Friday, April 1, 2011

Blackberry Farm

I am writing this from post from Blackberry Farm. I’m here giving a series of short talks to some guests participating in a motivational boot camp.  If you aren’t familiar with Blackberry Farm it’s a farm to table property in the Smoky Mountains. All of the produce served here is produced on the farm. Last night on the way to dinner we passed the truffle farm and saw the building where the cheese and jam are made. Before dinner, I met the participants as they returned from a hike.

I introduced people, singles and couples, from Texas, Mississippi and Westchester to Foodtraining. The premise of the talk is that we all know the “shoulds” in terms of exercise.  Yet there is a gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do. Whether it’s cooking or exercise or snacking or drinking we each have our behavioral Achilles heel. My proposed antidote to these weak areas is planning (more on that later). It was my first talk I’ve ever done with a glass of champagne in my hand. I raised a glass to the group and we headed into dinner.

Dinner was a delicious four-course meal with a wine for each course. I worked with Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry, offering a few suggestions (they clearly don’t need my help). We started with a Beet Carpaccio served with Hen of the Woods mushrooms and “crispy buckwheat.” Buckwheat is gluten free and the crunch in the salad was fantastic. The following course was a vegetable soup utilizing the last kale of the season here. Also in the soup were the flowers from the kale this time of year. These flowers have a name but two wines in, it’s no wonder I cannot recall it. Our entrée was Guinea Hen serves with ramps (wild leeks) and brown “basmati rice grits”.  The flavor of the ramps with these polenta-like grits was insanely good. I chose not to lick my plate but scraped it clean. And finally, on a beautiful slab of slate we were served Blackberry Farm’s “Singing Brook” cheese with Honey Turnips.

It was one of those nights where I felt the rest of the world was so far away. Marc and I were seated with Mary Celeste and Sam Beall who live at Blackberry Farm with their four children. Marc was next to a couple married when they were in their 50’s in the French Quarter. Stories were shared about travel and cooking and wine and more. As I relaxed from a long week I realized I was supposed to talk “sleep tips” after dinner. Everyone grabbed his or her tea or coffee (or remaining wine) and we walked down a path to another house. In a living room-like setting we all talked about sleep which I didn’t think would be too hard after all that good food and wine.
What do you feel is your Achilles heel when it comes to nutrition or exercise? Are you at all sat to say goodbye to root vegetables or kale as spring arrives? What are your favorite meal memories where the menu and company seemed perfect?


  1. What a lovely photograph -- right now I'm looking at a huge snow storm outside my window -- I LOVE the snow and am secretly glad for this storm, but am totally looking forward to spring food. Root vegetables feel so heavy to me,a nd while I need that comfort in the winter, it's time for me to lighten up. Kale, collards, greens, I love them.

    One of my favorite meal memories was a dinner my husband and I hosted in November. I got a bit over excited and did all the cooking, making a "cream" of spinach dish with olives and pine nuts, a mushroom risotto, and gluten free biscotti. All my friends sat down around the table, drinking wine, eating, talking, laughing. I got up to get something in the kitchen, and one the way back into the dining room, had to pause for a minute -- the room was alive. I have a mental photograph of that moment, of everyone being gathered together and feeling so safe.

  2. Lauren I just got chills from your comment. I know what you mean my "alive". It's those pinch me food moments. I am glad you have the image to go back to.

  3. I have so many perfect food/perfect friend memories to have only one favorite. I could pick the 13 courses we sampled at Publican w/ my husband and a very dear friend. Or there's Thanksgiving 2001 which featured a superb meal (I took off the whole week to cook), 15 friends and much gratitude post-9/11. Or there was the excellent time w/ you and Bryna at a dive in the Quarter where I tried soft-shell crab for the first time. Or the whole day I spent at Casa Mono holding court while friends from everywhere dropped by for a bite and drink. Or our monthly Guitar Hero parties where I get to try recipes on friends while acting like kids. I love sustaining and nurturing friendships by feeding my friends. It's the greatest pleasure for me.

    My Achilles's Heel is exercising, a life-long issue. I start a program, love it for a bit, get bored and quit. Same pattern over and over.

    Your trip sounds amazing. I hope you have a wonderful time!

  4. Also, if it's possible, I'd love the recipe for the "grits" and ramps you had...that sounds perfect.

  5. Those food descriptions are making me feel so hungry. Hmm. I'll second Marie in wanting a recipe ;)

  6. It sounds like such a cool place! I think a lot of what makes meals memorable and great are the people that you share them with. I will never forget meeting my Dad in Lake Como in the winter, it was like we were the only people visiting, and the restaurants were open just for us. Everything was unreal, but the only thing better than being there with him was the pumpkin gnocci!

  7. This place sounds amazing! A perfect time for me is when I am surrounded by my family.

    I'm short, too! You have me beat by 1/2 an inch :) My husband is 5'11", so I love wearing heels when we go out. But just for running around town with the kids, my legs and back thank me for wearing comfy flats.

    Have a wonderful, relaxing weekend!

  8. I want to go there! Sounds amazing. And yes, I am very sad to see Kale and root veggies go bye-bye. But I also love summer fare, so it's all good. As for my Achilles heel? Definitely emotional eating...I could easily put away more calories than I typically eat in a day in one sitting if I slip into the old habit of turning to food for comfort. So, I try to avoid that at all costs!

  9. I want to go there!!! My favorite food memories are from medical school in Australia. We would always have bbq's and parties on the weekend. Everyone would cook something and bring it. Just sitting around laughing, enjoying my "Australian" family and talking about the differences and similarities of our childhood diets. I never got used to Vegimite and my Aussie friends still think my obsession with peanut butter is odd. Good friends-both old and new, good conversation and good food and wine..nothing better.

    Achilles heel with eating....definitely late night snacking. I try to avoid working the swing shift (2-midnight) at work because I alway need to come home and snack no matter how well I ate at work.

  10. Wow that sounds absolutely amazing. You do such a good job of describing a fantastic experience.

    My achilles - coffee. Been trying to give it up for a while now, and it is so much harder than I thought it would be. Makes me feel weak to admit it.