Tag Archives: Real Women



Longtime collaborator Rinne Allen is a skillful storyteller in that she sets the stage, creates a visual narrative, and allows you to see through her same lens – without being heavy-handed. It is her light touch that allows Rinne to present her subjects in the best, most straight-forward, and appropriate manner but allows those subjects, themselves, to finish the telling of the story.

Rinne works in black & white, in color, and in other media (like her stunning light drawings), but no matter the approach, she seeks out what makes each image and each moment special; she finds those details that perhaps no one else sees, but that make the image real and truthful. I know that when art seems effortless, it usually means that an un-measurable amount of effort has almost certainly taken place to make the finished work or scenario seem natural. With Rinne’s work, you will never know… Her point of view is always present, always guiding and drawing your eye until: you’ve discovered the essential element of the piece. She uncovered it and carefully led you there until you found it – waiting there to be discovered.


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In the years since we met Rosanne Cash, we have grown from giddy fans, to dedicated admirers, to proud and honored friends. It is no secret how much we are inspired by Rosanne—as a supporter, an artist, and a beautiful person. We’ve done our best to express our admiration whenever the opportunity arises. We are still awestruck that we know someone so talented, so prolific, and so wise.

It has been a joy to see Rosanne and her singular creativity be acknowledged by so many, lately. Her album, The River and the Thread, which will always hold a special place in our hearts, won 3 Grammy Awards in February 2015, sweeping all categories for which it was nominated: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, and Best American Roots Performance, for “A Feather’s Not a Bird”.

She has recently held a three-night residency at the Library of Congress, received the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, and curated a “Perspectives” series for Carnegie Hall that highlighted the best in Americana and roots music. (Among the artists included were Alabama Chanin favorites and Alabama natives, St. Paul and the Broken Bones.) Earlier this year, Rose was named the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Artist in Residence, which culminated in three concerts, including one instantly legendary evening of music by Rosanne, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris.


In October, Rosanne was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, an honor she was thrilled to receive. “This is the award I wanted. I started as a songwriter. I still consider myself, first and foremost, a songwriter, and dreamed that one day I would get this honor.” She and her father Johnny Cash are the only father/daughter members.

Rosanne seems to be always searching her own depths and looking for new sources of inspiration. She has recorded 15 albums and writes prolifically—everything from essays and fiction (in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Oxford American—among others) to her moving memoir, Composed. On top of all that, she also wrote three songs for season two of HBO’s True Detective and collaborated with Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson on a song released alongside Costello’s brand new memoir.

It is only natural that we would look to someone like Rosanne as part of our exploration of the creative process. We know that her method and her products are substantive, and we trusted that she would be completely, brutally honest with us. I recently read a quote of hers that I could relate to completely: “It’s only amateurs who only work when inspired. Music is a more trustworthy way to God than religion.” It is with this in mind that we consider Rosanne’s responses to our questions on creativity.

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Rosanne Cash: Before performances I have several things I do—stretching, breathing, feeling my feet on the ground, mentally clearing the space around me, a few words I always say to myself. In writing—no rituals, although I do have devices to break the constraints. Sometimes just a cup of tea will set things right.

AC: What makes you curious?

RC: Singularity makes me very curious. If someone is the foremost expert on wooden boats in the world, or knows everything about a certain brain tumor or a rare butterfly or deeply understands something that I only vaguely comprehend, like quantum physics or Mormonism, then I am riveted. I want to inhale everything they can tell me. And I’m curious about the personality that lives for one thing.

Dilettantes bore me.

My curiosity is also aroused by artists I love, but I don’t want to know about their artistic process. If I am moved by someone’s work, I want to know what they like to eat for breakfast, how much sleep they get, what their rituals are, if they watch television, their beverage of choice… I would KILL to know what Shakespeare did for amusement, who he slept with, and what his favorite food was.

AC: What do you daydream about?

RC: I daydream about color, water, silence, and nature.

Sometimes I daydream about how I would re-upholster my furniture.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

RC: It’s important. I would use ‘discipline’ and ‘education’ together. It drives me crazy when people think what I do comes ‘naturally’ and that I don’t have to put effort into writing or performing or recording, or that songs happen because you get hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and that’s all there is to it.

There are a lot of musicians and songwriters more talented than me. 85% of my success is because I’m tenacious and I show up for work.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

RC: Listening to music and looking at art inspires me. If I’m really stuck, I put on certain records to jiggle the door open, or go to a museum. If I hear a really good song, my competitive side might get triggered and I want to write something better.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

RC: That’s what amateurs do. If I only worked when I was in the mood, this would be a hobby, not my profession.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

RC: Creativity is part of human nature. Mastery of creative work must be learned by doing.

AC: Creativity for me is_____.

RC: the reason I’m on the planet.

AC: How do you define success?

RC: Doing what you love and making a living at it.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

RC: The travel for performance is the ‘heaviest’. I get really, really tired of it. I love travel, in theory, but touring is brutal.

The ‘lightest’ is when I finish writing a song that I know is good.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

RC: Creativity IS spirituality.

AC: What makes you nervous?

RC: Doing things outside my wheelhouse. I’m about to perform with Wynton Marsalis for the first time. That makes me a little nervous. Those kinds of things.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

RC: I’d want to make it bigger.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

RC: Anxiety over my kids stops the whole circus.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

RC: No. There were things I didn’t put in my memoir because I didn’t want to hurt someone, but that’s different.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

RC: Nope.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

RC: I’d love to paint.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

RC: Excessively.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

RC: It made me try harder. I’ve been depressed and felt insecure about certain failures and rejections, but it never made me give up.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

RC: Someone who marries two very disparate ideas to create something entirely new, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

RC: The musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: If you were to become a professor, what classes would you teach?

RC: Songwriting.

AC: What are your favorite things to do? What do you distinctly NOT like to do?

RC: I don’t like to unload the dishwasher.
I don’t like taking makeup off.
I don’t like to spend the day doing email.
I love reading.
I love putting the kettle on and anticipating tea time.
I love to sew with my girlfriends.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

RC: I wish I knew.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

RC: I always make my kids a priority.

I struggle to make doing nothing a priority.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts)

Photos courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride, Abraham Rowe, and Robert Rausch.



Atlanta-based chef Anne Quatrano is perhaps the most visible figure in the area’s farm-to-table movement. She and her husband and fellow chef Clifford Harrison are longtime proponents of sustainability and make concerted efforts to use locally grown seasonal and organic products—much of which comes from their own family farm. They own and operate three established restaurants—Bacchanalia, Little Bacch, and Floataway Café, run Star Provisions deli and market, and have very recently opened W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, a casual seafood spot in the Ponce City Market’s food hall.

Star Provisions is a carefully curated, visually inspiring shop and pantry where patrons can have access to the same tools and ingredients as professional chefs. They accomplish what we attempt to do in our own Studio Style DIY shop—provide high quality materials to those who might otherwise not have access to those items. Anne and Clifford have effectively opened their restaurant’s pantry and walk-in cooler for patrons to shop. It has a bakery, a wine cellar, a butcher and seafood counter, a cheesemonger, and a section for cookbooks, specialty goods, tableware, penny candy—and even dog treats.


As part of our continued inquiry into the creative process, I was interested in how someone could manage so many undertakings and manage a family farm and come up with fresh ideas for new restaurants. Fellow Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield said of Anne, “Ann was a pioneer in Atlanta. Her focus has always been on sourcing the best ingredients first, and local, seasonal ingredients have always been important to her.” I want to know what inspires such a pioneer—and what continues to keep that sort of passion stoked. We forwarded Anne a list of 34 questions about her thoughts on how she creates, stays motivated, and encourages her own creativity—and asked her to answer 5-10 of her choice. Her responses follow and reveal what sparks her curiosity and what she might have done instead of becoming a chef (though we’re so glad she stuck with her original plan).

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Anne Quatrano: Not really – I love an iced tea and a stack of magazines on Sundays.

AC: What makes you curious?

AQ: Mostly nature and its elements…wild vegetation, bird’s nests, the paths of bees, my dogs’ habits, anatomy of a hog…

AC: What do you daydream about?

AQ: The beach


AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

AQ: Driving

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

AQ: No, but I am more creative when calm.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

AQ: Human nature – the discipline to achieve is learned.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

AQ: Heaviest is always economically motivated. Lightest is typically the relationship of flavors, textures and form.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

AQ: Sometimes with hired graphic designers or individuals helping with projects—but most of the time the collaboration is just as rewarding and often better.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

AQ: I would draw homes and public spaces…architecture.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

AQ: Yes – more than anyone else.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

AQ: No

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

AQ: Everything…


P.S.: Purchase tickets to our Friends of the Café Dinner with chef Anne Quatrano on October 24th and have the chance to experience her food firsthand.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee Photography



A year ago last week, I wrote about Anne Stiles Quatrano and her cookbook, Summerland on our Journal. I mentioned how we were waiting for the perfect time to host her for our Friends of the Café Dinner Series.

We are excited to (finally) announce that Anne will be joining us in October at The Factory, as the guest chef for our Friends of the Café Dinner. This dinner will celebrate a new collaboration between Southern Makers and the Oxford American Magazine. (Look for more about this special evening on our Journal coming soon.) The event will bring together makers, artisans, and creatives from all across the southeast region—like-minded individuals making the South an amazing place to work, eat, play, and create.

This week I will be making the four-hour drive from Florence to Atlanta to spend some time with Anne, as we work on a special collaboration for the upcoming dinner. I can’t wait.


So today, in honor of the exciting announcement, we revisit Anne and Summerland:

James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur Anne Quatrano is enthusiastic about food and community—passions I admire and write about often here on our Journal. Around her home-base of Atlanta, Georgia, she is referred to “Queen Anne” and is the city’s “undisputed Grande dame” of the farm-to-table movement according to The Local Palate. It makes sense; Anne owns and operates six of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants, including: Bacchanalia, Quinones at Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, Provisions To Go, Floataway Café, and (newly-opened) Little Bacch.

Anne was raised in Connecticut and attended culinary school in California, where she met her husband and business partner, Clifford Harrison. After school, they relocated to the East Coast, but decided to journey to the South in the early 1990s. Anne had family from Georgia, and Atlanta seemed like the perfect Southern city to make their home-base, as it was becoming a cultural and culinary hub at the time. Although they work in Atlanta, they live on Summerland Farm near Cartersville, Georgia, a property that has been owned by Quatrano’s family for five generations. Anne makes the 80-mile roundtrip to commute to Atlanta every day, because she “can’t imagine living anywhere else.” Summerland is where she and Clifford grow and source food, host gatherings, and delve into true Southern hospitality.


Much to our delight, Anne has released a book of recipes celebrating the South, sustainable food, and life on the farm. Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating Southern Hospitality focuses on eating seasonally, and each chapter is associated with a specific month, kicking off with September—perfect timing. I’m looking forward to trying her October cocktail, the Mint Julep. Anne notes that “many people think of the mint julep as a spring or summer drink, associated in particular with the Kentucky Derby. But the brightness of the mint with the warmth of the bourbon is just as appropriate for the fall.”

Summerland is filled with beautiful photography of the farm and food, and features hundreds of mouth-watering recipes perfect for entertaining. When browsing through the book, I was jealous to see that Anne and Clifford have an Airstream trailer on the farm just beyond their peach orchard. (It has long been a dream of mine to own an Airstream—the possibilities are endless: home office, design space, or just a good spot to read a book and nap.) Anne serves cocktails to her guests from her Airstream and has even built a makeshift patio for the trailer from wooden pallets. She is resourceful in every way.

Anne’s recipes offer up ultimate comfort, and any home cook should be comfortable following her simple approaches for creating delicious menus. She even offers bread and base recipes in the back—a very useful resource.


You can purchase Summerland (in addition to a new selection of cookbooks) from our online store in our Home + Table section. Tickets for our Friends of the Café Dinner are available here. Reserve yours today, as our dinners have been selling out quickly. More to come in the following weeks about our upcoming dinner…


Agatha Whitechapel


For many of us who call ourselves “mother”, there are two types of children in our lives: those that are born to us and those that come into our lives and become “ours” for life. For me, this was the case with Agatha Whitechapel, daughter of my dear friend (who I commonly refer to as, simply, “Whitechapel.”) I think of her as a version of her collages, fully realized – a lifelike composition of images pasted together to create a portrait. Adopted daughter to me; young girl grown up; mother of Elijah; photographer; and, finally, friend. Agatha cut her teeth in Europe of the 1990s, traversing between London and Vienna. Agatha’s school was the keen eye of her mother, music video film-sets, and the world of skateboards. When I met her, she was a 12-year-old girl, fascinated with hearing and telling elaborate stories. According to Agatha, she has taken her “childhood obsessions with fantasy and storytelling and turned them into visual explosions with as much colour, pop and pomp” as she can possibly fit into one picture.

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DETOX 2015

DETOX 2015

In 2011, and just before my 50th birthday, I publicly—on this Journal—declared a detox. I don’t really like to write much about my private life, as Alabama Chanin has grown into something so much bigger than me. And, truth-be-told, I am a rather shy and private person. However, I forged ahead and wrote in the second post:

“I felt reluctant to continue writing about my detox after the first post as I thought that it could be, frankly, a bit boring. Each of us has visited a site where the writer has a fondness to overshare about their eating habits and diet: each morsel eaten, photos of unmentionable detox attributes, things that we really don’t want to know—way too much information. I don’t want to be that person.”

But, the fact of the matter is that I completed the detox, lost 25 pounds, and felt better than I had in years. At the time, I vowed to stay “on the path.” I swore to be committed, stay focused, and to forge ahead. The best laid plans of mice and me…

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Do you remember your first day of school? I don’t remember the actual day, but I do have photos of myself, standing outside my first grade classroom, smiling, wearing a plaid dress and knee socks. I do remember my children’s first school days—the nervous excitement they showed and the bittersweet pride I felt at witnessing this important milestone. While I don’t take those moments for granted, there was never a doubt that those moments would come. It’s common now to see Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram light up with school photos that document every moment of our children’s educational lives. A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend that provided some much-needed perspective.

The email offered a link to a Ted Talk by a woman named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of SOLA—Afghanistan’s first all-girl boarding school. The word “sola” means “peace” in the Pashto language, but it is also an acronym for School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Shabana was 6 years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So, for five years, her family dressed her as a boy and sent her to a secret school to learn. Even at this young age, she understood the risks that she—and her parents—were undertaking. She would walk for 30 minutes, even an hour, to schools. The locations would move, and she would walk different paths each day; sometimes class would take place in the morning and other times in the afternoon.


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I picked up the TIME magazine pictured above at an airport kiosk some time ago.  While traveling that day, I lingered over this inspiring—and disturbing—story about Kym Worthy. It is true that some leaders find their calling early and some crusaders know their mission almost from birth. Others come to leadership by accident or they pick up the mantle of responsibility simply because no one else will. Perhaps Kym Worthy falls more into the latter group, but she is no less driven because of it. In fact, she is an example of how one person can have a massive impact on the life of another person, a community, and a national conversation.

In 2009, Detroit Assistant Prosecutor Robert Spada discovered over 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in an abandoned Detroit police warehouse. As Michigan’s Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy couldn’t help but be shocked by this discovery. As she told Katie Couric, “These [rape kits] were women’s lives. They go through this examination thinking that this evidence was going to help find their perpetrator. And it’s sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. And this was their life—and nobody cared.”

Since that discovery, Worthy—herself a survivor of rape—has made national headlines for her work, bringing attention to the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits. She has worked at the local and national level to fight for funding to have the kits tested, eventually receiving a $1 million federal grant to begin testing Detroit’s massive backlog.  Worthy said that she and her team had to literally dust off the kits, physically open and inventory each one to collect victim information. The statute of limitations on many of the cases had long since passed. Still, Worthy’s team manually cross-referenced the kits with police reports and incomplete investigations. DNA evidence is only one component of any case—and each of these cases had to be re-established and reinvestigated (or, sadly, investigated for the first time).


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I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate; some present new or unfamiliar points of view; others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach; all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.

I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” www.portraitsincreativity.com (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.

Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell; she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations.  She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew.  I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”

DESIGN: GAEL TOWEYGael worked on the book, In the Russian Stylewith Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

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Last week, we introduced you to Ashley Christensen: chef, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and badass. She is August’s featured chef in our café (and collaborator for our upcoming Piggy Bank Dinner). Ashley recently spoke to us about good food, sustainability, community, and what she has planned next.

AC: Congratulations on your recent James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. How did you celebrate? (We hope you took time to celebrate…) 

We had a total of 22 folks sitting with us at the ceremony, so we kind of brought the party with us, which was really fun. After the awards, we decided to make the party about simply having a good time with our crew. We called in a pile of to-go Shake Shack burgers, ordered a bunch of champagne and crowded about 40 friends into our little room at the Ace Hotel. We followed this celebration by attending Jamie Bissonnette’s victory party at Toro, and then the Nomad’s epic party at the Highline Ballroom. It was more perfect than I could ever find the words to describe.

AC: You currently operate five restaurants in the Raleigh, North Carolina area – with more on the way. Do you have a different role at each establishment? How do you balance your roles at each? And how have those roles changed as you continue to grow?

In addition to being the proprietor, I’m the Executive Chef for the company, but I consider my most important role at this point to be “lead catalyst”. I have lots of ideas for new projects, and for refining existing projects. My job is to make sure that we ask of ourselves to improve each day, and to see the opportunity in studying the details that guide us to do so. We have an amazing crew of folks who make it happen every day, on every level. It is also my job to provide the tools and support that make them feel competent, empowered, and appreciated.

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