Recipes for this story
Sweet Lucy Mint Tea
Fresh Blueberry Soup
Chèvre and Tomato Strata
Roasted Beet and Watermelon Salad with Chèvre
Collard Greens with Garlic and Bacon
Biscuits with Ham and Peach Marmalade
Chèvre Ice Cream
Pink and White Shortbread Cookies
Written and produced by Stephen Exel
Photographs by Colleen Duffley
There's one thing about Southern food: It's an invitation to have a good time. The welcome doubles in the very deft hands of two charming hostesses--best friends, successful businesswomen, and party givers extraordinaire Tasia Malakasis and Beverly Farrington.
Beverly's lovely home in Huntsville, Alabama, full of the Southern elegance on which she has built Accents of the South, her 30-year-old design business, often serves as the stage where hostess duties are shared. Saturated accent colors of saffron, tangerine, and watermelon (note the food connection) draw in the sun and send it splashing over soft backgrounds of buttery yellow. Open, airy spaces invite mingling inside and out on a lush terrace and lawn.
Tasia, owner of Belle Chèvre, an award-winning Alabama-based goat cheese creamery, met Beverly at a few social gatherings. The two got to know each other well when they worked on Tasia's country house. Major life changes drew them even closer together.
"Our friendship was meant to be," Beverly says. "We relied on our strengths to help each other find our individual selves again."
"Beverly is my biggest champion," Tasia adds. "She tells me the truth when I need to hear it. Also, Beverly is simply fun to be around. She throws a great party, and she is always elegant, sometimes in an old-fashioned way, but that is her Southern charm!"
"No, we throw a great party," Beverly laughs.
Invitations to those parties are coveted by friends. No wonder--the details are impeccable and the setting gracious. The food is classically Southern with a modern edge. For two busy professionals, being in the kitchen is key time together. "It's a grand old Southern tradition--two women in the kitchen," Tasia says. "We talk, cook, and solve problems. We have a dance--we know exactly what the other needs, whether it's laughter or salt."
A summer Sunday brunch shows off their entertaining style--sophisticated yet approachable, with amusing surprises. While both women are accomplished cooks ("Tasia is my spiritual food guru," Beverly says), Beverly usually takes the lead in creating the mood.
This setting effortlessly combines formal elements with casual style. Vintage and heirloom Chinese export Rose Medallion plates mix with 1937 Duke of Windsor flatware and heritage knives with mother-of-pearl handles. Immaculately pressed linen napkins are folded simply, without fuss. Down the center of the table, smalltopiaries in white cachepots balance carefully arranged flowers in tin garden containers. Dining chairs with hand-painted silk upholstery move outdoors to gather around the table.
Two long-standing Huntsville traditions welcome guests: a garland of Jackson vine dotted with lemons to frame the front door and a refreshing minty sweet tea cocktail (made with apricot- and orange-laced Sweet Lucy bourbon liqueur from Prichard's, a local boutique distillery). A charcuterie plate with duck and venison sausages, olives, and a selection of Belle Chèvre cheeses, including one wrapped in brined grape leaves, curbs Sunday morning hunger pangs.
As Tasia puts the last touches on the Chèvre and Tomato Strata that anchors the brunch, Beverly, who has a passion for floral design, adds a final touch to the enormous floral "chandelier" she created to crown the buffet table in the dining room.
The strata, golden and puffy and topped with ruffled heirloom tomatoes, joins peppery Collard Greens with Garlic and Bacon. Roasted Beet and Watermelon Salad with a crumble of chèvre complements the accent colors of the room (no accident there!), impressing guests with its combination of earthy, sweet, and salty flavors. An oversized glass compote holds freshly baked biscuits sprinkled with sea salt and stuffed with country ham and peach marmalade. Chilled Blueberry Soup spiced with cardamom and cinnamon is served in small crystal wineglasses.
Beverly presses into service a punch bowl filled with ice to keep Tasia's creamy, tangy, almost custard-like Chèvre Ice Cream chilled. Pretty-in-pink shortbread cookies are served alongside.
Brunch slips away into the afternoon. Later, as dishes are dried and glassware stored away, a perfect pair of friends look back at their seemingly effortless party. "She is beautiful and talented," says one. "She is full of grace and Southern charm," says the other.