A charming brunch is an invitation to have a good time
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 
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.
Photography: Colleen Duffley
Tasia Malakasis (second from left) and Beverly Farrington (second from right) welcome guests on the terrace.
The place settings for brunch are purposely simple.
Sources for the entire story:
Table linens: Libeco, 212/764-6644.
Furniture and pillows: Accents of the South, 256/539-1038.
Pink beverage glasses: Phoenix Crystal, phoenixcrystal.com . Available through Accents of the South, 256/539-1038.
Charcuterie platter (by Arte Italica): Lawrens, 256/534-4428.
Linen upholstered dining chairs: Summer Classics, 256/534-2781.
Planters and statuary: The Greenery, 256/518-9836.
Birds: In Bloom, 256/533-3050.
Goat cheese: Fromagerie Belle Chèvre, 256/423-2238, bellechevre.com .
Meat: Benton's Smokey Mountain Country Hams, bentonscountryhams.com .
Tea ("Sweet Lucy"): Prichards' Distillery, prichardsdistillery.com .
Garden touches such as topiary and aviary figurines complement the outdoor table setting.
Mark Poe and René Stubblefield enjoy conversation over appetizers.
Sugared pecans are a favorite Southern nibble.
Beverly and Tasia say goodbye to each guest with a take-home gift of Pink and White Shortbread Cookies. A pink ribbon, a sprig of boxwood, and a personal note tie the package together.
Tasia and Beverly share a joke in the kitchen.
Sweet Lucy Mint Tea
Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur from Prichard's Distillery gives this sweet-tea cocktail its kick. You'll find hints of peach, apricot, and orange in this liqueur. Sweet Lucy has a long tradition in the South of keeping duck hunters warm on long, chilly mornings spent in a duck blind. "I'm going hunting with my Sweet Lucy" is a popular expression. Find Sweet Lucy liqueur here. 
. 4 cups water
. 4 black tea bags
. 2 tablespoons sugar
. 1 cup fresh mint leaves
. 1-1/2 cups of Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur
. Juice of half lemon
. Juice of half lime
. Fresh mint sprigs
. Lemon slices
In large saucepan, boil 2 cups water. Remove from heat; add 4 black tea bags. Steep 8 minutes; discard tea bags. Add 2 cups cold water and sugar; stir to dissolve sugar.
Transfer to pitcher and chill. Add 1 cup fresh mint leaves. Using wooden spoon, crush mint until fragrant. Stir in Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur, and lemon and lime juices. Serve over ice. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs pushed through center of lemon slices. Makes 1 pitcher (about 6 servings).
Fresh Blueberry Soup
. 3 cups fresh blueberries
. 4-1/2 cups unsweetened grape juice or blueberry juice
. 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
. 1/4 cup sugar
. 1/4 cup cornstarch
. 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
. 1/2 cup water
. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
. Kosher salt to taste
. Crème fraîche
In large saucepan combine blueberries, grape juice, cinnamon, and sugar. Bring to boil over medium heat. Cover; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.
In small bowl combine cornstarch, cardamom, and 1/2 cup water. Stir cornstarch mixture into soup. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more.
Remove soup from heat; transfer to bowl. Cool. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Before serving, stir in lemon juice. Remove cinnamon sticks. Season to taste with salt. Garnish with crème fraîche. Makes 12 to 14 servings (about 1/2 cup per serving).
Chèvre and Tomato Strata
Find Tasia's Belle Chèvre goat cheese here.  The strata should be assembled the night before serving. Double the recipe and prepare two stratas if you're expecting a large crowd.
. 2 large tomatoes, cut crosswise into 8 (1/2-inch) slices
. 2 teaspoons kosher salt
. 1 pound loaf Italian bread, crust removed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
. 1-1/2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
. 3 ounces soft goat cheese, such as Belle Chèvre, crumbled
. 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
. 8 eggs
. 4 cups milk
. 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
. 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
. Snipped fresh basil (optional)
Seed tomatoes. Sprinkle slices with 1 teaspoon salt; place in large colander to drain, about 30 minutes. Remove from colander; pat tomatoes dry with paper toweling.
Meanwhile grease 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Arrange half of bread slices in bottom of dish. Sprinkle with half of cheeses and chives. Add another layer of bread; cover with remaining cheeses and chives. Arrange tomato slices on top.
In large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, mustard, remaining salt, and pepper until well combined. Pour mixture over bread and cheese layers. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven 350°F. Remove strata from refrigerator; let stand 30 minutes. Bake strata, uncovered, until golden and fluffy and knife inserted comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes. Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with basil. Makes 12 servings.
Roasted Beet and Watermelon Salad with Chèvre
. 1-1/4 pounds medium red beets
. 1-1/4 pounds medium golden beets
. 14 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons total), divided
. 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
. 1 (4- to 5-pound) seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
. 1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
. 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
. 8 cups microgreens or baby greens, rinsed and dried
. 6 ounces soft goat cheese (1-1/2 cups), such as Belle Chèvre, crumbled
Preheat oven to 400°F. Tear or cut beet tops from beets, leaving about 1-inch of stalk attached. Wash and thoroughly dry beets.
Place beets in shallow baking pan, keeping red and yellow separate. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil; sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cover with aluminum foil; roast about 45 minutes or until tender when pierced with knife. Remove from oven; let cool 15 minutes or until easy to handle.
Slip skins off beets by hand and cut beets into wedges. Toss golden beets with 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil to coat. Toss red beets with 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil to coat. Toss watermelon cubes with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
In small bowl whisk together remaining olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. In separate large bowl, toss greens with olive oil mixture. To serve, place greens on large platter. Arrange watermelon mixture, yellow beets, red beets, and goat cheese in rows over greens. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Collard Greens with Garlic and Bacon
Beverly uses Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Smoked Bacon for this recipe and Benton's Smoked Ham for her Ham and Biscuit Sandwiches. In business since 1947, Benton's has a certain celebrity status for preserving old-fashioned techniques of smoking and curing. Find it here. 
. 3 pounds collard greens
. 1/2 pound thick cut bacon (preferably Benton's)
. 1 small onion, chopped
. 3 cloves garlic, minced
. 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Wash collard greens thoroughly in cold water; drain well. Remove and discard stems; trim bruised leaves. Tear leaves to measure 18 cups, lightly packed; set aside.
In 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven bring salted water to boil. Add collard greens; return to boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
In large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon; drain on paper towels. Chop bacon; set aside. Drain all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet. Add onion to skillet; cook in reserved drippings 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute more. Add collard greens, bacon, and red pepper. Cook and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt. Makes 12 to 14 servings.
Biscuits with Ham and Peach Marmalade
This recipe is adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 5th Edition.
. 3 cups all purpose flour
. 1 tablespoon baking powder
. 1 tablespoon sugar
. 1 teaspoon salt
. 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
. 3/4 cup butter
. 1 cup milk
. Sea salt
. 3/4 to 1 pound smoked ham (preferably Benton's), thickly sliced
. Peach marmalade
Preheat oven to 450°F. In large bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar. Using pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add milk all at once. Using a fork, stir just until mixture is moistened.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing it four to six strokes or just until dough holds together. Pat dough until 3/4 inch thick. Cut dough with a 2-inch biscuit cutter; rerolling scraps as necessary.
Place dough circles 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until golden. Remove biscuits from baking sheets. When just cooled, split biscuits. Stuff biscuits with ham and dollop of marmalade. Makes about 14 sandwiches.
Chèvre Ice Cream
. 2 cups whipping cream
. 1/2 cup whole milk
. 4 egg yolks
. 1/2 cup sugar
. 3 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
. 4 ounces goat cheese, such as Belle Chèvre
. Fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
In medium saucepan, bring whipping cream and milk just to boil over medium heat.
In small mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Slowly whisk half of hot cream into egg mixture. Pour egg mixture into whipping cream mixture. Cook 2 to 3 minutes more, or until mixture coats back of metal spoon. Remove from heat.
In small bowl stir together corn syrup and goat cheese. Whisk into cream mixture until smooth. Quickly cool mixture by placing saucepan in sink filled with ice water for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer to bowl; cover, chill thoroughly.
Freeze mixture in 1-1/2 to 2-quart ice-cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions. Keep frozen until ready to use. Garnish with mint. Makes about 1 quart.
Pink and White Shortbread Cookies
. 2 cups all-purpose flour
. 1/4 teaspoon salt
. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
. 1/2 cup powdered sugar
. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
. 6 ounces white chocolate baking squares, chopped
. Red food coloring
In small bowl combine flour and salt; set aside. In large mixing bowl, beat butter with electric mixer on medium to high speed 1 minute. Add sugar. Beat until combined. Beat in vanilla extract. Beat in as much flour mixture as you can with mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. Cover and chill dough one hour or until easy to handle.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. On lightly floured surface roll out dough half at a time to 1/4 inch thickness. Using 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Place on prepared baking sheets and refrigerate 15 minutes (this will ensure cookies maintain shape through baking). Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cookie edges are very lightly browned. Cool on wire rack.
Place white chocolate in top of double boiler. Place over boiling water (upper pan should not touch water.). Cook and stir until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add red food coloring, a few drops at a time, until mixture is desired color. Dip cookies halfway into melted chocolate; place on parchment lined baking sheets. Place baking sheets in refrigerator 10 minutes, or until chocolate has hardened. Makes about 40 (2-inch) cookies.