ABOVE Chef Sally Stringfellow, standing, dishes up the Southern flavor to birthday boy Lynn Rabren at a celebratory feast of small plates. George Fuller shares a laugh with his wife Frances Fuller, left, and guest Lisette Normann. The couple hosted the dinner at their renovated historic home a block off the Bay in downtown Fairhope. Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau
Lynn Rabren is a modern-day Renaissance man — photojournalist and cinematographer, entrepreneur and boat builder, conservationist and foodie. In equal measure, he is enthusiastic about protecting our natural resources and keeping the tequila cocktails flowing.
To celebrate his birthday, this locavore (supporter of local foods and goods) pulled together a crowd of equally interesting pals for a feast showcasing the bounty of Baldwin County. The group assembled at the recently renovated historic home of George and Frances Fuller just off Mobile Bay in Fairhope’s Fruit and Nut neighborhood. Lynn’s longtime friend Sally Stringfellow, of Weeks Bay Plantation, was on hand to prepare a dinner of small plates, each showcasing fresh ingredients from her farm’s greenhouse gardens and other Baldwin County farms. Classically trained in French cooking, Sally recently launched a personal chef business focused on elevating traditional Southern ingredients in a healthful way. Lynn’s birthday proved the perfect opportunity for recipe testing.
Besides using local ingredients, Lynn also draws from his travel experiences to create new, exciting dishes in his own kitchen. As a photojournalist for “60 Minutes” in the heyday of news magazines, he traveled the world and expanded his palate to include flavors not common in rural Alabama. So Sally made sure to bump up the flavor factor on these Southern dishes. It all blended perfectly into one memorable meal.
Q&A with Lynn Rabren
Fairhope resident, photojournalist, entrepreneur and creative soul reflects on the beauty of life at home on Southern waters.
Describe your connection to the land and the water.
I grew up at the edges of a small town and the woods. I became a nature boy by age 6 and have never lost my lust for it. Whether I’m swimming in it, floating on it or just looking at it, water inspires me to pause, reflect and feel alive. Each day I find myself drawn to the shore to take in the expanse of the Bay and the sky, almost like a meditational need.
How did the project “America’s Amazon” come about?
I was shooting a CBS Sunday Morning profile of Dr. Ed Wilson on Perdido Bay. We made a big dinner of Royal Reds and grits at my house and got to sharing some stories when he said, “If you ever do a film about this area, you should do a film about the Delta.” I never forgot those words of inspiration, and he came on board to help us make it. I gained a new awareness of the rich treasures found in the Delta and the need for more education about its fragile ecosystem. My motivation in my work has always been to show others meaningful information that may enlighten, inspire and help them create a better world.
What did you find to be the biggest difference between life in L.A. and NYC versus back in the South?
Everything down on Perdido Bay was framed in natural beauty, open spaces, clean waters, less people and traffic. But most pleasant was the quiet, the slower pace, the friendly people and the great weather. And the food.
Lynn served his favorite drink for his birthday gathering. It is a light and citrusy tequila cocktail he created on the day Gregory Peck died. (Peck was the actor who played Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”) The mint stirrer is a breath of fresh air each time you sip!
2 ounces blue agave tequila (Lynn likes Olmeca Altos brand.)
2 ounces fresh squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon agave syrup, or to taste
3 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice
1 whole mint sprig, bruised
1. Combine tequila, lime juice and agave syrup in the bottom of a highball glass and stir until agave dissolves. Fill the glass with ice and top with orange juice. Use mint sprig to stir. Serves 1.
Pan-roasted Shrimp and Okra over Corn Consommé
Fresh summer produce gets an elegant treatment. Double the serving size for an impressive entree. Sally tops it with pickled shaved red onions for a dash of zing.
1 pound fresh okra
4 tablespoons canola or olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
7 ears fresh silver queen corn, shucked
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss okra with 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly onto a cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes, until tender.
2. Using a box grater or microplane, grate corn into a large bowl.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add corn and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes, until creamy.
4. Add 2 tablespoons oil to a large cast-iron skillet. Heat until almost smoking over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with salt and sear in hot pan for about 2 minutes per side, until cooked through. Set aside.
5. Spoon 1/4 cup corn consommé onto each plate. Arrange 5 – 6 okra on top of corn and top with 2 seared shrimp. Serves 6.
German Potato Salad Cups
These mini stuffed potatoes are the perfect pick-up app, but they are also a wonderful accompaniment to a dinner of steak and salad.
1 1/2 pounds medium-sized red potatoes
1 tablespoon salt, plus more, to taste
1 (3-ounce) bag of crab boil
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup white vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Place potatoes in a pot and fill with enough water to cover. Add salt and the bag of crab boil. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Place the bacon in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Fry until browned and crisp, turning as needed. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Halve the potatoes and make potato shells by scooping most of the insides into a large bowl. Crumble bacon and add to the bowl. Add raw onion, chives, parsley, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss ingredients gently, then scoop the mixture back into potato shell. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.
Heirloom Tomato Hoecake Stack
Lowbrow hoecakes get an upscale makeover. This hearty tower of a dish showcases traditional Southern ingredients in a new, sophisticated way. Be sure to cook the peas a day ahead so you can let the hopping John marinate overnight. Sally serves hers with a little shaved red onion that she marinates in olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper overnight for extra zing.
1 pint size bag of fresh pink-eyed purple hull peas
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons Creole seasoning
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup gluten-free cornbread mix (Sally likes Bob’s Red Mill Brand)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
4 large ripe heirloom tomatoes
1.To cook peas, rinse peas in a colander. Place the peas in a heavy pot with just enough water to cover. Add bay leaves and Creole seasoning. bring to a boil and then reeduce to simmer. Cook until peas are soft, about 2 hours. Remove bay leaves and drain, reserving the liquor.
2. To prepare hopping John, in a small bowl, combine garlic, salt, black pepper and sugar. Press with fork until ingredients turn to a paste. Emulsify the olive oil and vinegar and add to mixture. Add one cup of the cooked peas and chopped bell pepper. Toss to combine. Refrigerate overnight to marinate or up to 1 week.
3. Before you wish to serve, add the remaining peas to a blender or food processor and pureé. Add enough pea liquor back to the peas until the mixture becomes the consistency of gravy. Set aside.
4. To prepare hoecakes, mix together the cornbread mix, egg, sugar, butter-milk, water and 1/4 cup canola oil. Add more water or buttermilk if needed to get a pancake consistency.
5. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large cast-iron skillet on medium heat. Use about 2 tablespoons batter per hoecake. Brown on both sides. Makes 16 hoecakes.
6. Remove tops off of tomatoes and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Add black pepper to taste.
7. To plate, spoon a bit of the black eyed pea puree onto each plate. Top with a hoecake and then a tomato slice. Repeat each layer again, and then top with hopping John. Serves 6.
Gluten-free Crab Cakes
Take extra care flipping these cakes in the skillet; gluten-free items are particularly delicate.
1 ear fresh silver queen corn
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
8 ounces fresh lump crabmeat
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon butter
1. Cut corn from the cob into a medium-sized bowl. Add egg, sour cream, mustard, salt, Creole seasoning, almond flour and red onion. Use a fork to combine. Gently fold in crabmeat and chives.
2. Divide dough into fourths and form into 1/2-inch thick patties. Place the crab cakes on a platter lined with wax paper. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter and let melt, coating pan. Add the crab cakes and cook 4 to 5 minutes on one side without moving, until the bottoms are browned. Very carefully lift each crab cake with a spatula. Add some of the remaining butter to the pan and lower each cake back into the skillet. Cook another 4 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6.