Southern Hostess: Rebecca Gordon

I’ve been excited about this post all week! Allow me the pleasure of introducing to you, the epitome of the Alabama hostess: Rebecca Gordon. I met Rebecca last Fall when Husband & I headed down to Charleston for an event with Southern Living to celebrate the release of The Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook. At that time, Rebecca was serving as SL’s test kitchen director (she’s currently a Contributing Editor) and her enthusiasm was contagious when she cooked. I immediately fell in love with her absolutely delicious recipes as well as her passion for Alabama football–both of which are front & center on her blog: Buttermilk Lipstick.

Buttermilk Lipstick quickly became my favorite recipe stop on the web. The thing I love the most is that Rebecca doesn’t just give you recipes, she shares tips & secrets from her years of experience that make those recipes foolproof! A couple weeks ago, I tried my hand at her pimento cheese (*delish*), tonight I’ll be making her Southern cornbread (obviously), and this weekend, my mom will be getting these m&m chocolate chip cookies. So let’s get to know Rebecca a little more, shall we?


Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

Southern Destination of Choice:

The Houndstooth Capital of the South, Tuscaloosa, of course (!) …especially on game day Saturday’s. And when the United States Air Force is scheduled for a flyover before kick-off in Bryant-Denny Stadium… Umm, chills. Witnessing the Crimson Tide bust out of the end zone and onto the field before a home football game just can’t be beat. I’ve been known to get a little teary at times… there’s a passion in that stadium that can’t be duplicated and so many moving stories are represented from the players, to the coaches, to the fans of why they love Alabama football so much. For some it’s based on family roots and for others, they’re converts based on a job move from another state and they had to declare an allegiance to one of the state schools or be pestered relentlessly. Southern college football brings folks together from all walks of life and unites them in a way like nothing else… Roll Tide!

A close second is Charleston. I attended Johnson and Wales when it was located in the old cigar factory on East Bay Street. I can lose myself in the architecture and the history walking around downtown, not to mention the food scene can’t be beat. Being close to the beach doesn’t hurt either. The houses on Sullivan’s Island are simply gorgeous. They’ve done such a fine job of preserving the integrity of the area.

Favorite Southern Tradition:

Not to be a goose and all, but there again, tailgating and watching Alabama football. I don’t mean to rile anyone up or anything, but I do have the 3rd Saturday in October circled with vigor on my calendar each fall. (We do too, Rebecca. Don’t you worry!) I, my friend, lived through the “lean years” and let’s just say, an elephant never forgets.

Be Sure to Say Hello!

Rebecca’s Blog: Buttermilk Lipstick
Buttermilk Lipstick on Facebook
@ButtermilkLips on Twitter

Caring for Your Iron Skillet (& a Southern cornbread recipe with Rebecca Gordon!)


In the South, there are few items that can hold a candle to a belle’s iron skillet. When making out her will, a grandmother may pass down her iron skillet with as much intention as the family china. Why? An iron skillet isn’t just a cooking vessel–it’s an investment of time, a reminder of the care put into it, and a history of everything that the vessel has held before.

A good iron skillet is well-seasoned. That is, over time a surface of lard has built up making the pan non-stick as well as adding a very distinct flavor. Yes, I know your skillet says it’s pre-seasoned but, trust me honey, it’s not. Here’s how to do it right!

To season your iron skillet…

  • Preheat your oven to 300°F.
  • Thinly coat the inside of your pan with Crisco or canola oil. These are my favorites because they don’t add any particular flavor, and they won’t go rancid on the pan.
  • Leave your skillet in the 300° oven for 3 hours, then let cool completely.
  • If this is your first seasoning, repeat this process 3 times.
  • After the initial seasoning, do this about once every month or two.
  • It’ll really start to feel like yours after the first few batches of bacon. I always make these first after seasoning because it adds another layer of flavor.


Cleaning your iron skillet…

Here’s the key: Don’t let it sit. I am one of the worst when it comes to fixing a big meal, and then going straight to bed without cleaning up. This is no way to treat your iron skillet. First of all, the longer you let things sit, the harder they’ll be to clean off. Second, the fat on the bottom of your skillet can begin to pick up flavors you don’t want as it sits.

The other key: Never. EVER. use soap. NEVER! As I said before, the iron skillet is all about the surface. That’s what gives your food flavor and, in turn, that’s what makes your skillet so valuable. So don’t wash it off! Instead…

After you cook, assess your pan.

Is there anything stuck to the bottom?

  • Fill your skillet halfway with water, and bring it to a boil for a few minutes.
  • Then, empty the water and use a rubber scraper to remove anything that is stuck to the surface.

Everything out, and it just needs to be cleaned?

  • When your pan is cool to the touch, throw in a handful of kosher salt.
  • Gently rub it in with a rag. (You can use paper towels, but I prefer a rag because paper towels crumble with the salt scrubbing.)
  • You’ll see the remnants of dinner being soaked up by the salt.
  • Rinse out the salt with water. Dry your skillet. And coat with a thin layer of canola oil or Crisco.
  • Store in a dry place. I actually keep mine in the oven.

And now, Iron Skillet Rehab

When a friend brought me a rusty iron skillet a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I’d give it a little rehab and then do a blog post. Little did I know, the rusty surface was thick and flaky so ‘a little rehab’ turned into a Sunday afternoon.

In retrospect, I do not endorse trying to save an iron skillet from the grave. When iron turns to rust, it makes terrible pock marks that can totally ruin the even cooking surface you get with a good skillet. However, if there’s a smaller amount of rust you should be able to use one of the items below, in order of lightest to most abrasive…*

  • kosher salt
  • steel wool
  • a paste of baking soda and water (I rotated this with boiling water and the rust just lifted out.)
  • fine grain sand paper

*Note: Using any of these will ruin any seasoning already existing on your skillet.

I think it must be in a belle’s blood to not let an iron skillet die. In the words of a co-worker, “Can’t you buy a new skillet for like $11?” Yes. Yes you can, but that’s not the point. Southern allegiance to your skillet is very real so when you get a skillet of your own take care of it. Cherish it. If you’re good to the skillet, the skillet will be good to you.

Now… what to make in the skillet?

My friend Rebecca Gordon is the most fabulous of cooks! You may remember that I met her in September when we visited with Southern Living in Charleston. We’ll chat a little more with Rebecca later today but, for now, hop on over to Rebecca’s blog Buttermilk Lipstick to get her recipe for the perfect Southern cornbread!




Debra Shriver: Take It With You

debra shriver portrait

Let me start by telling you about an afternoon in late summer that I spent reading in Central Park. I sat down on a park bench next to The Met, the different languages of the passing park guests were like music, and 2 hours later I looked up and realized I was still sitting in the same spot in the middle of Manhattan. I had been lost in New Orleans–or, more accurately, in a love story to New Orleans. I was reading Debra Shriver’s first book: Stealing Magnolias.

Several days later, I found myself near the top of the Hearst building sitting in front of quite a spread: iced tea, pimento cheese, deviled eggs, & a few of the other Southern delicacies that are so hard to come by in the city. In a city of 8 million people, I’d found a corner of Southern hospitality that made this overwhelmed Southern girl feel right at home thanks to the *lovely* Debra Shriver.

When I asked her about how these Southern roots had influenced her life in New York, she said simply, “I take it with me.” That seems to be her way of saying that the people and places she’s come from–the traditions, the food, the language, the lifestyle–inform her everyday life.

Raised in Alabama, Debra comes from four generations of working Southern women who not only taught her to have a good work ethic, but also taught her to make a mean jambalaya. Whether it’s hosting a dinner party in New Orleans or Southern hors d’oeuvres in her New York office, you know immediately that  this lady is the real deal. She’s the epitome of a belle: poised, driven, and the perfect hostess. “I can leave New York at 7am,” she said, “arrive in New Orleans by 9:30, and feed 40-60 friends a great Southern meal by 6.”

Today, Debra is self-proclaimed “New-New,” she and her husband divide their time between New Orleans and New York City. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans or New York, you know that they both seem to be on their own time table. New Orleans is the definition of laid-back. There you can take your time to enjoy the meal, enjoy the music, enjoy the drink… New York, on the other hand, seems to constantly be running at a quicker pace than the moment before. Why, you ask, would Debra choose to be a “New-New”? Because she has this “art of living a more beautiful life” down. It’s not about where she is, it’s about the lifestyle that she takes wherever she goes.

For example, recently the Shrivers down-sized their New York digs. Why, you ask? To move into a historic building where Debra can walk to work every morning instead of getting caught in traffic. (She had to sell several china patterns in the process from what I understand… tragic, I know, but que sera!) She takes the time to get to know her neighbors. She’s invested in the city. She values living and working in historic buildings–in places that have a history & a story of which she and Jerry, her husband, are now a part.

This is also true of her other home in New Orleans. After the devastation of Katrina, the Shrivers were among the first to buy and restore a home. They’d always loved the city: the people, the pace of life, the history, the food. So it seemed only logical that they would put down some roots there. In her first book, Stealing Magnolias, she writes a captivating story of restoration and a love letter of sorts to the city. Her new book, “In the Spirit of New Orleans,” she wrote for people who want to really experience the city.

“In the Spirit of New Orleans”  will be released by Assouline next month. Whether you’ve been to New Orleans a million times or are just beginning to plan a trip, this is a book you’ll want on your shelf mainly due to the fact that it gives you a real feel for the city. Shriver’s writing is so vivid, so descriptive. You can almost hear a horn player wailing on the high notes in the corner of a smoky room. She paints a beautiful picture of the mysterious spiritual aspects of New Orleans. And, perhaps a favorite feature of mine, she has loaded the book with resources. Everything from what restaurants to eat at, how to mix a sazerac, and how to translate the language of Mardi Gras. (After all, your first New Orleans cotillion is not to be taken lightly, my dear.)

picture of the book and a sazerac

Where to Read It: on the front porch where you can watch the world walk by
Reading Cocktail of Choice: Sazerac

Get the book, read about the traditions and the history, and then “take something with you.” After all, that’s what the art of living a more beautiful life is really about. What choices do you make that allow you to live a beautiful life regardless of your location? Perhaps it’s walking to work in the city like Debra or turning on a little Louis Armstrong while you cook a big pot of gumbo for dinner (recipe on page 94). Read Debra’s books and then take something from her story of New Orleans. Me? Well, I’m probably going to spend the afternoon listening to a little Ella and learning to make a Ramos Gin Fizz (page 106).

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You may have seen my live tweets from the book release party at Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant in Harlem. If not check them out.

You may also want to follow @DebraShriver on twitter… obviously, she’s fabulous!