Monday, September 8, 2014

Southern Summer Bar

This is an adults-only post, so if you are not over 21 (and you know who you are) please move along, there is nothing for you here.

According to fourth generation New Orleans bartender Chris McMillan, "Southern bartenders need grace, decorum and a sense of theatricality," (Garden & Gun, February 2013) qualities which also come in handy when entertaining family and friends at home. 

It isn't necessary or desirable to recreate the selection or atmosphere of a commercial establishment at home.  A home bar should feel festive, like a party, and it should be warm and personal, which could be as simple as putting spirits and mixers in a basket on the kitchen counter.  

Whether or not we choose to serve alcohol (and that is entirely a personal preference- it's not necessary to serve alcohol to have a good time) in the South, as anywhere else, entertaining is all about being a gracious host.  With a little planning, a few nifty tools at the ready, and high quality ingredients on hand, graceful entertaining is a lot easier to accomplish on the spur of the moment.  Check out Blackberry Farm's recipe for a refreshing Sorghum Mint Julep, here.

The Lewis bag is an essential tool for serving drinks in the heat and humidity of a Virginia summer, because the bag keeps ice dry while you crush it.  A carpenter's joiner mallet works fine- a flat striking head is much more effective at banging ice than a rounded one.

One might also consider a bar spoon, which is about the size of a teaspoon but has a long handle that can reach to the bottom of tall glasses.  This one is especially nice with its perforated bowl.

A stainless steel muddler for mashing fruits or muddling the mint in your mojito,

and a jigger for measuring.

A cocktail shaker is a useful accessory.  Among the possibilities are either a shaker with a strainer lid (personally I have not found one yet that does not leak around the cap and down my arm) or

a Boston shaker set, which has a separate strainer.  This method is less likely to leak, but it does take a bit of practice to master.  

This malachite bottle opener looks great.

Linen cocktail napkins feel special, if you use them, and since we monogram practically everything but the dog here in the South, these would be right at home on a Southern bar.  Brights are especially festive for summer, and setting up a station for entertaining is all about fun.

The important thing is to remember to offer refreshments with a napkin, so if linen is (understandably) too much trouble, paper is a fine option.  A trip to Charlottesville would not be complete without a visit to Caspari to see the new seasonal paper patterns.  I love this appropriately named pattern, Endless Summer.  Find it here.


Stocking a classic bar seems endlessly complicated with all of the spirits available, but once again, it isn't necessary to try to replicate a nightclub at home.   The editors of Martha, here, suggest that it is far better to have fewer varieties of the highest quality.  

You may love big, intensely flavored gin so filled with complex botanicals that it tastes like the floor of a forest, and there are gorgeous aged tequilas for $600 a bottle, but for simplicity's sake, the spirits reviewed below, while not avant-garde or wildly expensive, are generally noted for their quality, smooth taste for sipping, clean flavor in mixed drinks, and somewhat universal appeal.

One way to integrate trendy flavored liquors, if one feels one must, without investing a fortune in large bottles, is to create a basic bar, then pile a basket or crystal bowl with minis.    

This is very important- In the classic bar manual American Bar, Charles Schuman cautions hosts that a good cocktail is not necessarily a large one, and it goes without saying that one should drink and serve responsibly, and never, ever drink and drive or allow guests to do so.  

It is absolutely not necessary to serve alcohol to be a good host or to have a good time.  There are thousands of articles on the internet that advise hosts how to recognize the limits of guests and prevent them from over-indulging, as well as when guests have had too much and what to do about it.  It is important to check the regulations in your state for drinking and serving alcohol to guests.  MADD reminds hosts not to rely on coffee to sober-up guests, and because only time can make someone sober, recommends closing the bar at least 90 minutes before the party ends.  Read their excellent safe party guide by clicking here.

Vodka-  Hangar 1 Straight vodka is distilled in small batches from Viognier grapes and wheat right here in the U.S.  Ultra-smooth with no burn, it's sippable, and also makes a super martini.  Note:  We're keeping things simple but it would be a grave injustice not to mention Hangar 1's Fraser River Raspberry vodka.  I don't normally like flavored vodkas because they usually taste weird and chemical to me, but this one tastes like fresh raspberries, albeit with a kick.

Rum-  Do not skimp on rum, lower priced varieties do not taste good.  The best rums will transport one (taste-wise anyway) to the islands.  The cheap ones will transport one to a back alley.  This Zaya 12-year old rum will make a rum and Coke that will knock one's socks off.  A luscious blended rum with flavors of maple and vanilla.  Smooth enough to drink straight.

Gin-  The perfect gin and tonic should be clean, dry, crisp and fresh.  Tanquery No. Ten is my favorite all-around gin.  It makes a good dry martini and an excellent gin and tonic.  And here's a little secret, if you normally make your G &T with 2 oz. of gin and 6 oz. of tonic, for a slightly drier, cleaner taste, try using half tonic and half club soda and see what you think.  Rub the wedge of lime around the rim of the glass and give it a squeeze before you toss it in.

Tequila-  Tequila lovers recommend that if one is going to buy Tequila, one should buy 100% blue agave, or just skip it.  Tequila comes in four official aging categories, which are determined by how long the tequila is rested before bottling.   Unlike some other spirits,  a longer resting doesn't necessarily determine the quality.  I choose a "Reposado," which is tequila aged from 60 days to year.  This generally mellows the agave without obliterating the flavor with massive oak.  Herradura Reposado has the color and slight flavor of butterscotch and is smooth enough to drink neat but clean enough to mix, at a reasonable price.

Whisky (or Whiskey)-  Hard red winter wheat along with malted barley and yellow corn, with no rye, make this bourbon distinct.  Delicious and smooth, Maker's Mark has a hint of spiciness and a mellow carmelly-vanilla, creme brûlée flavor without being too sweet.  A classic bourbon for mixing or drinking neat.  I also like Jack Daniels, a Tennessee whiskey.

Kahlua- Kahlua is a versatile liqueur.  It makes several notable cocktails, a grown-up version of hot chocolate or adult's-only dessert-in-a-pinch over ice cream.

A bottle or two of something with a unique flavor for mixing your favorite "house" cocktail, perhaps Campari, St. Germain, Midori or Amaretto.  Right now St. Germain is popular and the beautiful bottle looks quite stunning on a bar. 

Additionally, one might consider bitters, a dry vermouth for martinis, small bottles of good club soda and tonic water, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Ginger-ale (Schweppes) and cranberry juice cocktail.  

An ice bucket and pitcher will come in handy, whether one is serving mixed cocktails or simply lemonade and iced tea.  This 18/10 stainlesss steel ice bucket from Calphalon is double-walled and keeps ice frozen for hours, has a plexi-glass top so it's easy to see when ice needs to be replaced, and the perforations on the scoop are a terrific innovation.  Find it here.  One might also stock good olives and fresh fruit (lemons, limes, and oranges) for fresh juices, beer, and red and white wine.  Ina recommends keeping bottle of good champagne in the refrigerator.

How do you like to entertain?  What are your bar basics?  Do you have a favorite house cocktail?  Recipes, as you know, are always welcome...

Further Reading:


1. via Pinterest 2. via, photograph by Sarah Dorio 4. Bar spoon from 5. Crate & Barrel 6. Pinterest 7. William Yeoward Kelly Shaker 8. Pinterest 9. Malachite corkscrew from Alliance 10. 11. Caspari 12. Photographed by David Fuller  13. Grey Goose Vodka 14. Zaya 12-year old Rum 15. Tanqueray No. 10 Gin 16. Herradura Reposado Tequila 17. Maker's Mark Bourbon 18. Kahlua 19. St. Germain Elderflower liquor 20. via Pinterest

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Lady's Life

I don't know if I'm just ready for Fall weather or what, but I've been in the mood lately to write about some beauty, style and lifestyle subjects that probably fall outside of the usual Jennings & Gates theme.  I love visiting those of you who post using WordPress, so I decided to launch a new blog, called,  The Lady's Life, on that platform.   I will still be posting here at Jennings & Gates as always, but the new site will (as you can probably tell from the title) have content that relates mostly to women.  It has been daunting, but a lot of fun learning WordPress, and I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about it.  So stop over and say hi, and be sure to let me know if you notice anything on the site that doesn't work quite right with your browser.  (Oh, and just a note, it is lady's life, singular possessive.  The plural address will take you to a ladies faith ministry site.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Happens in Memphis...

I am a vegetarian.  Except in Memphis.

This is revealed without ceremony to whomever might be a (surprised) companion when I sidle up to the window at Central BBQ and order a massive rack of ribs with extra "bark," that heavenly, dark, heavily smoked crust.  The young lady taking orders laughs when I say, "No I don't want beans, or potato salad, or slaw.  (Well, okay, maybe a little slaw.)  Just ribs please!"

I know, you've been to Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City and Sonny Bryan's in Dallas.  You've tasted the other-worldly fanatical barbecue brilliance of Greg Gatlin in Houston, and you love that crazy tang in the Carolinas.  But, I'm here to tell you folks, if you have never had Tennessee barbecue, your finger-licking life is not complete.  

The generally accepted method for sussing out life changing barbecue almost anywhere in the South is to look for great piles of oak and hickory or pecan wood stacked outside a small building maybe made of brick, or concrete block or corrugated metal.  If you pass an old motel and a pawn shop, you're close.  If you smell woodsmoke, and the parking lot is packed with locals, and there is a line out the door, you're there.  Do not be alarmed by the Wonder Bread truck.  There will be no ancient grains, low-cal, high fiber buns for your pork shoulder sandwich, and I promise, after one bite you will not care.

The meat will probably be rubbed with a secret concoction of dry spices and marinated for a day or two, then cooked low and slow over oak and hickory in some contraption that is, as Garden & Gun's John Edge says, "a feat of country boy ingenuity."  Read his terrific article about the Tennessee Barbecue Trail here.  Hungry?  If you leave now you can be there by dinner time.

What is your favorite barbeque?  Check out Cassie Johnston's no-fail recipe for delectable slow-cooker ribs (above) at, here.

1.  Photograph by Central BBQ, 2249 Central Ave. Memphis, TN 2. Photography by Peter Frank Edwards for Garden & Gun, June/July 2011 3. Photograph by Jennifer Davick for Southern Living  4.  Photo by Hector Sanchez for Southern Living 5.  Helen's Barbeque, Brownsville, TN.  Photography by Peden + Munk from The Smoke Road by John T. Edge, Garden & Gun magazine, June/July 2012  6. Photograph by Cassie Johnston of 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sweet Memory

My mom makes outrageously good apple pie.  When I was a little girl I liked to "help" with this.  I liked to "help" with a lot of things.  This is quite possibly why I was frequently encouraged to go outside and play.  "Wouldn't you rather go outside and play dear?"  "Why don't you go outside and play."  Or, "Go.  Out.  Side.  And PLAY."  Anyway, for some reason she didn't shoo me out of the kitchen very often when she was making pie, and I would be allowed to make my own delicious little pies with dough scraps pressed into tiny glass tart dishes, and a simple custardy buttermilk filling.

Buttermilk Pie is a classic Southern recipe that is wildly easy and can be whipped up from ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, eggs) that you probably have on hand right this minute.  You will find recipes that have you using an electric mixer and adding ingredients in this order or that order.  And you can do that if you want, but seriously, the pie is just as good if you channel your inner 7-year old and just dump the ingredients in a bowl, whisk them together and pour them into a prepared pie crust.

I am including a great recipe for pastry crust.  Once again, easy peasy- flour, sugar, butter, water.  A food processor will cut the butter into the flour mixture faster, but if you don't want to mess with that, you can use your hands.  Or, use a ready-made refrigerated crust.  In the summer I like to serve the pie chilled with a glass of cold milk or a cup of hot coffee.  Fork optional.

Pastry Crust

1 1/4    cups all-purpose flour
   1/4    teaspoon salt
   1/2    cup butter, chilled and cubed
      1    Tbsp. sugar
   1/4    cup ice water

In a large bowl combine flour and salt.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the sugar.  Add water 1 Tbsp. at a time, mixing until the mixture will form a ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

To prepare the pie crust for the Buttermilk Pie, the crust must be pre-baked.  Roll out the dough about 1/8" thick to about a 12" circle.  Press the dough evenly around the inside of a 9" pie plate and crimp the edges of the dough.   Prick the bottom and sides with a fork.  Line pastry with parchment paper, and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment paper, and bake 8-10 more minutes or until the crust is very lightly browned.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before filling, about 30 minutes.

Then, preheat the oven to 350°.

For the filling whisk together:

1 1/2   cups sugar
      3   eggs
      1   cup buttermilk OR sour milk (see below to make sour milk)
    1/2  cup butter, melted
      3   Tbsp.  fresh lemon juice (if you have it, if not, don't worry about it)
      1    tsp. real vanilla extract

How to make 1 cup of sour milk:  Add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to a glass measuring cup and add milk to make 1 cup.  Let this stand for 5 minutes before adding to a recipe.

Pour into a prepared pie shell, and bake at 350° for 35-45 minutes or until almost set, shielding the edges with aluminum foil after 15 minutes.  Cool one hour before eating.  If you absolutely must get schmancy, you can add 1/2 c. of chopped pecans to the top before baking, or swirl 1/4 cup of good berry jam through the filling before baking, or serve the pie with fresh berries on the side and a light, last minute dusting of confectioners sugar.

Now go outside and play!

For further reading, here are three good books from my shelf.  Yum:


Image:  Martha

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Practicing Poise

I was looking at a popular shelter magazine this morning with my coffee.  Images of an impressive and striking house, which, to my fascination, had absolutely not one comfortable place to sit.  I wondered if it feels stressful to live there.

The purpose of design is to help us live more gentle, graceful lives, not to create rooms that photograph well.   Most of us, I think, seek to develop poise in ourselves and in our houses and gardens so that we may have lives that look beautiful but more importantly, live beautifully.

As I was pulling some favorite images of summer, I started jotting down notes about developing personal poise, along with some ideas for creating a more poised and graceful house.

1.  Be gentle and kind.  We value this quality in our friends, in our spouses, children and pets.  People with a gentle voice, a calm spirit and quiet consideration for themselves and others are always a joy to be near.  I remember hearing myself for the first time on a tape recorder in elementary school and being shocked at the sound of my voice.  That was when I realized that our perception of our own voice is sometimes quite different from what others hear.

Toastmasters International advises that the best speaking voice is pleasant, conveys a sense of warmth, is expressive, reflects sincerity, uses good diction, and is neither too fast or too slow.  Harrison Ford has a great male speaking voice.  It has a nice depth, and he always sounds calm, intelligent, confident (and somewhat paternal).  Do you have a favorite voice?  Have you ever been surprised to hear how you sound?

How about our houses?  Do you feel nurtured and embraced within your house and garden?  A friend told me in January that her New Year's resolution was not major home improvements, but instead to spend the time and money necessary to fix a myriad of small but frustrating issues in her house that she had been alternately avoiding or trying to live with.  Inspired, I finally repaired a cupboard door in my kitchen that popped off of its hinges at least twice a month.

Are there rugs or cords that trip you constantly? Are your chairs comfortable and supportive or do they hurt your back?  Pour a glass of wine and wander around your house with a book, sitting in each chair.  Is there a table nearby to set your glass?  Is there enough light to read?  Are there rooms that are too hot or too cold, too dark or too bright?  A house, like a good friend, should be gentle and kind.

2.  Slow down.  We seem to be moving faster and faster, but I wonder if we're actually getting more done or just sacrificing our quality of life and peace of mind.  It is impossible to be poised if we are always in a hurry, because poise is dignified and graceful, not harried.  I found myself in a rush today, digging for my car keys in my handbag like some crazed gopher.  I didn't feel very graceful and I'm certain I did not look the least bit dignified.  Deep cleansing breath....

Slowing down allows us to be present for the people we are with at the moment, instead of always hurrying to get to the next place and do the next thing.  And then, ironically, once we get there, hurrying to get to the next place and do the next thing.  Does this feel familiar?  Jacqueline Kennedy was famous for her ability to make anyone speaking with her feel as if he or she were the most important person in the room.   It is an incredibly attractive quality, and I have come to understand that this is the best gift we can give to someone, our undivided attention.  Slowing down and living a life of poise and presence is a luxury that is free.

Janice Parker Landscape Design

One of my favorite movies is The Tourist, a relaxing, fun, old-fashioned caper movie starring Johnny Dep and Angelina Jolie.  I especially love the character Elise Clifton-Ward because she is a walking textbook of poise.  I read an interview with Ms. Jolie, who said that almost every day her notes from the director said, "Slow down."  She said, "I think as very modern women we feel the need to attack things...the director was trying to teach me a certain way of being bred, this elegance, like time moves around you, you don't meet it.  The hardest thing for me was to take a deep breath and glide a little more."

Our houses (and cars) can become giant, disheveled handbags if we're not mindful.  Taking one extra moment to put something away where it belongs, straighten-up a drawer, or wipe off the bathroom faucet when we are finished, can make such a difference in how a house looks and how graceful it feels to live there.

We can create places in our houses and gardens that encourage us to slow down, rest and regain our composure.  I know someone who has a book stand with a dictionary by the window in her office.   She says sometimes as she is going about her day, she'll pause a moment and learn a new word.  Consider adding a bench to the garden, or a teak stool to the shower.

3.  Develop exquisite manners.  If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, (besides buy Apple in 1980) it would be this.   I believe now that manners are the great equalizer.  We don't need to be handsome or glamorous or have any special privilege- it costs nothing to have beautiful manners.  I have made many mistakes in my life, some the result of plain stupidity, and some because I lacked important insight, but the mistakes I regret most are the ones where I was rude or hurt someone's feelings.

 Everyone (more than likely) is an idiot at least once in their life, but unkindness always weighs most heavily on me.  I am no expert, but I think now that manners can instantly create more peace and harmony in a marriage than counseling, and more lasting happiness in a home than any amount of money.  Manners both set a person apart and guarantee that he or she fits in everywhere.

Houses have manners too.  When you walk through the door after a long day and your arms are full of parcels, your house should say, "Here, let me get that for you!"  We cannot all have butlers waiting at the door to receive our things, but we might be able to place a table or chair nearby at the ready to hold our packages, and car keys, and letters to mail.

I adore hooks, and I think it is unlikely that a house could have too many of them.  Have you ever stayed in someone's home and praised heaven for extra hooks in the bathroom to hang your robe and toiletry kit?   A friend has a hook on her front porch for the dry cleaning delivery, but she finds it is also handy for dripping raincoats.

In the garage or under the eaves by the back door is another great place for a hook.  Would it be convenient to have a hook on the outside of your closet door to hold today's jeans or tomorrow's planned outfit?  Or a row of cup hooks inside the pantry door to hold aprons or those ever-present plastic bags for recycle?

Would it be nice to have a pretty tray to carry refreshments?  There is something about placing things on a tray that elevates the mundane to something special.  I just finished a novel in which one of the characters always places drinks on a tray, even if she is only transporting one bottle of mineral water and a tumbler outdoors to enjoy while she sits in the sun.

A house that allows us to live well need not be large or grand.  A simple cottage can be designed with thoughtful details that help us live gracefully.

4.  Create balance.   Epicurus, the Greek scientist and philosopher said, "Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance."  People who are poised seem to have discovered the magic balance between just enough and too much.


Sleep, sun, food, work, time spent alone and with others, time spent talking and listening, security and freedom, spending and saving, comfort and adventure- all of these things require an attention to balance.  When our lives are in balance, it is often easier for us to feel serene.

A house in balance might mean symmetrical or asymmetrical balance in architecture or decor, but it might also mean a balance between formal and casual spaces, places for evening and for daytime, places to be alone and places to be with others.  A space that is sexy and swank for evening cocktails is probably not the space where most of us would be happiest having breakfast.

That is often what we don't see in magazines.  A house might photograph wonderfully, but how does it feel on a Sunday afternoon, or when you have the flu, or a bad day at work?  I'll confess I tend to judge the success of a room based upon its nap-ability and how many spots I can find to read.  Which rooms do you like to use in the winter and which rooms feel best in the summer?  A balanced house is a house for all seasons.

5.  Develop your curiosity and pursue your own education.  A person who is poised is fun to talk to because he or she is curious about many things.  An ivy league education is always nice to have, but curiosity, openness and interest in learning are greater factors in determining poise and intelligence.  I am always amazed when I meet people who are resistant to learning.  They seem willing to struggle almost interminably rather than admit to a lack of knowledge.  I have found throughout my life that my teachers have come in all sorts of packages, often unlikely packages, and I have learned to soak up knowledge any way I can get it, from anyone willing to take their time to teach me something I need to know.  Are you a voracious learner?

I love this picture of Nigella Lawson surrounded by sky-high shelves of books.  Do you have a place in your house where you can pursue learning?  It might be a dining room made into a library, or a studio or craft room created in a laundry area.

It might be books stacked on a nightstand or a chair in the garden.  A poised house supports our self-education.

6.  Stay connected to nature.  To be poised and tranquil, it is important to stay connected to our source.  Consider the poised grace of trees.   We are a part of the earth and it is a part of us.  From the food we eat to the water we drink, we depend on our connectedness to nature to stay alive.  Our brain and heart is about 73% water.  Our lungs are 83%, our skin is 64%, even our bones are watery at 31%.  We must have air in order to survive, but the American Lung Association reports that in 2014, almost half of all Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of pollution.

Scientific studies have proven over and over again that access to nature is essential to human health.  College students do better on tests if their dorm rooms view green spaces.  Children with ADHD have fewer symptoms when time is spent doing outdoor activities in lush environments.  Residents of public housing complexes have better family interactions if they live near trees.

As evolved as we human beings are, we are, thankfully, still organisms of nature, not machines.  Our habitat is the environment, and over time, we suffer physical, psychological and social breakdown when we are forced to live in environments that are not natural.

A poised and tranquil home needs some access to nature.

Find ways to integrate plants, flowers, or even a bowl of fruit or vegetables into every room of your home, and you will find that your rooms will seem more restful, beautiful and inviting.

I hope you are enjoying your summer!  What are your thoughts about poise?  xo, N.G.

On my bookshelf:


Images: 1. via Pinterest 2. Design by Wadia Associates via Dering Hall and the Fullerview 3. via Pinterest 4. Nina Gates 5. This Old 6. Photographed by Kiel James Patrick, Tumblr 7. Timothy Corrigan via Architectural Digest 8. Janice Parker Landscape Design 9. via Pinterest 10. Jean-Loup Durand via Veranda 11. Massant bergere via Veranda  12. Veere Grenay 13. Barbara Barry 14. Nora Murphy Country House 15. Restoration Hardware Bistro hook 16. Martha Stewart Living photographed by Jonny Miller 17. via Elle Decoration photographed by Fabrizio Cicconi18. Martha Stewart Living 19. Garden & Gun Magazine 20. Pinterest 21. Matt Botts Landscape Design 22. Pinterest 23. Pinterest 24. Stephen Shubel 25. Pinterest 26. Jules Alexis Muenier 27.Pinterest 28. Pinterest 29. Pierre Frey, Espalier via Veranda 30. Pinterest