Into the Light
A lovely and compelling essay on how a seasonal mindset can guide us through even the hardest times…
“When it is Summer in the Light, and Winter in the Shade.”
by Charlie Warzal
“At some point, winter will be back, whether I’m ready or not. But first, warmer days are ahead.”
Light in Montana (photos by C. D’Avanzo)
Are you a two-sided southerner?
A long time ago, in the early years of our PR firm, we had the great fortune to help launch a little (Charleston-based) magazine in Atlanta called skirt! And I remember meeting its new young editor, Stephanie Davis, for the first time over lunch in Decatur to talk about the project. An Atlanta native, Stephanie had just returned to the city to start her exciting new gig after working in magazine publishing in New York for several years. She was infectiously happy, smart and down-home true, and we hit it off immediately. Now, fast forwarding many years later, this writer/editor/mom is back in Atlanta again (yes, NYC had called her back for a second round) and she’s just launched a little venture called Two-Sided Southern.
From her first post, we were excited to see someone starting a venture that embraces both small- and big-town cultures…that talks about high- and low-brow things…and spotlights people who don’t necessarily have a hard and fast line between the two. And even better, this gave me a chance to reconnect with Steph to talk about these “two sides” a little bit more.
What inspired you to create Two-Sided Southern?
It had been on my heart for a while. I actually started the site back in April after the pandemic but chickened out on posting anything out into the world, which is unlike me. But I’ve always heard “do the thing that scares you the most.” During quarantine I had time to reflect because life had slowed down so much and I got contemplative about what I started out really loving about being in magazines and a writer. The voice inside said “sharing stories and connecting with people.” I had been missing the personal essay writing I used to do at skirt! magazine back in the day. So I decided what I love to talk about is exciting culture, food, people, style… but also all the kind of everyday Southern things I love too… How do you combine luxury experiences with down-home Southern experiences as well?
You grew up in the South, lived and worked in NYC…twice, I believe…and now you’re back in Atlanta. Do you think you’re here to stay? 😊
I plead the fifth! I feel lucky that we got out of Manhattan about 7 months before the pandemic hit, but there are definitely days I miss it. I am hoping when my kids go off to college my husband and I can get a little apartment up there and spend maybe spring and fall going to museums, eating in sidewalk cafes and people watching. Spending summer and winter in Atlanta and the rest of the year in NYC? Now that would definitely be Two-Sided Southern!
What’s your latest ‘High Brow’ tip?
I love to pair the high and the low together in my posts. So I just wrote a piece about how every time I go to a fancy restaurant (in this case, it was Lazy Betty in Atlanta) then I make plans to go to a dive bar afterward. I do it all the time. So after Lazy Betty, I had been dying to try Lloyd’s Restaurant and Bar which looks like something out of 1975. Whenever I go to Cooks & Soldiers, I’ll hit up Northside Tavern afterward. Same with New York. We’d go to Manahatta or Augustine in New York and then hit up Stone Street afterward. When I posted it, one reader said “I’m Five Star and Dive Bar!” I love that. It encapsulates Two-Sided Southern completely.
And ‘Low Brow’?
I’m about to post something about how stylish southerners can be and how they can pair a handmade leather purse they found at a country store with a Balmain sweater and not think twice about it. Or a pair of stylish one-of-a-kind cowboy boots at the horse and feed store on their way out to the farm with a pair of Derek Lam pants. There’s no pretense or dressing head-to-toe in labels.
Why do you think Southerners are particularly adept at straddling the fence between two cultures, as it were?
I think many Southerners are more cosmopolitan than we think. Even if they are living on a rural farm, out in the marshes of the coast or have a cabin in the mountains, you’ll find out they are well-traveled and interested in learning more about people. Southerners are inherently friendly and curious so when we go out into the world we want to talk to you and get tips on where to go, what to do, find out what you’re wearing. So while they are comfortable at a fish fry or a low country boil with newspaper for tablecloths, Southerners can also charm a maître d’ at the finest restaurant in town. C’mon, have you ever seen one of those loud Southerners at a fancy restaurant just playing it up for the wait staff and the diners all around them? Making them laugh or smile with all their banter? I love to see it. Especially when you’re in Chicago, LA or New York where they aren’t used to all that charm. Those same people are holding court at a backyard BBQ too.
Where do you hope to see Two-Sided Southern in 5 years, if not sooner?
I truly am doing it for fun with no expectations. Luckily, I’ve had many friends and DMs from strangers reach out and say it resonates with them and that was what I was after. I wanted someone to say “Me too!” or “That’s me!” That is the reward in it for me. The fear of pushing the post button and no one “getting it” was what was stopping me in the beginning. So the more it resonates, the more I’m going to do it. I had one acquaintance reach out and say, “When are you doing something on deviled eggs?” and I knew I was onto something.
Follow Stephanie and her two Southern Sides on Instagram.
Making Biscuits in the Black Belt
Arielle, Adrian & I ventured to Alabama’s Black Belt, a lesser known part of the state that is reinventing itself in food, farming and agriculture. Together we explored some of the area’s history, including an overnight stay at the Moore-Webb-Holmes Plantation (ca. 1819), one of Alabama’s last active plantations, which has been in the same family since the early 1800s.
But the main reason for our trip was to spend a day with Scott Peacock, a James Beard Award-winning chef who stepped away from a high-profile culinary career in Atlanta 10 years ago to rediscover his roots in Alabama and write a new chapter in his life and career. We spent the most incredible day with Scott at Reverie (ca. 1858) in Marion, learning the art of biscuits in the mansion’s sun showered kitchen.
You would think a lesson in biscuits would be a fairly simple process, but layers of complexity reveal themselves throughout the day. “[Biscuit making] is really simple, and simple is really hard,” Scott noted, as he sifted heirloom flour from Anson Mills and showed us how to make homemade baking powder. This was just one of many ‘biscuit-isms’ casually dropped throughout the day and we soaked up every word of kitchen wisdom he had to impart.
To say this trip was special for us would be an understatement. To try and describe Scott in a few words here, well, is not that easy. He is sweet and funny and generous and kind, and so full of love and passion for the home state to which he’s returned. If ‘a biscuit expresses the cook,’ as this Alabama native attests, then all you need to do is spend a day with Chef Peacock in the kitchen and let the biscuits tell the story.
More about The Black Belt Biscuit Experience...
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, read “A Southern Thanksgiving with Chef Scott Peacock” from Martha Stewart Living for some culinary inspo.
And if you’re planning a trip to the Black Belt and visit to the Moore-Webb-Holmes Plantation, book a tour through host Cooper Holmes to see and learn more of the region’s rich history. (better yet, stay the night there! 🙂 )
Fields of Gold
With summer’s end comes the final hay cutting of the year. And in a year of so much noise and strife, local farmers and landowners throughout the South have been blessed by Mother Nature’s quiet gift of constant rains, which nourished the fields and grew the grass. Hay yields everywhere this year are breaking records. On our own little farm, the yield was 125 square bales and (because we had to get the grass up quickly before more rain came) 60+ giant round bales — for a total equivalent of 1,086 square bales! That’s the biggest haul in 11 years here, and it will feed a lot of cows and horses…and probably a few goats.
There’s something remarkably satisfying about feeding one’s animals with the grasses grown on the lands they stand on. The taste is familiar, their bodies eagerly accept the nutrients and roughage, and barns stand full and ready to feed in the cold months when no fresh grass is available.
We are so thankful for the friends who help us bale our hay. It’s never without challenges, that’s for sure, and we all learn new things each and every year. Without their perseverance and support (+ large equipment!) we’d be left with no choice but to bushhog the fields…then all that beautiful grass would just go to waste. And I don’t think we could sleep at night knowing we gave up the chance to keep more animals healthy, happy and fed.
Winter is coming. And we are ready.👊
Whenever Sean of the South writes one of his love letters to Alabama, it always gets our attention. And this one — about road-tripping through the state in a pandemic — certainly hit home.
The thing I miss most, however, is road trips. Like the one I’m on now. I almost forgot how to travel. I almost forgot the thrill of looking out the window at the beauty lying between my Floridian Panhandle home and the sunkissed pastures of Alabama.
I almost forgot what it feels like to roll down my window on a clear day, travelling fifty-five. I nearly forgot how freeing it is to be on an old highway among the peanut fields and cotton.
Workaholic Me is gone. And I hope he stays gone. And for the next few days, I am once again an adopted son of a truly great state.
I heart Alabama.
Like Dietrich, we are also “adopted Alabamians” and we ♥ our family here. It’s been awhile since we took an Alabama road trip…just because (a friend once called that “going loafering”). Thinking we need to hit those back roads again soon!