Category: Culture

Arkansas Eats

As an Arkansas native I’ve always known that we have some stellar places to eat. Everywhere I go in the state there is a fantastic feast waiting at a restaurant, diner or roadside stand. Which is good because I love food.

The state is famous for southern staples such as fried catfish, barbeque and pie but our food is also influenced by our proximity to the southwestern flair of Texas. As we are an agricultural community a traditional Arkansas meal always includes a generous helping of something that was grown nearby. Purple hull peas slow cooked with a ham hock, cornbread, sliced tomatoes and fried okra are all sides you’ll find on the dinner table in Arkansas.

We’ve never strayed far from our culinary roots, but the national trend for locally sourced ingredients has produced a number of sensational restaurants that specialize in home-style cooking with a contemporary twist. How about catfish served over a bed of hoppin’ John and fried okra? Or perhaps a grilled pork chop with creamed corn, peppers and almonds. Are you hungry yet?

Arkansans aren’t the only folks who recognize what our state has to offer. Recently Forbes Travel Guides included our capital city Little Rock as one of five secret foodie spots with shot outs to Ashley’s, Ciao Baci, ZaZa’s Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co. and Whole Hog Cafe.

Arkansas Farm to Table Restaurants

In addition to these recommendations I have a few others that I suggest you try for a plate full of local flavor featuring seasonal ingredients.

Brave New Restaurant – Get the mixed grill that includes a variety of grilled meats served with an herbed demi glace.

South on Main – This is where you will find the fried catfish and hoppin’ John. Yum!

Trio’s – In the summer they have a farmers’ market plate with seasonal vegetables that’s wonderful.

Table 28 – The restaurant offers unusual interpretations of southern favorites. Make reservations for a seat at the chef’s table (table 28) for an exclusive 6-course meal prepared and served by Chef Rains.

The Root Café – Great burgers and sweet potato fries. A definite must if you have a hankering for breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Capital Hotel Bar and Grill – The Friday lunch special is red sauce braised brisket with rice bread and chow chow. That’s what I’m talking about!

The Hive – If you love a good pork chop this is the place to go. Chef Matthew McClure sources the pork from a local farmer raising heritage pigs known for their exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Oh, and be sure to stop in at the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The current exhibit is a collection of French modern masters including Matisse, Cezanne and Degas. It will be on view until July 7, 2014.

28 Springs – You can’t come south and not eat chicken and dumplings. Savory herb gravy and a flaky biscuit crust make these some of the best chicken and dumplings to be had.

The Farmer’s Table Café – One look at the breakfast menu and you’ll know why this place is the talk of the town. The Hash Skillet is to die for.

HEIRLOOM food + wine – A glass of wine and a platter filled with artisanal cheeses, seasonal fruit, walnuts, honeycomb and fig-rosemary crackers plus an amiable companion? Is there a better way to end the day?

Special thanks to Lyndi over at NWAFoodie.com for recommending some great restaurants in northwest Arkansas!

Fried Dill Pickles


It’s astounding to me but it wasn’t until 1963 that someone thought to fry a dill pickle. I know, right? Bernell “Fatman” Austin was the first to serve these treats at the Duchess Drive In in Atkins, Arkansas and they’ve been a southern staple ever since. If you don’t believe me try them and get back to me. Here’s a recipe that is similar to those served at a local catfish joint.

Ingredients
1 quart jar dill pickle slices
2 teaspoon red pepper
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
8 ounces milk
5 – 6 drops hot sauce
2 cups flour
vegetable oil

Instructions
Mix egg, milk, hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon of flour in bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl combine the red pepper, paprika, black pepper and 2 cups of flour.

In a large, deep skillet or fry cooker heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the pickle slices in the egg and milk mixture, then dredge them through the flour and spices, then the egg and milk again and then the flour once more.

Next drop the battered pickles into the hot oil and fry until they float to the surface and turn a nice golden brown.

Serve immediately.

The Doors at Canterbury Shaker Village

Doors are symbolic of opportunity, new life and passing from one state to another. But what about the doors that welcome us home everyday? It seems to me these passages represent a return to shelter and comfort, a return to the familiar.

During a recent trip to Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire I couldn’t help but wonder over the building entrances. Since the late 18th century these entries have ushered residents and visitors into meeting halls, workshops, dinning rooms and living quarters. What stories they could tell! Each door must have represented something different to every person who crossed the threshold.

Canterbury Shaker Village is located in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Built in 1792, it was one of 19 Shaker communities in the United States. The last Shaker resident, Ethel Hudson, died in 1992. Today Canterbury Shaker Village is a non-profit museum tasked with preserving the heritage of the Shakers who called the area home for 200 years. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993. If you want to see the Canterbury Shaker Village doors in person you can tour the site May through October and for special winter holiday events. Learn more by visiting www.shakers.org.

 

 

 

From Seed to Flower, Meeting Garden Designer Xa Tollemache

One of the pleasures of living is experiencing those moments when the past connects with the present. It’s like returning to a seed sown and finding a flower. You know, those instances when you say to yourself, “I understand.”

Five or so years ago I discovered garden designer Xa Tollemache while touring Castle Hill in North Devon, England. She designed the Millennium Garden there and I was an immediate fan. I admire her sense of proportion and scale and her ability to create visually compelling patterns with plants that carpet the ground.

Skip forward to spring 2011 and there I am introducing myself to Xa at a fundraiser in New York. After following her work for so many years, the moment was a little bit surreal. I was delighted when she came to Arkansas to speak at the Clinton School of Public Service and tickled pink to host a dinner party for her at the Garden Home Retreat.

It wasn’t until I was back in England visiting her home, Helmingham Hall, that I recognized the flower borne of the seed sown so many years ago. Surrounded by the graceful gardens she designed, I was transported back to the Millennium Garden at Castle Hill. The path from past to present was clear and I said to myself, “I understand.”

Favorite Films for the Coming Long Weekend

We’re coming to the end of the summer blockbuster season and I must confess I’m not sad about it. Of the summer’s releases my favorite was Rango, but the big budget, supersized special effects offerings didn’t do much for me. I’m not a movie snob. I like any genre–comedy, epic, animation, sci-fi and even horror. I’ll watch a movie at the theater, at home or even on a plane. I judge a movie by the writing, storyline and cinematography. I also like it when there is a surprise or two.

This Labor Day weekend I plan to spend some of my time relaxing with a good movie or two or three. How about you? Are movies going to be part of your holiday plans? If so I recommend the following:

Barry Lyndon (1975)
directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Ryan O’Neal
Set in 18th-century England, it’s a period movie done in Stanley Kubrick’s quirky style.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi247005465/
Amélie (2001)
directed by Jean-Paul Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou
I love the colors and imagery in this movie. It’s a visual treat as well as a touching story. It’s in French with subtitles.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2330460441/
Being There (1979)
directed by Hal Ashby and starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden and Melvyn Douglas
This movie’s script is brilliant. It’s a “mistaken for greatness” story with fabulous wit and dry humor.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi489947929/
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
directed by Chris Columbus and starring Robin Williams, Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan
Who doesn’t love a good tale of cross-dressing? This is one of my favorite Robin Williams comedies with plenty of slapstick and hilarious lines.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2564882713/

So those are a few of my favorites. What do you suggest I add to my movie-watching list?

Road Trip to the English Countryside

I discovered my inner Anglophile shortly after college while studying garden design and history at the University of Manchester. England felt like a home away from home for me and I don’t think there was a more ideal place in the world for me to hone my landscape design skills.

I recently returned to England on a tour of houses and gardens. While I started in Cheshire for a stay with my friends at Arley Hall, the majority of my visits were made in Norfolk and Suffolk. There was so much to take in and discover. I certainly came home with more than enough material to share with you on my blog. Over the next few months I’ll post a series of installments about my trip. This first one gives the 30,000 foot view.

Arley Hall, Cheshire. A favorite haunt of mine as a student in England. Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook wrote the forward to my 1st book, Garden Home.

Roses and lavender are a classic. Arley Hall gardens.

Arley Hall walled garden. Catmint, 'Halcyon' hosta  and 'Rosemary Rose' roses.

The herb garden at Arley Hall. Lady Ashbrook designed this years ago.

Themed gardens! This one is for golden plants. Very striking! Next to this garden room was one done in silver foliage.

'Fire and Water' fountain at Houghton Hall. David Cholmondeley has done great things with the garden in the past 10 years.

The Mediterranean garden at Houghton Hall. Note the 'bullnose' boxwood border around the raised pool. Brilliant! Love the potted agaves too.

Catmint 'Six Hills Giant' framing the view to the glass house at Houghton Hall.

My friend Xa Tollemache and Carla Carlisle at Lady Carlisle's home Wyken Hall. They are standing behind the Cornstalk Gates. Love it!

Silver parterre at Wyken.

Guinea fowl on the lawn at Wyken. Carla loves poultry!

Wyken Hall. Love the color!

Gifford's Hall. So attractive. David Hicks did the interior design back in the '70s & it still looks great! So hip!

Helmingham Hall was built in 1510. It's completely moated & the drawbridge comes up every night.

Helmingham is so majestic! I love the punctuation & rhythm of the boxwoods along the moat.

One of Xa's beautiful designs at Helmingham.

Columbine Hall and its moat.

The kitchen at Columbine. So charming!

Columbine's dinning room. I was so taken by the generous fireplace.