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This summer we have gotten in the habit of getting together every Monday afternoon with some of our fellow downtown business owners and friends for a little cocktail hour. It has become a time that we can all relax, laugh and discuss the important happenings of our little town. We take turns providing a signature cocktail and snacks, and this week it was my friend Clark's turn.
Clark and his sister Candace were members of the original Alder Street Social Club. I have known them my entire life; Candace even gave me my first haircut! Clark is the epitome of a southern gentleman and has a classic southern drawl, the kind you don’t find very often these days. On Tuesday I called to ask him a couple of questions in preparation for this blog, and he answered the phone with “Hey Darlin, what is it I can help you with” and closed with “Bye Hun”. He is a talented artist, expert chef and master gardener, truly a jack of all trades. He lives at Branchwater, his country home that was built in the style of an Italian Villa.
If you attend a party at his home your drink is served in a crystal glass and the buffet is set up on silver trays. The French doors to the patio stay open at all times, no matter the time of year, and somehow this just works for Clark!
At our most recent cocktail hour Clark served his favorite summer drink, the Branchwater Toddy. This drink is very similar to a whiskey sour, with Clark’s twist! To make this drink you will mix equal parts bourbon (Clark prefers Old Taylor) and margarita mix (Jose Cuervo mix is preferred) over crushed ice and muddled mint.
Of course our drinks were served with fresh mint that Clark grew himself. I must admit I was a bit skeptical of the combination, but I must tell you it was absolutely delicious, very refreshing and not too heavy. I will agree with Clarky, it is just perfect for a hot summer evening in the south. Only Clark would also serve up “Hungarian delights” made by his good friend and pastry chef Szilvi. (They were served on a silver tray of course!)
Our little downtown cocktail hour is just another example of the sense of community that you experience when you live in a small town like ours. I so look forward to spending that time with friends every Monday! We hope you’ll give the Branchwater Toddy a try and tell us what you think!
Shop our Entertaining category to add a little southern charm to your next get-together.
The Southern Merc Girls were thrilled to be able to shoot a cooking video with our good friends, Kat and Jordan, over at Clayton Family Kitchen! It was our first experience with filming something like this (just in case you couldn't tell) so we were a little nervous about watching the finished product! A huge shout out to Chase and Jordan at Southern Blue for creating this video we can share with you. We are proud to say that we think it turned out fabulous! (Must be all those years of high school plays and drama class with the fabulous Wendy McFarland!) In this video we will be showing you how to make our famous peach beehives! Don't forget, you can join our recipe club and have access to print the beehive recipe as well as many others! We hope you like what you see, we sure had a lot of fun doing it! Please share with us on the blog how your beehives turn out at home!
I have had the privilege of sharing my college years with two wonderful people I now call my best friends.
I met Russell the summer after my freshman year. Because of his brutal honesty, snarky sarcasm and general friendliness we quickly became buds. Our relationship usually revolved around food--seeing as we both loved to cook and entertain. (And did I mention, eat?) Russell has and always will be someone I can count on. After Phillip and I began dating, I couldn't wait for he and Russell to meet each other. They hit it off , like I knew they would, and now call each other friends.
Mary Claire began as a mystery college roommate, which I was hesitant about. (Those situations usually don't end up well.) She moved in, and we instantly became friends. Through much time spent at the pool, painting our nails, baking, and watching chick flicks, we soon became inseparable. She is a talented, sweet-spirited, spontaneous girl who stole my heart and encouraged me more than she will ever know.
It was inevitable that at some point these two would meet. They became friends at first, and I never imagined anything else...until April 1, 2014 (a.k.a April Fools Day). Russell and Mary Claire agreed that it would be fun to fool me by telling me that they were going on a date. You can imagine my excitement when they told me, as well as my disappointment when they unveiled the truth. The only bright side in this cruel trick was that Russell was just trying to find out Mary Claire's real feelings about the possibility of them dating. What started as a "funny" joke that I didn't think was so funny turned into a fairy tale. Russell made known his interest in Mary Claire as more than a friend and the rest is history.
Now, Russell and Mary Claire are getting married, and we wanted to do something special.
Since we are in the middle of summer, I thought what could be more fun than a BBQ? I decided to play up the red and white checkered tablecloths for a festive look--using that same look in the invitations as well.
Russell's favorite foods just happen to fall into that category--I mean who doesn't love pulled pork, mac and cheese, deviled eggs...you get the idea!
To dress up the tables a bit while still keeping it casual, I decided to use sunflowers. A friend of mine has an entire field of sunflowers, so I knew just where to go!
We used my collection of milk glass and gold-rimmed plates along with my silver to set the tables. I decided at the last minute to use twine as "napkin rings" to tie the invitations back into the theme.
Although the party was casual, the food was delicious, and the guests were a delight. We had the best time visiting with one another and celebrating our wonderful friends. This party was just one of many celebrations to come--we are so thankful to have friends like Mary Claire and Russell to enjoy life with.
One of my favorite cakes for summer is the Lemon Icebox cake. Because the icing is made with cool whip, this cake is kept and served cold. In fact, I love this cake so much I chose it as my own wedding cake!
Here's what you'll need:
Lemon Cake Mix
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup oil
1 can Eagle Brand milk
Juice from 2 lemons
8 oz. cool whip
Here's what you'll need to do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the cake mix, eggs, buttermilk and oil. Mix until smooth.
Divide batter in half to fill two 9 inch cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Once layers have cooled, begin to make the icing.
Mix milk and lemon juice together until fully incorporated.
Add cool whip while gently stirring until icing is completely blended.
Ice the cake, using fresh cut lemons as a garnish.
To get this recipe (as well as many more) in a printable version, join the Recipe Club! If you have already joined, enter the Archive now.
When searching for the perfect location to celebrate your special day, keep an open mind. Some have dreamed of being wed in their family's church since the beginning, while others have allowed their imagination to run wild.
Phillip and I loved the idea of being married in a church. To us, marriage is a sacred commitment we wanted to make before God--so we followed the tradition while adding a dreamy little twist of our own.
I desperately wanted to find a church that held on to its original character throughout the years (i.e. wooden floors, wooden pews, large windows). It's harder than it seems! Phillip limited me with a three hour rule--so that friends and family didn't have to make such a terribly long trip, and I'm glad he did.
We found Mt. Zion Church while searching for old churches in Georgia. When I saw it, I fell in love.
Pictures do not do this place of peace justice. When you enter these doors, the paint-peeled walls tell a story, the original pews give you rest, and the 24 pane windows welcome the light.
The building itself now belongs to the Sparta Hancock County Historical Society. The church was built in the early 1800s and does not have electricity or running water. It still houses the original windows and pews, and boy are they beautiful. The Historical Society takes such good care of this property and are such a pleasure to work with. They love this church and its history as much as I do--preserving it beautifully for even more years to come.
For choosing a reception venue, luck was on our side. As Roxie and I explored the area after finding the church, we found an interesting driveway with a sign that read Lundy Creek Lodge at BriarRose. We decided to take a look and do a little investigating. What we found was a quaint lodge with an outdoor pavilion sitting on 2,000 acres. The best thing about this property was that our entire family and decorating crew would be able to stay together in the lodge, 5 minutes from the church.
Not only was choosing Lundy Creek Lodge convenient, but it was also financially reasonable. You rent the lodge per night, having access to all of the amenities that are available on the property--even for the purpose of holding a reception or wedding. Not only did we hold our reception at the pavilion, but it was also the perfect location for the rehearsal dinner! This was a wonderful find, and I was grateful that the manager chose to rent her property in this way.
The pavilion already had lights along the rafters, but Roxie wanted to hang a beautiful chandelier over the cake table. What a special touch! We decided to set up our food and drink tables inside the pavilion, and have all of our seating outside under a tent. This allowed for plenty of room for the servers as well as the guests.
It seemed as if everything else just fell into place once we found the perfect venues. Each space was unique in helping me form a vision for our big day. If our church isn't inspiring enough, I don't know what is!
Here are a few tips I picked up along the way that might be helpful to remember when searching for the perfect locations:
1. Timeless vs. Trendy
When choosing a location, don't allow what's trending in the wedding world to take over your big day. In the end, you'll be glad you selected a place that speaks to your heart rather than what speaks to pinners. By choosing locations that are true to your personal style and vision, you are guaranteed to celebrate timelessly.
2. Driving Distance
Although you want your wedding to be the one of your dreams, if no one can make the trip--it won't be. Be considerate when dreaming up destination weddings. Phillip gave me a three hour rule because he thought anything further would be too much to ask. Another way you can be considerate towards your guests is by choosing a sensible time of ceremony. We chose 11:00 AM so that most of our guests would be able to make a day trip out of it, rather than having to stay in a hotel. Also, you want to make sure your reception site isn't too far from the ceremony site. This allows less of a chance of guests getting lost, and more time celebrating rather than sitting in a car. Ours ended up being only 5 minutes away, but I realize we got lucky. I would say to definitely keep it under 30 minutes travel time.
3. Venue Size
When considering a venue, be sure to keep your guest count in mind. You want to ensure there will be plenty of room for everyone. For the reception, you'll want to keep things like tables, chairs, food tables, decorations, band, dancing, etc. in mind. You will also want to make sure there is ample parking available. We almost had this problem, but with a few volunteer parking directors we avoided any possible issues.
If you're like me, staying within your budget is the most important factor. My mom has worked very hard throughout her life to provide me with the things I need, so we planned a budget and I was determined to stick to it. I have read that the venue (both ceremony and reception) cost shouldn't be more than 10% of your entire budget. We came in way under that amount since we were technically paying for lodging and the Historical Society only asked for a donation of $250.00. When you are able to save in one area you can splurge in another!
5. Keep An Open Mind
I know I stated earlier to lean towards timeless rather than trendy, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an open mind! My mother sure had to keep an open mind when I showed her the paint-peeled walls. Pinterest can be a wonderful source to get your creative juices flowing. Who doesn't plan a wedding with the help of Pinterest these days? If you aren't getting married in your local church, then there are endless opportunities out there. Think about places you love to go together, things you like to do together, and locations that are just plain beautiful. Don't be afraid to try something different. As Mark Twain says, "Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is."
I went out on a limb by asking family and friends to drive three hours to this abandoned church, I stayed well within our budget by finding unique and reasonable venues, I made sure both spaces were roomy enough to hold my guests, and I chose places that I will love at the end of every day--even when I'm ninety.
I hope this was a fun and encouraging read to help you have the wedding of your dreams.
Click HERE to read more about our wedding!
Photography: Lindsay Cox, Letters + Light
“Putting up” vegetables is most definitely a southern tradition; one that should be heralded and passed down, but that has slowly faded from many folks’ busy lives. It does take time and hard work to put up your own vegetables, and it can be a hot, sticky, messy affair, but it is so worth the effort. The reward comes in the winter when you pull a bag, can, or jar from a full freezer or pantry and enjoy the fruits (or vegetables, rather) of your labor!
Now, don’t worry - I am realistic about how much time and effort to put in to such endeavors. I know a few people who work harder in their gardens and their homes to put up so many vegetables than they do at their real jobs! Some even buy extra freezers and put in extra shelves in their pantry just to make room for all that they have put up! I am more of the mindset to put up what my family enjoys, what I can give away as gifts, or what I can’t buy at the grocery store. For example, I have learned that I can purchase frozen peas that my family loves just as much as those I have put up in the past, and they cost less than those peas I put up myself. Plus, shelling peas is one of my least favorite activities - probably second only to shucking corn.
Although shucking corn (pulling the husks and silks off the corn) is a messy job, to me it is worth the trouble. Sure, I can buy frozen corn at the grocery store, but it just isn’t as good as what I can put up. Usually, I purchase fresh corn from The CASE (Center of Agricultural Study and Excellence) Farm at our local high school, an experimental farm that is run by students and agricultural educators. They pick the corn for me, and students at the CASE Farm even help shuck sometimes!
After the corn is shucked, the real fun begins! The corn must be washed and silked, which is removing the fine “silks” that are caught between the kernels using a scrub brush under running water. I usually put up several bags of corn on the cob, since that is how everyone in my family likes to eat it. This is the easiest way to put it up, since you only have to blanch the ears of corn, then put them into freezer bags. This also takes up a lot of space in my freezer, so I cream most of the corn before freezing it. Creamed corn is the favorite of everyone except my younger son, so I just buy a can of whole kernel corn for him to eat.
Several years ago, I put up creamed corn with my mother-in-law at her home. Now, the process of creaming corn is just about one of the messiest jobs when it comes to putting up vegetables. You can imagine the piles of corn shucks all over her carport, since we shucked it outside. Then, cutting the kernels of corn off the cob shoots the starchy corn juice all over everyone and everything. After blanching the corn (we used her microwave after cutting it off the cob), we scooped the creamed corn into freezer bags. As careful as we were not to lose any of the precious corn, we still managed to spill it onto every counter in her kitchen. After working so hard all day, the last thing any of us wanted to do was clean the kitchen, but it had to be done.
Since then, I have discovered our county’s Canning Plant - and what a wonderful discovery it was! They have everything you need to put up just about anything you want: plenty of huge stainless steel sinks and tables, steam machines that blanch your vegetables in just a few minutes, all the canning equipment (including the cans!), and my personal favorite - corn cutters! Now many people have their own corn cutters, but the folks that run the canning plant have done one better. They have built boxes to hold the cutters over your pan, which is sooooo much easier than holding the cutter and the pan and the corn with only two hands while trying your best not to cut your finger off! And the best part of going to the canning plant is that when you’re finished, you just hose everything down and go back home to your nice, clean kitchen.
I highly recommend finding a local canning plant to put up your vegetables. Not only is it great that you don’t have to clean your own kitchen afterward, but the people who run the canning plant are very knowledgeable and helpful. You can also bring your own help. It’s a lot more fun to take some friends or family with you to share the work - and the veggies!
I love color! While you must use it appropriately and carefully, color can make or break a room, a house, an outfit, etc. There are many folks in the world that seem to be a little “color-challenged”. While I do struggle in many other areas of my life (i.e. math skills, patience, studying in general) I am happy to say that color is something that comes naturally to me.
I have had a long love affair with the color red. In fact, I am pretty sure that you would be able to find a “red” gene in my DNA. (I share this love of red with my Aunt Janet.) Red shoes, red bags, red furniture, etc. - there are so many things in life that just look best in the color red. If you open my closet you will find at least five pairs of red shoes. The kitchen utensils in my drawers… red. Most of the napkins in my linen cabinet… red. My well-worn Italian leather travel bag… red. You get the picture.
As a younger person, my first house was swathed in red. I had a red bathroom, red bedding, red drapes, red throw pillows… My little rental house even came with original red counter tops from the 50’s - fate! As I have matured in my decorating style, I have toned down the red over the years, but I am a firm believer that every room needs a little red. Even if you are a minimalist that prefers all neutral colors, you can definitely use a little red in your life!
I've painted most of my house "sea salt" by Sherwin Williams. I think red looks especially beautiful against shades of light blue and teal. My couch is dressed with red and cream geometric pillows. I love my big red comfy chair. The kilim pillow keeps things interesting!
This feather pillow is the perfect example of a simple pop of red! The shades of blue make it perfect for my blue velvet chair.
I've been saving these vintage bistro chairs for just the right spot and now I finally have it! They are perfect on either end of my reclaimed wood table. I covered the antique chair in my bedroom with a muted red fabric with gold dots. The bedroom walls are painted "misty lake" by Olympic.
I love to mix and match my bedding. You can see the duvet has shades of red, teal, green and cream. The quilt and shams are a shade of blue very similar the the wall color. The sheets have a tiny red stripe and the embroidered pillow with cream pom poms is the icing on the cake!
I love vintage portraits. I don't know who this is but I think she is just beautiful! I've had the metal flowers for years and never get tired of them. The colors are just perfect for the bedroom!
Here are a few more examples I found on some of my favorite sites of how you can use red in your home, both subtly and boldly.
I love the deep red chairs in this crisp white room. The patriotic pillows on the couch give just the right pop of color without going overboard.
This red couch against such dark gray hues is so dramatic! Just gorgeous with the camel drapes.
In this picture you can see that just a small amount of the orange-red color in this room makes a big visual impact. It really helps cozy up the space.
A touch of red can be as simple as a red coat in a vintage portrait. A small item can have a big impact.
This shade of pinky-red accents on the bed makes me want to crawl right up in it and take a nap!
The vegetable pictures on the wall in this clean, simple kitchen help make the space a little warmer and less stark.
Tossing a beautiful blanket over a chair or the end of your bed is an inexpensive way to add a pop of color to a room.
I love these beautiful blankets from Sackcloth and Ashes. Not only are they good looking, but they also support a good cause! For every blanket purchased, a blanket is donated to your local homeless shelter.
Shop Red Now!
Lately I have been craving some good ole comfort food! The first thing that pops into my mind when I think of "comfort food" is macaroni and cheese - I mean, who doesn't love macaroni and cheese? Whether you are from the south or not, you cannot deny the healing powers of its cheesy goodness. Today, I am sharing a more grown-up version of this decadent side dish from my good friend, Kat Clayton, of Clayton Family Kitchen. Kat is a sweet, southern gal from Kentucky that married a childhood friend of mine. I've been blessed to know her for years, and even catered her wedding reception! Not only is she a fabulous hostess and talented cook, but she is also the author of a series of mystery novels called The Kings of Charleston. You can find her Pecan Crusted Macaroni and Cheese Recipe, as well as many others at www.claytonfamilykitchen.com.
I love macaroni and cheese, it’s one of my all time favorite dishes. Over the years, I’ve tried lots of recipes for homemade, but nothing ever really measured up to the high expectations I had developed in my mind. Some were too cheesy, others weren’t cheesy enough, while others textures were just off.
So I threw away all the recipes and came up with something of my own and I’m very happy with the results. I use a mix of mild cheddar and Vermont white cheddar for this recipe. Because I like a little crunch in my mac and cheese, I topped it with a cracker/pecan topping and toasted it up in the oven.
I don’t know why I thought to throw pecans in there (maybe it’s my never ending supply), but they were awesome in this dish. I toasted them up with a little butter and salt, before adding them to the crushed cracker topping. The salty toasted flavor added a little something extra to the velvety mild flavor. My husband’s only complaint was that I should have added more pecans.
Pecan Crusted Mac and Cheese
½ cup pecans, chopped
4½ tbs. butter
pinch of salt
3 cups noodles ( I used seashell noodles)
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups white Vermont cheddar cheese, shredded
3 cups whole milk
1 sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees;
Spread pecans onto an aluminum foil baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and ½ tablespoon melted butter. Bake for 7-8 minutes; set aside.
In a large stock pot, cook the pasta according to the directions until the pasta is al dente; Drain and set aside.
Melt 2 tbs. of butter in a large saucepan on medium heat; Once the butter bubbles and starts to brown, whisk in the flour to make a rue. Continue whisking the rue for 2-3 minutes.
Slowly whisk in the milk, making sure to keep the rue from forming clumps. Allow the mixture to cook for about 5-10 minutes.
Stir in the cheeses, one cup at a time, allowing each addition to be completed incorporated before adding the next.
Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, coating the pasta completely. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a greased casserole dish. Top with the crushed crackers and toasted pecans. Melt 2 tbs. of butter and pour is over the top of the pecans and crackers.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is browned and the cheese starts to bubble.
Porch parties are my favorite! There is something magical that happens during a beautiful evening on the porch with friends. Front porch, back porch, it doesn't matter to me! As long as there is a comfy chair and special people I am a happy girl. A little candle light (citronella if you live in the south), a little wine, some good food, and a whole lot of laughter equals good times.
Last minute porch parties are the best! No time to be too fussy or formal. Comfortable and simple, just the way I like things! If you are lucky enough to love your neighbors then there’s a good chance you will be hosting a last minute get together at some point. There are several little tricks I use to always be prepared for a porch party.
I hope this inspires you to get out and enjoy your outdoor spaces! Even the small balcony of your tiny apartment can be an inviting spot for friends. Have some folks over and let the good times roll! Let me know how it goes!
If you need a little help making your porch parties a success, check out Porch Parties by Denis Gee!
You can also shop our Entertaining Category to find the perfect pieces to use on your porch.
Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend--hopefully you'll be spending it on your porch with friends and family!