hospitality wasn’t limited to food and imbibing. It was so comforting to be back in a place where the words “y’all” and “honey” dripped off everyone’s lips. I felt so at home and felt the comfort of familiarity even though this was my first visit. This Carolina bed and breakfast is definitely on my “must stay” list.

Photography by Evelyn Laws

Music to Your Mouth

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Whoever first coined the phrase “you can’t go home” was probably in the middle of a long weekend at Palmetto Bluff, the setting for the 6th Annual Music to Your Mouth Festival (MTYM).

MTYM is a food festival to end all other food festivals.

It’s hard to explain the first time you enter the 20,000 acres that is Palmetto Bluff. The vast beauty of the conservation preserve filled with spanish moss and 32 miles of riverfront is breathtaking. Without a festival to attend, one could still get lost for days in the beautiful residential community with a resort spa and Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. And if being pampered or hitting the links is not your thing, there’s always kayaking, biking, and fishing.

Adding a weekend of culinary indulgence to this serene environment, and you’ll think you’ve gone to heaven. It’s hard to name another event that features so many of the South’s finest chefs in such a relaxed, approachable setting.

Sean Brock, Drew Robinson, Hugh Acheson, Chris Hastings, John Currence, Allan Benton, and Ashley Christensen were just a few in the all-star lineup. The James Beard Foundation and Southern Foodways Alliance were active participants with awards and showings of short films showcasing the legendary bourbon-maker, Julian P. Van Winkle, III and the godfather of pork, Allan Benton.

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Two days of bluegrass music created the perfect soundtrack to this Southern foodie weekend. But the best part, for me, was walking from table to table sampling the best in culinary creations while listening to interviews by John T. Edge and demonstrations by some of the finest chefs of the South.

Limited tickets meant no long lines, which is a good thing when you are transfixed by the smoked ham and cast iron skillets of bacon on Allan Benton’s table. Or when you’re being served a plate of Jim ‘n Nick’s perfectly smoked pork on white bread drenched in BBQ sauce and a couple of their divine cheese biscuits. Hungry yet? And since there was only a small band of Southern food worshipers,  finding a spot at fire pit to roast your gourmet s’mores was easy.

The MTYM folks got it right even more by donating a portion of every ticket to Second Helpings, a local organization set up to fight hunger.

From the potlikker block party to the oyster roast, the event was Dixie at its best. After all, a festival which sports a Bacon Forest and Game Day Beer Garden just takes things to another level, right?

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I survived the weekend of indulgence. My waistline wasn’t so lucky. But I have a year to work off the damage before next year’s Music to Your Mouth Festival!

Photography by Evelyn Laws