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Sarah Domet's childhood spent in Catholic school is fodder for her first novel, The Guineveres, which dives into the secret lives of four girls, all named Guinevere, who reluctantly call a convent home. We sat down with Sarah for a little tete-a-tete to introduce us to her debut novel. Photographed at E. Shaver, Bookseller.
For Deborah Riley Draper, the Savannah Film Festival was more than a screening—it was also a homecoming.
For the past 16 years, savvy locals have counted on Savannah magazine's annual Best of Savannah™ survey for reader recommendations on the city's best dining, retail and services. Nine years ago, we kicked off the BEST OF SAVANNAH HOMES, a readers' choice survey dedicated to the city's architectural beauty and the experts who care for it. When the refrigerator needs repair or the guest room needs a remodel, we all look to our friends and neighbors for referrals. So we're asking you, our readers, to share you local referrals for Savannah's best home professionals. Your neighbors will thank you. Submit a completed ballot by the Dec. 2, 2016 deadline, and you could win a three-course dinner for two at Savannah River Sessions and an overnight stay, courtesy of the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa and Aqua Star Seafood Kitchen ($400 value)!
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Story and Photo by Maggie Harney.The sanctuary of Asbury Memorial Methodist Church is cavernous, but in the presence of Reverend Billy Hester and Ray Ellis, Asbury’s Minister of Music, it’s full of laughter. With bright wooden walls, enormous windows and plenty of light, one gets the inexplicable feeling that this space is one that’s used to the happy sounds of people. But even so, a musical telling of Peter Pan (a show that generally flies its actors across the stage in harnesses) seems like a tall order for the open air church that has very little in the way of traditional theatre trappings. Still, it's on Asbury’s agenda for their “God on Broadway” series, so when I ask Billy and Ray what their plan is for making Peter and the Lost Boys lighter than air, their happy laughs fill the room. “We’re going to be doing metaphorical flying,” chuckles Billy. “Sherri and I and Ray and his husband go to New York once a year, and we saw 'Finding Neverland,' a play about J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan. In that production, there are actors in black and they pick up the characters. We can’t fly Peter Pan, but we can do that.” Now in its 11th year, "God on Broadway" is a month-long production that turns Asbury's regular Sunday services into an event filled with show tunes and theatre story lines. Inspired by Reverend Billy’s years on Broadway, and Ray’s love for God, song and dance, the adaptations have become something the entire congregation plans for, and unashamedly waits for, for most of the the year. It’s even now something other churches across the U.S. have asked for permission to copy, and people have been known to plan their Savannah vacations around. In the past they’ve performed sections of big hits like “Les Misérables” and indie favorites like “Avenue Q,” and this year the bill is just as full for October. Savannah magazine was invited to sit in the pews for a chat, and perhaps a preview, of what “theology meets theatre” is all about.
Singing Grace[caption id="attachment_17009" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Les Miserables [/caption] Both Billy and Ray grew up in strong religious communities, and both had an early love for the theatre, so making "God on Broadway" a seamless part of Asbury's pastoral tradition was all about making the right connections between story and lesson. “Ministers in their sermons will often talk about books and plays and songs,” notes Billy. “Why do we talk about it? Why don’t we do it and get people to experience it? It was like a no-brainer, that it would be more interesting to someone than just talking about it.” In a world that’s obsessed with cellphones and instant gratification, it’s too easy to call "God on Broadway" a knee-jerk reaction to the Facebook generation. Yet by incorporating famous songs and dance numbers into the the regular service, this is something that appeals to Millennials and Generation X as much as it does Baby Boomers. Still, Billy and Ray agree it's not an age thing, but a human thing. “People aren’t going to go away remembering the scriptures,” notes Ray. “But they are going away remembering these show tunes, and the songs stay in their head and give them a way to look at the world differently.” Combining the talents of both pros and novices, dancers from Gretchen Greene studio and performers of all ages, "God on Broadway" is really a matter of heart, allowing people to connect in a new way. This lends itself to bringing the congregation to the forefront of the service, and making it about the human experience. “One of the most powerful ones that I’ve experienced was the first time we did 'Chorus Line,'" remembers Ray. "The actors were up on stage, and it’s not your typical audition--the director wants to get to knows these people. Billy planned the service, with five or six normal congregates just being themselves on stage, so they got to share their stories. One was a husband and wife couple and this guy had never shared before, and he just let it all out. Another one came out. Most people knew he was gay but his family didn’t. It was just so incredibly powerful and real.” Adds Billy, “In that show the director is not seen. You just hear the voice. I didn’t preach that Sunday, I was just a voice in the balcony and they were the sermon. It was all about their stories.”
Finding The Connections[caption id="attachment_17020" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Shrek The Musical. [/caption] So is "God on Broadway" about picking the right musical or picking the right Bible lesson? Billy and Ray think the happy spot is somewhere in the middle. “The same issues that are in the Bible--love and hate, courage, fear, transformation--all of that’s totally universal and relevant for today, and it’s what all these plays are about,” remarks Billy. “It’s just a matter of matching up and having a little fun. We don’t like it to be boring because we’re talking about exciting stuff. We get their attention here.” The program also lends itself to some situations that seem tricky, and along the way justifies Billy and Ray in their conviction that musicals and scripture belong together. “We had the funniest thing happen, recounts Billy. “I had a woman want her child baptized on 'Jekyll and Hyde' Sunday. When we thought about what we were trying to say, that God loves Jekylls and Hydes, and there’s this transformation of moving from the dark to the light, it seemed to be a pretty good idea to have a baptism at the end of the service. So two of her kids come up. The first little boy was named Hank, and I put my hand in the water and I looked down at the bulletin to see his full name and it says ‘Henry Edward.’ Henry Edward? I said to myself, it’s Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. This is meant to be!”
The Next Step[caption id="attachment_17022" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Shrek The Musical. [/caption] "God on Broadway" now fills the church to the absolute brim--"standing room only,” reports Ray-- and the men have their sights set on next year. The diversity and the talent of Savannah may have the makings of a theatre town, and there’s one musical in particular that the entire country has been talking about all year. Will it be on next year’s agenda? “'Hamilton!'” exclaims Billy. “It’s hard to believe that kids are learning history this way, memorizing these words. We’ll get to 'Hamilton' one day.” Jokes Ray, “It needs to be on Broadway a little longer so we can get a ticket, and we’ll need some rappers.” Regardless whether Lin Manuel Miranda’s words show up on the altar stage of Asbury, one thing’s for certain: It’s not about one play in particular, but about the good that it does for the congregation, and the people searching for a new experience at church. “When you build relationships, you see that life is short," says Billy. “It is filled with pain, and everyone is struggling so why make it harder for people? Make haste to be kind. Do what you can to love. When you come together with all of this diversity, you realize that we’re all similar, and we all have these basic needs. That’s probably in one of these shows.” “If not, it will be now!” exclaims Ray.
The Sound of Music was rescheduled to Nov. 13, 2016. For more information about this year’s musical numbers, times, and dates, click here.[gallery ids="17015,17016,17017,17018,17019,17021,17014,17013,17012,17011,17010,17008,17001,17002,17003,17004,17005,17006,17007,17000,16999,16998,16997,16996,16995"]
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Keep Calm and Fry a ChickenAn honest-to-goodness Southern food virtuoso gives a couple of kitchen novices a lesson in the joy of cooking. Amy Paige Condon takes notes | Photography by Teresa Earnest
Meet Our GuestsDora Charles For more than 22 years, native daughter Dora filled our bellies with heart-and-soul food—first at The Bag Lady then at The Lady and Sons. Her cookbook, A Real Southern Cook in her Savannah Kitchen (HMH), was released in 2015. Emily Jones You know Emily’s voice as the host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s local “Morning Edition.” She’s also a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia Journalism School, and once hosted the alt-rock Retro Lunch program at WBRU as her DJ alter-ego, Domino. Gabrielle Ware As the all-platform journalist for GPB Savannah and host for “All Things Considered,” Gabrielle has reported on everything from Savannah’s crime rate to Gullah-Geechee culture. A Midwesterner by birth, her family’s roots run deep in the South. She graduated from Auburn University.
Typically in this column, we drink. We use two of the most lasting hallmarks of Savannah’s identity—cocktails and colorful conversation—to illuminate a subculture, to teach us something new about ourselves. We’re serving up something different for our annual food issue, however. We wondered, what would happen if we threw a seasoned Southern cook in with two recent come-heres and invited them to make a meal together? We expected some hijinks, lots of questions and a few minor burns when we teamed GPB Savannah’s Emily Jones and Gabrielle Ware with cookbook author Dora Charles. We were going to fry some chicken, after all. But, what surprised us was the depth of communion that occurred from the moment we began chopping vegetables to when we finally sat down to eat. Dora sets us up first by putting on salted water to boil, then peeling a pound of Idaho potatoes for her Gone to Glory Potato Salad. As she cubes the tubers in small, near-uniform pieces, she soaks them in cold water so that they don’t turn brown. Dora doesn’t like to use a potato peeler. Emily chops the celery into a fine dice, which she’s doing like an expert after Dora shows her a technique of splitting the stalk into sections with the tip of a sharp knife, then cutting the slender segments crosswise into tiny crescents of fresh green. Savannah Magazine: You use russets instead of red-skinned potatoes. Why is that? Dora Charles: They seem to suit my tastes better. I just don’t like the skin on potatoes in my salad. I use the same potatoes my grandmother used. They might not have been russet; she grew her own potatoes, of course. Emily Jones: So that’s the closest you’ve found to that flavor? Dora: Yes, they are. SM: Your grandmother taught you to cook at the age of 6, right? Dora: I watched my grandmother cook all the time. She loved coffee. She was a great baker. And I would just watch and watch. One day I asked her, “Can I cook?” And she said, “Make me a good cup of coffee, and I’ll teach you how to cook.” I knew I had that mastered, because I watched her and learned. And I always sang that Maxwell House song from back in the day, and I would sing that song when she made her coffee in that pot, and it would perc. That’s when you knew that coffee was ready. I knew exactly how she liked her cream and sugar—she used that Carnation cream in a can. When she tasted it, she enjoyed that first cup of coffee I made for her. SM: So you were already a pro. Dora: I was on my way. The first thing she gave me to make was brown gravy. Emily: That’s hard. Dora: That’s what everybody says. But, it wasn’t that hard for me when I did it. I made too much. I made so much gravy, and I was so nervous about it. I didn’t want her to think I didn’t know what I was doing. So my sister and my brother, they dug a hole for me in the back yard, and we buried the gravy as I was making it. (We all break down laughing.) It kept getting real thick, but she was watching TV in the living room. So as I got enough out, it turned out just right. Was seasoned just right. And when she tasted it at dinner, she said, “Perfect.” She never knew—Oh Lord, forgive me—she never knew. SM: You became the chief gravy maker. Dora: I still am to this day. She explains that the secret to good gravy is to work it slowly. “Add only scant oil to the flour,” she says, describing how she seasons the flour and oil only after they’ve mixed well and the taste of the flour is gone. By this time, Emily has finished chopping the celery. Dora approves of Emily’s technique, then grabs a white onion for Emily to get started on while Gabrielle gathers video evidence of the lesson. Emily: Gabby, how sensitive are you to onions? Gabrielle Ware: I haven’t chopped an onion in, probably, years. Emily reveals an extreme sensitivity to raw onions—to the point she has to move across the kitchen before her eyes spill over. Dora takes over the onion chopping like a boss, demonstrating how she peels away the first tough layers and rinses the onion under cold running water. The cold water helps prevent crying, she says. Photographer Teresa Earnest offers that she holds a slice of white bread in her mouth and that it really works. “But the bread tastes like a raw onion after,” she grimaces. “I hold two matchsticks between my two front teeth,” I offer. Dora laughs and shakes her head. Her nails are expertly manicured in varying shades of pastels, just like Easter eggs. “You can soak the onions in ice water, too,” she advises as she slices the onion so thin it looks like a gossamer veil, then comes back through and cuts crosswise. Dora: If you make it small enough that they can’t see it, then they can’t say they don’t eat onions—like my grandson. It’s one of the best seasonings. Emily: It’s kind of mind-blowing how tiny you’re cutting those pieces. Dora says she never uses a food processor. Our conversation drifts to the virtues of gas over electric stoves. SM: You worked with Paula Deen for 22 years, right? Did you start when it was The Bag Lady? Dora: I did. SM: You mention in your cookbook trying to teach Paula Deen to dance. Dora: It was so funny. Oh my goodness, I never seen nobody with no rhythm at all. When we would be having a busy day and we slowed up, we would just start dancing … and I don’t know how she’d do it, but … (Dora counts out a rhythm and sways her hips while Gabrielle catches it on camera) and my best friend would be on the other side, and we’re tearing it up, and Paula’s knocking into us. (Laughter.) You can sense Dora has fond memories of her years working alongside Paula and that she takes great pride in having helped build a business. SM: How many people do you think you’ve taught to cook? Your cookbook says 60. Dora: It’s got to be more than that. My whole family, my best friends. One of my friends, her man kept saying, “I want Dora’s food.” It was almost embarrassing. So, one day, she came to me and asked me to teach her how to cook, because, she says, “I’m tired of my man wanting Dora’s stuff.” She got so good, she ended up working for us at Paula’s. SM: Emily and Gabby, what foods are particular to your families? Emily: I’m from New Jersey—near Philadelphia, nothing to do with The Sopranos. (Laughter.) Most of my family is pretty solidly English, but my mom’s side of the family is German and there’s a fair amount of spaetzle to go with pot roast from The Silver Palate Cookbook. I’m often the chopper for the family. Gabrielle: I’m from the Midwest, but my family is from the Deep South—so it was soul food in the house. My mom makes the best collard greens. Maybe I’m biased, but… Emily: Not at all. Certainly not. Gabrielle: She makes ridiculously good candied yams. SM: What does she do to them? Gabrielle: Umm … here’s the thing. (Laughter.) I never really learned my mother’s techniques for things. Now I want to know, but as a girl I never wanted to learn any of that. She’s such a good cook, and I feel like I missed out. Teresa Earnest: Have her write down the recipes in her own handwriting so you’ll have a keepsake. We talk about other cherished family recipes: Emily’s grandmother’s pumpkin chiffon pie, sand tarts and cheese dream. Gabrielle’s mother makes peanut butter candy—not brittle—but with cornflakes and peanut butter. Teresa: We had that in elementary school! Emily: If you could make that and bring it to the office, I’d be okay with that. Dora shows us how she cuts up peppers for both the potato and bright pepper salads. The peppers join the onions and celery in a holy trinity, awaiting their dispersal into various dishes. When the potatoes are fork tender, we drain them in a colander in the sink, then let them cool. Someone sets up Dora’s phone to play gospel music, so we work with the sounds of a choir in the background. It’s one of the most joyful moments I’ve ever experienced in a kitchen full of people moving in all different directions. Teresa: I love how relaxed you are in the kitchen. I’m a very frenzied cook. Dora: I am. When I get in there, I’m just ready to cook and to have fun with it. SM: It’s totally second nature to you? Dora: It is. I stay calm so I can get it done. If you panic, it’s over with. We tell her she needs her own cooking show. She says she wants to open her own restaurant and is just biding her time until she finds the right place. With all of the vegetable prep done, we get started on panfried chicken. Dora fills her grandmother’s cast iron skillet about halfway up the side with vegetable oil then heats it over medium-high heat on the stove. She takes chicken pieces, which have been seasoned and have been bathing in buttermilk in the fridge, and places them one by one in a bag filled with self-rising flour. Every few moments, she holds her hand over the pan to test its warmth. Finally she tosses in a few drifts of flour to see and hear how they sizzle. Dora: It’s ready. She shows Emily and Gabrielle how to gently lay the drumsticks, thighs and wings away from them in the skillet. They are a little wary of the hot oil, but take their turns. We discuss the finer points of cooking oil, Crisco and lard. Dora prefers lard. “I think you get more out of lard, it holds better, and it can be used again. It might give off a little more crisp,” she says, adding that she often throws in saved bacon grease for deeper layers. “If you have canned goods and are short on time, you could add a little bacon grease to give it the flavor of fresh beans.” The sparkle and crackle of the chicken frying heightens our appetites. While Dora finishes up the potato salad by hand mixing all of the ingredients together, I make the pepper salad, following her recipe to the letter. Soon, the chicken is done, and we lay out the feast. After making our plates, we sit at the dining table with glasses of iced tea. Just before we dig in, we pause and say grace. Then, we savor every bite. It’s the quietest moment we’ve shared all day. Special thanks to Jane Townsend and David Levy for use of their kitchen.
Bright Peppers SaladServes 6 I love the happy colors of bright bell peppers, so I decided to create a whole salad with all different colors, sparked up with some red onions and fresh green herbs. It’s gorgeous to look at, great for any season and seems to go with anything else you’re serving. It can travel perfectly and sit on a buffet table for hours. You can use just red, yellow and orange peppers, or add a green and even a purple one if they’re in the market. They all have slightly different tastes, so more colors are not only more beautiful, they also make the flavors of the salad a little more interesting.
- 5 bell peppers of many colors, cut into thin slices
- ½ medium red onion, cut into thin half moons
- 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, rice vinegar or other mild white vinegar
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- A large handful of chopped, mixed fresh herbs of your choice: parsley, dill, chives and/or min