Family entertaining in the beauty of the woods

Annette Joseph takes a picnic in the woods with Beauty Everyday bloggers Rinne Allen, Kristen Bach, and Rebecca Wood
Rinne (at left, in denim shirt) and Kristen (in braids)

Photograph by Amber Fouts

Seven years ago, my friends Rinne Allen, Kristen Bach, and Rebecca Wood launched a blog, Beauty Everyday, to share daily images of what they love about the South. The idea was to capture moments of ordinary grace—a feather, cornflower, rusted fence, or cobweb. Two years ago, the Athens-based artists published 365 of these evocative scenes as a captivating photography book without a single bit of text.

By way of background: Rinne is a fine art photographer who has shot and styled two books for Hugh Acheson, including just-released The Broad Fork. Rebecca is founder of pottery company R. Wood Studio, featured nationally in Robert Redford’s Sundance catalogue and locally at Steve McKenzie’s, among other outlets. And Kristen owns Treehouse Kid & Craft, a children’s shop and arts and crafts space with plans to expand soon to Atlanta.

When this talented trio invited me to a picnic in the woods, I knew it would be a visual feast. My curiosity was piqued even more after I learned the location was Sweet Olive Farm, an animal rescue operation in Winterville owned by Kat Howkins and Susan Pritchett. When I arrived, I was greeted by some friendly and curious alpacas. In fact, alpacas, goats, chickens, geese, and donkeys roam the grounds freely. Surrounded by woods and fields, the property also features a picturesque barn and a restored Victorian home.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

We gathered around a platform of old planks, with burlap sacks scattered on the ground as seating. The sylvan tablescape included centerpieces made of moss, ferns, and foraged branches; scattered votives; and, of course, R. Wood Studio dishes in a variety of natural hues. Kristen made napkins out of gelatin prints and inventive crudités platters out of spiky wood disks she calls “veggie frogs.” To entertain the youngest guests, Kristen set up a giant natural weaving project. The gathering in the woods, on that crisp, sunny day, reminded me that pulling together a party for friends can be as simple—and as spectacularly beautiful—as nature itself.

The menu
• Cocktail: The Killer Bee
• Fresh cheese with accompaniments
• Roasted winter squash skewers with muscadine saba
• Crudités
• Blue cheese–stuffed dates
• Skewered marinated mushrooms
• Pickled field peas and pickled okra with cornmeal crackers
• Lemon squares, Chompers

Cocktail by Bain Mattox, owner of Normal Bar, the World Famous, and Automatic Pizza in Athens; other recipes from chef Mimi Maumus of Home.made Catering in Athens

Photograph by Amber Fouts

The Killer Bee
• 2 ounces bourbon
• 2 ounces Honey Lavender Simple
Syrup (recipe below)
• juice of ½ a lemon
• soda water
Pour bourbon and Honey Lavender Simple Syrup into a rocks glass filled with ice. Add juice, fill with soda water, and stir.

Honey Lavender Simple Syrup
• 1 ½ cups hot water
• ¼ cup dried lavender flowers
• 1 cup honey
Pour ½ cup hot water over lavender flowers and let steep for 10 minutes. Mix 1 cup honey with 1 cup hot water and stir until dissolved. Let cool. When lavender has finished steeping, strain flowers out with a wire colander, allowing liquid to drip directly into the honey-and-water simple syrup. Stir together and let cool. Makes about 2 cups.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 6–8
• 1 small butternut squash
(about 1 pound)
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• olive oil
• salt
• black pepper
• celery leaves, chopped
• fresh cheese (recipe below)
• muscadine saba (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Peel and seed squash. Slice bulb into ½-inch-thick wedges. Slice neck into planks that are roughly 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and ½ inch thick. Toss squash with paprika and enough olive oil to coat each piece (about 3 tablespoons). Season liberally with salt and pepper. Roast squash in a single layer for 30 minutes or until tender and browned on edges. Skewer squash and drizzle with muscadine saba, fresh cheese, and chopped celery leaves.

Fresh Cheese
• 2 cups whole milk
• 2 tablespoons white vinegar
• salt
• heavy cream (optional)
Bring milk to a simmer. Add vinegar. Milk should visibly separate into curds and whey almost immediately. If it doesn’t separate, add a little more vinegar and raise the temperature. Once separated, strain curds through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Season curds with salt. If you would like a creamier consistency, add a few tablespoons of heavy cream to the curds.

Muscadine Saba
• 1 pound muscadines
• 2 cups red wine
• 1 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients and cook over medium heat for 1 hour. Mash up the muscadines in the cooking liquid. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remove from heat and press through a fine mesh strainer with a ladle or the back of a spoon, discarding seeds and skins. Return strained liquid to heat and reduce until it becomes syrupy and will coat the back of a spoon. Refrigerate. It will last for up to a month in the refrigerator or can be frozen for use at a later date.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

Pickled Field Peas
• 1 quart cider vinegar
• 1 cup water
• ½ cup kosher salt
• 3 sprigs fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon dill seed)
• 1 quart cooked field peas (such as Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas)
• ¼ cup minced yellow onion
• ¼ cup minced red bell pepper
• ¼ cup minced celery
• 3 cloves garlic, grated
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a pot over high heat, combine first 4 ingredients (cider vinegar through dill) and bring to a rolling boil to dissolve salt. Remove from heat and cool brine to room temperature. Combine remaining ingredients (field peas through parsley) in a large bowl. Strain dill from brine and pour brine over mixture. Allow to marinate for at least 6 hours before serving.

This dish is great over fried green tomatoes, in a salad, with chips, or as a condiment to serve over meat. It will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator.

Marinated Mushrooms
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• ½ pound button mushrooms, sliced in half
• 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
• ¾ cup white wine
• ¼ cup kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon whole coriander seed, lightly toasted
• 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 4 to 6 inches long
• 4 cloves fresh garlic, smashed but not chopped

In a sautee pan over high heat, heat olive oil until it just begins to smoke. Turn off heat and carefully add mushrooms to sear (watch out for splatters!). Return heat to high. Toss mushrooms until browned on all sides. Turn off heat and add remaining ingredients to pan. Return heat to low for 1 minute. Transfer mushrooms and marinade to a stainless steel or ceramic bowl to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

Old-Fashioned Lemon Bars
• 1 1/3 cups sugar
• 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
• 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 ounces melted butter
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, mix sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. In a separate bowl, mix butter, egg, and vanilla. Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Pat evenly into a 9-½-inch-by-13-inch pan that has been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake 10 minutes or until light brown.

• ¾ cup sugar
• 4 egg yolks
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1 cup lemon juice
• 1 ½ tablespoons flour
• 1 ½ tablespoons melted butter

Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender. With the blender running, add flour and then melted butter. Pour filling onto crust and bake for 15 minutes or until the custard is nearly set—the edges should be just beginning to bubble and brown, but the center should not be completely set. Chill completely before cutting.

Chocolate chip cookies:
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 ¼ sticks unsalted butter, browned over medium heat and then cooled in refrigerator until soft
• 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1 ¼ cups brown sugar
• 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 3 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla. Stir to combine. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients. Mix just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Chill dough for at least 1 hour before baking.

Scoop dough onto a parchment lined-baking sheet. Press down lightly to form disks. (Optional: Sprinkle lightly with kosher or sea salt.) Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Cookies should be golden but not completely brown. Allow to cool before assembling into Chompers. Raw dough can be portioned and frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

• 18 ounces butter, browned over medium heat and cooled until soft (18 ounces butter should yield 1 pound of browned butter)
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 cups brown sugar
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 cup water
• 3 cups chocolate chips

Whip first 3 ingredients with paddle attachment until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add next 4 ingredients. Combine thoroughly. Then stir in chocolate chips by hand.

To make Chompers:
Sandwich baked cookies with filling. Optional: Roll in chopped cocoa nibs. Makes 24.

DIY Veggie Frogs
Purchase wood slices or saw an eight-inch-wide limb into ½-inch-thick slices. Nail 1 ¼-inch nails in the center by placing each disk on the ground and nailing into the earth. Turn the slice over and clean off the spikes. Arrange crudités on the plate by piercing them onto the nails.

Napkins were printed with leaves and natural objects using a simple gelatin process.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

DIY Gelatin Prints
• 8 packs of unflavored gelatin
• Water, hot and cold
• A bowl and spoon for mixing
• A cookie sheet with sides
• Block-printing ink
• A brayer (hand roller)
• A flat surface, such as an old plate, for rolling out the ink

Mix 8 packs of gelatin in 1 ½ cups of cold water. Slowly add 1 ½ cups of boiling water and stir to dissolve completely. Stir gently to produce as few bubbles as possible. Skim any bubbles off the top, then pour gelatin onto the cookie sheet. Let the gelatin set overnight, uncovered. It does not need to be refrigerated but should be in a cool place, away from direct sunlight.

Gather some natural ingredients. Flatter objects like leaves work best, but some little flowers work too. Using a brayer and block-printing ink, roll some ink on a flat surface (such as a plate) to coat the brayer. Then roll a thin coat of ink onto the gelatin. Carefully arrange your natural ingredients on top of the ink-coated gelatin.

Lay a sheet of paper over the inked gelatin and leaves and gently press the paper so that the entire paper gets coated with the ink. Slowly peel away your first print. Carefully peel away the leaves, and lay a piece of paper down to do another print. This print will be like a negative of the first. You can use the gelatin plates for multiple prints, though they often crack after the first day.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

DIY Nature Weaving
• 2 sturdy branches about 4 feet long
• Yarn
• Scissors
• Natural ingredients such as feathers, leaves, vines, branches, etc.
• Fabric, fiber, and yarn scraps (optional, but fun to mix in)

Hang one branch horizontally about four feet above the ground. (We tied our “loom” between two trees, but it can be attached to a fence or whatever you are working with.) Cut 25 or more pieces of yarn to the desired length, adding about six inches to tie around the branches. Tie a piece of yarn on each end of the second branch and hang it from the first branch. Try to make the branches as even and parallel as possible.

Fill in your loom by tying the rest of the yarn pieces between the two branches. Try to keep the yarn straight and space pieces evenly, about 1 ½ inches apart. Now your loom is complete and ready to fill with natural ingredients.

Go on an adventure and collect items such as feathers, leaves, branches, vines, and grasses. Beginning at the bottom and working your way up, weave the natural ingredients from one side to the other, alternating going in front of and behind the vertical strings. When you start the second row, do the opposite of what you did on the first to lock your ingredients in place. After you complete several rows, gently compress the ingredients down, with your fingers acting like a comb. Since the natural ingredients are different sizes and textures, this step helps even things out and tidy up the rows.

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.