There are moments in life that you’ll never forget. I had one of those a couple of weeks ago when thanks to Delta Faucet, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to fly to Birmingham, Alabama with seven other bloggers for 48 hours of VIP treatment complete with a tour of the Southern Living test kitchen. They’ve only ever had one other group of bloggers take the tour so when I say once in a lifetime opportunity, I mean it. People don’t just waltz into the Southern Living studios every day.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the trip, but to be honest, I was happy just to have a break from the daily grind. And p.s., flying on an airplane and staying in a hotel room all by yourself is AMAZING, especially when you’re used to a toddler wanting your attention every moment of the day. I actually arrived in Birmingham a few hours before anyone else and spent the afternoon reading a book and just hanging out in my own hotel bed. It was glorious.
On my cab ride to the hotel my cab driver told me something that would stick with me throughout the trip – people in Birmingham are just genuinely nice and friendly. The cab driver told me all about the city as we were driving and even offered to pick me up and take me wherever I wanted to go. Cab drivers in D.C. ask where you want to go then don’t say another word; I could immediately tell I was going to like Birmingham.
The first thing we did as a group was go to dinner at Saw’s Juke Joint in the middle of Birmingham. That dinner was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip, not because the food was incredible (it was), but because it just felt like we were one big family having dinner together. Dinner started off with a make your own blackberry lemonade bar, fried okra, and barbecue wings with the most amazing white barbecue sauce. I’ve never had white barbecue sauce before but honestly after trying Saw’s, I’m not sure I want to try it from anywhere else. It just won’t compare. And while we chowed down on our appetizers, Robby Melvin, the Southern Living Test Kitchen Director answered our questions and told us about developing recipes, photo styling, being a test kitchen director, and more. The best part for me though was that he treated us all like we were equals, his peers even, when in reality he is heads and shoulders above where I’ll ever be when it comes to food.
To finish off our meal, we went inside and had BBQ shrimp tacos, grits, and deconstructed banana cream pie for dessert, all things we could make a #Happimess with. And while all the food was amazing, I actually enjoyed the company even more. I had the chance to chat a ton with Paula from Delta Faucets and Christina from Southern Living and just loved learning more about their lives, their families, and the things they enjoy most. It was nice to just take a break from talking shop all the time and make more personal connections. And one of my favorite moments was when Paula actually started talking about a white chili recipe she’d seen that used caramelized corn and what a great idea it was, and it turns out it was actually my husband’s white bean chicken chili recipe! Kind of felt like a superstar for a moment there.
The next morning we met up for brunch at yet another delicious restaurant, Another Broken Egg. It was the perfect southern brunch complete with biscuits and gravy, orange beignets, grits, and waffle sliders.
After brunch, we had the privilege of taking a flower arranging class from Glenn at Dorothy McDaniel’s Flower Market. First of all, how gorgeous is the flower market? I wish I lived closer so I could just buy all of my flowers from them, and I really want that flower cart. No idea how I would use it, but I’m sure I could make it work somehow.
My mom has always been really good with flower arrangements, me, not so much. I’ve actually never really tried but after going through the hour-long class, all I want to do is make my own arrangements. I’m kind of obsessed. Glenn and Dorothy taught us so many great tricks like how many flowers to use, how to fill in the holes, and even how to get roses to open up by blowing on them. I used those tips for both my spring centerpiece and for the vertical mound arrangement in my spring party, and now I’m just trying to figure out how I can make flowers fit into my son’s party this weekend. If you’re ever in Birmingham and can take a class from Glenn and/or Dorothy, do it.
Last but definitely not least, we were taken to the Southern Living campus, which is tucked into this gorgeous wooded area away from everything busy. I’d already checked out some of the previous bloggers’ posts from their visit last fall, so I actually knew what to expect but it was still amazing to actually be there. From the gorgeous entrance to the welcome table in the lobby, Southern Living sure knows how to start a tour. It’s definitely somewhere I would love to work, although to be honest with the gorgeous outdoor atrium, I’m not sure I would ever get any work done. It was so fun to walk around and see how things are actually done from the hamburger and french fry photo shoot happening outside (natural light), photo editing of shots for an upcoming edition, and more. As a blogger, I think I probably appreciate how much goes into food photography more than most people but this experience made me appreciate it a million times more. And made me wish that I had my own prop stylist, photographer, and editor.
After touring the campus, we made our way to the actual Southern Living test kitchen. I’d imagined something a little more industrial but it was anything but. The test kitchen was warm, comfortable, and just like the kitchens I imagine people cooking in all around the world. Southern Living specifically built the test kitchen that way so that the recipes they are developing are tested in an environment very similar to the one they’ll actually be cooked in. They’re truly developing recipes for me and you to cook, not for the professional chefs with professional kitchens. After we toured the kitchens and learned more about their process, we actually sat down to a real taste testing of three quick to the table meals prepared by test kitchen director Robby Melvin and a handful of amazing desserts all made with the same pumpkin sweet bread base made by Pam Lolly, Robby’s partner in crime. All of the food was amazing, but I loved getting the chance to test everything out and really talk through what we loved about each of the dishes with the Southern Living team. They truly made us feel like part of the Southern Living family.
And then we went to their prop room, and I wanted to cry out of sheer awe and envy. You guys, it was incredible. For the girl who has about 10 total cake stands and one plate in most colors, I just wanted to hole up in that room and stay forever. Or maybe just move to Birmingham and try and strike a prop rental deal with the team. It was just straight out amazing.
The final stop on our tour was the Southern Living digital studio where we met with Leigh Corra, Executive Producer of Lifestyle Video at Time, Inc. and talked with her about how Southern Living videos (and videos from other Time, Inc. magazines like Cooking Light and Real Simple) such as the viral red velvet pancake video are made and produced. While we were talking, the team shot photos and video behind us and all I could think was, they look like they’re having so much fun. Oh and, I’m glad other people stand on top of the counter to take photos too. Both the test kitchen and the digital studio were setup with Delta Faucets, perfect for when you are making a #Happimess and need to be able to clean it up quickly to get the perfect photos.
We finished everything off with a couple of group photos in front of the Delta Faucet with our not even on the press copies of Southern Living’s April edition and said our goodbyes.
Then just like that, the 48-hour whirlwind tour was over. And I want to give a huge thank you to our organizer Jolyn and the entire Delta Faucet and Southern Living teams for such an amazing experience and for truly showing me the friendliness and kindness that my Birmingham cab driver talked about. You really made me and the rest of the bloggers feel like part of the family. Maybe someday, I’ll get the chance to go back but for now, I’m going to be dreaming of white barbecue sauce, an entire room full of cake stands, and bouncing Southern Living inspired recipe ideas back and forth with Robby Melvin. Check back in a few weeks for some amazing Southern Living inspired recipes and more about the new Delta Touch2O Faucet.