Southern Brunch

The components of a successful Southern brunch are fairly simple: family and friends, good food, vibrant colors, and a whole lot of BUTTER. This past week, my mom-in-law, Mimi, and ten-year-old niece, Gracie, visited us from North Carolina. Mimi grew up in both Chatham County and Durham, NC, where her mother made homemade biscuits three times a day, each and every day, throughout her childhood. She inherited recipes, traditions, and kitchen necessities (like a three-generations-old cast iron pan), and so naturally she's a fantastic cook — one who rarely follows a recipe and can't help but add just a little more butter. Imagine Martha Stewart's ingenuity (but disregard the insider trading) combined with Paula Deen's Southern food knowledge (but disregard…well everything else) — you get the picture: the woman knows her way around a kitchen.

When Matt and I moved from the South to the West, the availability of authentic Southern foods dissipated a bit, as did our desire to cook up our favorites: buttermilk biscuits, cheese grits, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, etc. So, this family visit was the perfect opportunity to let Mimi spoil us with her prized "cat head" biscuit recipe (because they're "bigger than a cat's head!") along with a few other brunch favorites.

But first, Mimi and I wanted to make a tablecloth for our al fresco occasion. Because you won't find brunch on a naked table anywhere in the South (especially at Mimi's house). We picked one of my favorite pieces of vintage material and got to work.

Mimi, skillfully stitching up our vintage tablecloth.

Here's the menu we ended up with: Mimi's cat head biscuits with fresh nectarine jam (made from my backyard tree!), scrambled eggs with minced garden herbs, cheese grits, and garlicky tomato and arugula. We invited my sis, Jen, to partake in the fun, poured some French Press coffee, and had a great time enjoying our backyard brunch! Scroll down a bit for Mimi's biscuit recipe.

In progress table...
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Mimi's Cat Head Biscuits

1 ½ cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
1 ½ cups Swans Down cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½  sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups buttermilk (or, if in a pinch, you can substitute 3 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraîche into heavy cream here)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

  • Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.
  • Rub the butter and shortening into the flour mix until the mixture resembles course meal.
  • Gently stir in the liquid until just combined.
  • Gather mixture onto floured parchment paper and fold mixture like a letter (in thirds).
  • Sprinkle with small pieces of cold butter in between folding layers. Fold only two or three times.
  • Using a biscuit cutter, cut out your biscuits and place them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
    • *Notes from Mimi: Try not to twist the biscuit cutter — they won't rise correctly. Also, don't refold once they've been cut — simply reshape extra pieces to the large form. And lastly, avoid touching the mixture too much!
  • Bake 20-25 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown on top and baked all the way through.

Speaking of good cooks, the day after our brunch, we had the good fortune of chatting with one of the world's best — Chef Thomas Keller. We were walking through The French Laundry garden and he happened to be doing the same!

Mimi was so beside herself that directly after shaking his hand she said "you're like a God to me!" and he so graciously replied "well, thank you." Gracie, who loves to play sous chef when we cook, got a kick out of the chance meeting as well. I'd call this a good weekend in Wine Country!

Martina Thornhill

I discovered the work of Martina Thornhill via one of my favorite Instagram buds (an incredible artist and woodworker), Ariele Alasko. The moment I saw Martina's ceramic pieces, I fell in love with the playful freeform edges and hand-carved original designs found within her mugs and planters. There's an organic flow to her body of work that just feels like home to me, so of course I'm totally intrigued by her and asked her a million questions. Herewith, a Q&A with the artist about her work, home, and inspiration.

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

How did you get your start in ceramics?

MT: Until three years ago, I had only taken one ceramics course in my life. The first time was through a community college when I was 18 and I was unbelievably terrible at it! I was too impatient with the wheel, too haphazard in my designs, and too random in my glazing. I was prolific, but it was all just so ugly. I didn't even think about trying it again until we moved to the East Coast in 2011. My husband and I were living in a small town outside of Albany and there was a pottery studio offering classes just down the road from us. I was new in town, didn't know anyone, and had some extra time on my hands, so I gave it another shot. I wasn't any better at the wheel, but my sense of design had definitely improved and it felt really good to work with clay again. From that point on, I was hooked. All in all, I've only taken four ceramics classes because I've got this stubborn streak that drives me to learn everything on my own. I don't mind asking for help when I need it, but there's something about discovering my own way to make things, my own tricks and methods, and I really love that. This is the same reason I choose to hand build as well. I've always sewn as a hobby and when I started applying those methods to ceramics, something instantly clicked for me. I could treat the slabs of clay like fabric, cut them into pattern pieces, and fuse them together. It sounds basic, but it was such a huge realization for me.

Where is your workshop located?

MT: I currently work out of my home studio in Chapel Hill, NC. Our house is super tiny and there's no room for a kiln so I build everything in my studio, then fire at a community studio in Durham. I've been selling ceramics as a hobby for the last six months, and now that I'm transitioning into making art my full-time job, I'm hoping to move into a separate studio space with my own kiln within the next few months. 

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

When did you know you were destined to be an artist?

MT: To be honest, I've never really thought of myself as an artist. I was always a crafty kid and had vague childhood dreams of being a fashion designer, but I never felt what I made was special enough to make a career in art a viable option. I majored in Women's Studies in school, worked as a domestic violence counselor, taught dance classes, tended bar, and always treated my art as a hobby. I just couldn't visualize taking that leap of faith and fully putting myself out there, even though making art is what makes me feel the most fulfilled. It still seems surreal to me that I'm even trying it now, and there's no way I could have done it without the constant support and encouragement from my husband and friends. 

What people, places, and things most inspire your work?

MT: Lately I've been feeling really inspired by minimal abstract art like that of Louis Reith and Lygia Pape, as well as the sculpture work of Mari Andrews and Kay Sekimachi. I am continually drawn to images of muted desert colors, geometric shapes, and balanced negative space. I don't always manage to display that in my work as much as I'd like, but creating objects reminiscent of these inspirations is always my goal. This is a little cheesy, but my husband Drew Steadham is a constant source of inspiration to me. He has such a unique view of the world and the best sense proportion and balance, so I always value his opinion. My friend Meg Adamson is an amazing multi-disciplinary artist and her aesthetic has had a huge influence on my work.

Martina also specializes in handmade leather goods, jewelry, and more. Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

Martina also specializes in handmade leather goods, jewelry, and more. Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

You've lived in a few different states in the US in your lifetime. When someone asks you where your home is, what do you say?

MT: This is hard question for me as my family moved around a lot when I was young and I've continued this trend as an adult. I currently live in North Carolina so technically that's my home, but when it really comes down to it, my heart is in Portland, OR. I spent most of my twenties there and am still very affected by my many experiences in that town, and the amazing nature that surrounds it. 

Who are your idols in the arts and crafts movement?

MT: Ceramics-wise I love the work of Helen Levi and Ben Medansky. They are both so skilled at what they do, have a cohesive and balanced sense of aesthetic, and yet manage to retain a sense of humor that's visible in their work. I really appreciate when someone can be so talented but not take themselves too seriously. A couple others are Ariele Alasko and Jenn Goff of Takara Design. These ladies are two of the kindest makers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and their encouragement and support of my work really means a lot to me. Not to mention they both are amazing at their craft. I find their drive and vision truly inspiring. 

What's next for you?

MT: I'd like to spend the next six months building my line and adding more jewelry to the collection. My focus is definitely shifting more toward ceramics as I've been really enjoying working with clay, but I can see more weaving and maybe some lost wax casting making an appearance soon. I've always had a hard time sticking to just one medium and I can't see that changing anytime soon!


Here are a few photos I shot of Martina's pour-over coffee set in action. Since arriving in the mail, this mug barely leaves my hands.

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For more...

web: http://martinathornhill.com » Instagram: @martinathornhill

Cork Planter Magnets

We are wine people and therefore there's a pretty excessive stock of wine corks lying around the house at any given time. I also have a slight obsession with house plants...but our apartment has minimal natural light, which inevitably means that most of my plants die. This is depressing for obvious reasons, so I've been brainstorming ways of keeping house plants alive - even if it's just clippings from bigger plants outside. The best solution I've found so far is to put clippings of low-light plants into bottles filled with water - no soil...they seems to be perfectly happy. But in experimentation mode, I was inspired (by this blog post I stumbled upon) to try out some wine cork planters. And then I made 'em into magnets, since our fridge faces a direct light source and all. I'm just going to try watering it with a dropper once a week and see how it works! Here's a little DIY tutorial for you. 20120626-200548.jpg

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Walnut Animal Society

An acquaintance of mine, Lauren Bradshaw, started a new company called Walnut Animal Society, specializing in absolutely darling 100% brushed wool handmade stuffed animals.

Henry the Fox

Henry the Fox

Chester the Raccoon

Chester the Raccoon

Eleanor the Bear

Eleanor the Bear

Prior to Walnut Animal Society, I always enjoyed looking through her Etsy shop of cute handmade needle-felted owls and bird cake toppers. Here's a bride & groom cake topper I had saved as a favorite from ages ago.

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I just adore her work!