Do Something Good Today
Tasty, sustainably-raised oysters improving waterways and living their best lives on the    Barrier Island Oyster farm    outside of Charleston, near Wadmalaw Island, S.C.  Photo: jessgraves.com

Tasty, sustainably-raised oysters improving waterways and living their best lives on the Barrier Island Oyster farm outside of Charleston, near Wadmalaw Island, S.C. Photo: jessgraves.com

Hey friends,

I hope you’ll forgive a break from our regularly-scheduled programming today for an important message concerning everyone’s favorite bivalve.

There’s something of a turf war waging in South Carolina, one that’s catching honest farmers in the net of one of the South’s worst traditions: the reluctance to change.

Despite the fact that oyster farms are good for the environment, make for better fishing, boost the economy and — oh — produce delicious, nutritious food (!) a group of change-averse folks in Charleston are attempting to cook up some half-baked legislation to prevent farms from thriving. It is as short-sighted as it is ill-informed — the details are outlined more below in a letter from our friends at Toadfish Outfitters.

Here’s my two cents: the South’s identity is one long-defined by its food, farming and rural cultures. We need future generations to evolve alongside our changing land and waterways — to be not only good stewards, but champions of the place we call home. And while the past is never dead, it can still be “past”. Being amenable to change, especially when that change is an investment in the future of our community, is not only progress by definition, it’s just plain good sense. Which is why even if you don’t eat oysters, reside in South Carolina, or sport on its waters, I hope you’ll still chime in.

- Jess


“Not too long ago, the Chesapeake Bay and Pacific Northwest’s oyster populations were almost completely eradicated by disease and overfishing, (NOAA, 2019). What both of those regions realized too late is that the cost and time required to restore a wild oyster population goes up dramatically after the oysters are wiped out. It has taken the Pacific Northwest nearly 40 years to start to see significant results of replenishing their wild oyster population (Puget Sound Institute, 2019). 

Unfortunately, South Carolina is currently flirting with the same outcome as those two famous oyster regions.  All it takes is one major event, like a hurricane or disease outbreak, to completely wipe out the population leading to decades of expensive rebuilding. That is why it is crucial to practice preventative restoration rather than the forced restoration that happens after the damage is done.  

There is a small group of farmers using the latest preventative mariculture techniques to revive the industry and replenish the Lowcountry waterways with oysters. Mariculture not only takes the stress off of the wild resource by offering a locally-sourced alternative, but it has the potential to dramatically reduce the state’s shell deficit of 10,000 bushels per year (Ben Dyar, SCDNR). 

Unfortunately, these South Carolina oyster farmers have recently become the target of a small group of Charlestonians who want to see mariculture farms shut down or have the industry become so regulated that oyster farmers can not continue to run their businesses efficiently.  

Opponents claim that oyster farms block waterways, are deterrents of wildlife, and our permits are too easy to obtain. In reality: 

1. Oyster farms have strict navigational guidelines including being 50 ft. from the shore at low tide and not taking up more than 33% of the navigable waterway as determined bythe Army Corps of Engineers. All of the gear is subject to U.S. Coast Guard marking standards. 

2.    The floating cages used to raise the oysters encourage and attract wildlife -- crabs, fin fish, lobsters, octopie, juvenile fish, shrimp, inshore and offshore fish (seabass, grouper)(NOAA, 2019) flock to these oyster cages for shelter and feed off of the nutrients the oysters provide.

3.    Oyster farms go through a rigorous process to obtain permits and licenses to run their farms. The permitting process takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months and goes through three separate government agencies (SCDNR, OCRM, and the Army Corps of Engineers). The total out of pocket cost just to submit a permit is around $8,000 which is non-refundable if the permit isn’t issued.

These farms are fully sustainable, give back to the ecosystem, and provide jobs and money to the local (usually rural) economies in Charleston and the rest of the Lowcountry. The oysters coming out of the South Carolina oyster farms are world-class and are a favorite among dozens of restaurants in the state, giving locals and tourists a true taste of the Lowcountry.  

Please sign this petition to show your support for SC oyster farmers. Send a message loud and clear to legislators.”

- from our friends at Toadfish Outfitters

How to (Humanely) Cook a Blue Crab (and an Oyster Made for Instagram)

So, what’s been the haps? I’ve been eating well, for one. Well, sort of. A few weekends ago, my friend Mary Logan hosted a group at her family home on St. Simon’s Island. We decamped into two vehicles and wound our way to Dockside Seafood near Shellman’s Bluff, where we filled a cooler with a gluttonous amount of blue crabs to take back to the house for dinner.

Shellman Crab Company in Shellman’s Bluff, Georgia. Photo: jessgraves.com

Shellman Crab Company in Shellman’s Bluff, Georgia. Photo: jessgraves.com

I shared the somewhat gruesome process of live crabs plopping into boiling water on my Instagram stories — and was immediately flooded with messages from all kinds of people fussing that we had not gone about the whole thing correctly.

I’m going to let us off the hook a bit here — we did go out of our way to buy local, sustainably-caught seafood. However, rather than an abrupt, sizzling hot dunk, you, dear people of the Internet, let it be known that we should have slipped Sebastian into the freezer before the death knell rung. This is apparently far more humane, because it numbs the ol’ boys up before their untimely (legs first - again, more humane!) free dive into the molten hot tub of doom we like to call a stock pot.

Piles on piles of blue crabs. Photo: jessgraves.com

Piles on piles of blue crabs. Photo: jessgraves.com

To you, fair crustacean-crusading friends, I apologize on behalf myself and my heathen friends. At the very least, rest easy knowing it went to the nourishment of everyone’s bodies. Well… except mine. The irony of catching Instagram’s full wrath on behalf of a creature I cannot eat does not escape me — I’m allergic.

Divine Pine oysters from North Carolina plated at Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits in Atlanta. Photo: jessgraves.com

Divine Pine oysters from North Carolina plated at Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits in Atlanta. Photo: jessgraves.com

Speaking on the subject of seafood I can consume, I’ve had the pleasure of eating a lot of good oysters lately. More on that in the coming months, but do want to share one bivalve that stood out in particular — the infinitely cool “Divine Pine”, which is a blue-hued oyster out of North Carolina. The curious sea glass-color is a result of a nutritious native algae bloom called Halsea, which filters through the gills and leaves behind a really distinct-looking oyster. Not only do they make a pretty picture, they’re excellent eating. I had mine at the raw bar at Atlanta’s Watchman’s SeafoodI & Spirits (I wrote the spot up here for Eater, if you’re curious), but I imagine you could request ‘em (grown by the folks at N.Sea) on the board at any reputable dining establishment.

‘Til next time, land lubbers!

A Quick Life Hack for the Tired and Busy
My Maggie, peak chill. Photo: jessgraves.com

My Maggie, peak chill. Photo: jessgraves.com

If I am lucky, in my next life I will come back as a dog. Then, stress will never plague me. Until that day, the stress is real… and it throws a party in my upper back. If you don’t know about Zeel yet, allow me to tell you what’s up: someone comes to your house with a massage table and works. your. stuff. out. I’ve been a regular for a year or so, and I love it for three reasons: 1. they can come in the evening — I schedule a massage right before bed. 2. I can play my own tunes and not have to contend with that strange spa muzak, and 3. did I mention they come to you? 🙌🙌🙌

P.S… $20 bucks off if you use this link.

A Soundtrack for Sundays in the Kitchen
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I spend the best Sundays cooking. The best days begin with a trip to the farmer’s market and end in my kitchen (or a friend’s) while we prepare the meal together. This playlist began almost ten years ago, when a handful of my college friends and I had a rowdy Supper Club which, despite civil intentions and elaborate menus, almost always ended up in a nearby bar by 2am. It’s traveled with me across time, homes, platforms (iPod! Soundcloud! Spotify!) and cities to eventually settle into the adult kitchens of much less rowdy thirty-somethings, who almost always end up in bed before 11 .

It’s been added to, edited, and fine-tuned over that time into what I think is an ideal dinner party mood. It’s got energy, but it isn’t obtrusive, and it’s just as listenable alone in your car. My friends and I are always adding to it. It will never not be a work in progress. Now, I bequeath it to you. ⚡️listen up⚡️

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Bag Dump: Gear for On the Go
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Alas, because I cannot spend all of the precious winter in my house, I’m glad I invested in a 💋 sturdy cosmetic bag (for said products above) and a huge handbag to make sure I keep up on the go. In my bag, I have one of these cute clear pink Madewell pouches for some grab-on-the-go necessities, like this mini hairbrush, a little lip/cheek flush, and the world’s best lip balm. Oh, and the new Maggie Rogers album on my phone, pretty much on a loop.

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It’s Cold Out There, But These Tunes are Nice and Warm
The annual pot of good luck greens and beans for health, wealth and good fortune in the new year.  Photo: jessgraves.com

The annual pot of good luck greens and beans for health, wealth and good fortune in the new year. Photo: jessgraves.com

I’ll admit that most of my January so far has been spent between my house and my car. The time in my car has mostly been trips to pilates class, the library, the grocery store, or my new favorite thing in the fucking universe, the infrared sauna. I have been permanently wired to audio for all of it.

Part of my #KonMari mission was to streamline the tech in my home and get everything to a place where it just… worked. Easier said than done, but the solution came in two forms: a pair of AirPods that fly seamlessly between CarPlay and my phone, and some simple home automation. As the proud owner of now both a Google Home (bedroom) and Google Home Hub (kitchen), its been significantly easier to keep up with all the albums I want to play and podcasts I’m recommended (some of which I’ve listed at the bottom of this newsletter!) because I can just tell my newly-minted robot servants to pick up where I left off.

(On the home automation note, I took things a step further and installed some smart plugs and bulbs — they’re relatively inexpensive, and being able to say “Hey Google, turn off the bedroom lights and TV” is pretty great when you’re all burrowed under your comforter and really don’t want to get up to switch off your lamp at bedtime. I also make Google play me rain sounds when I sleep. #selfcare. #wellness. #lazy.)

Anyway, all of this audio-automation has renewed my lifelong love for making playlists. So, I made one for the quiet, the cozy, the gray and hazy, the cold and the cuddlers. Because it’s Wintroversion time, baby. Time to swaddle yourself in blankets and burrow in. ⚡️listen up⚡️

Tub Level: Advanced
Image: leefromamerica

Image: leefromamerica

Continuing our conversation about the rituals of winter hibernation, I have always loved a hot bath. Lowering into a tub of hot water, feeling my back instantly relax… I can’t think of a better way to signal to my body that it’s bedtime. Wrapping up in a cozy robe after the fact just about guarantees a great night’s sleep.

Years of soaking has motivated me to pick up a few tricks — elevating tub time from something relaxing to something that’s also productive? Win. I dump all kinds of stuff into the water that promises to do work on my behalf for my skin, hair and sore muscles.

I mix up all kinds of soaking potions and give them away to my friends like some kind of bath tub witch doctor, usually with really common ingredients. Here are a few tried-and-true mixes that you can grab on the grocery aisle:

  1. After a rough workout, nothing is better for sore muscles than epsom salt. I buy the giant (like, 20lbs!) bulk bag on Amazon, because I put epsom salt in just about all of my baths, sore muscles or not. It’s also really good if you’re feeling a little bloated or had too much salty food that day.

  2. On the palatable subject of bloat, I swear by this by-the-pound clay you can get at Whole Foods or Amazon. Mixed with apple cider vinegar, it makes an amazing face mask (I do my neck and chest too), but it also draws all kinds of impurities from your skin when you drop a few healthy scoops into your tub. Just be sure to rinse your tub down afterwards, or deal with green cement.

  3. A good stable of essential oils is essential. Lavender is really great for relaxation, eucalyptus (sinus rescue) and tea tree oil (antibacterial properties) for when you’re sick. Or Jasmine! Because you want to smell nice!

  4. Also awesome for when you’re sick: Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath. The smallest size is around $5, just go ahead and dump the entire thing in your bath. I don’t know what all is in it, but damn, it’s magical.

  5. Speaking of eucalyptus, if you have an instagram account, you’ve probably seen all the photos of people tying up branches in their shower, citing the plant’s natural aromatherapeutic powers when combined with shower steam. Spoiler alert: it works!

  6. Drink a lot of water before and after your bath, all that salt and clay detoxing pulls lots of water out of your body.

  7. If you’re fighting a dry winter scalp, rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar and toss some in your tub to soften up your skin, too.

  8. This is a good time for a mask. Just sayin’.

  9. As far as products go, I like glossier’s Body Hero body wash, Ouai shampoo and conditioner, and this nifty Japanese body cloth that makes it so much easier to scrub your back and shoulders! (Bonus: it feels like a good back scratch.)

Regarding tunes for soaking? I love Charlie Siem. He’s both classically handsome and classically trained. I call him Charlie cheekbones, and he’s got magic strings. I put together a little playlist of my favorite violinist, and it’s a pretty perfect companion for an end-of-the-day bath, or anytime you need some really solid, but un-disruptive background tunes. ⚡️listen up⚡️

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How to Gear Up For Burrowing Down

It all starts with a sweater (and some green vegetables). While Wintroversion conversion is a mindset more than it is anything else, it is practiced better with a few key supplies. This is the real-deal stuff for a proper hibernation situation that blends in the optimistic, hyper-productive cleansing energy of January.

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  1. Being properly attired for ❄️ Wintroversion is mostly about sweaters and leggings, yes (more on that in a sec), but lounging in some nice pajamas just makes you feel like a grown-up in a way nothing else can. While Eberjey’s Gisele PJs will always be my #1 for comfort and washability, I love these sharp boyfriend sleep shirts from Jasmine and Will.

  2. SCHWEADA WEADA! I love 💋 these inexpensive turtlenecks from And Other Stories and Buru. For something a little higher-end, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this Vince number. La Ligne’s stripes are my current favorite top layer, and I’ve been lounging in this (sale!) red Tibi v-neck for days.

  3. With big cozy sweaters, you need comfy leggings, and Spanx makes the best. I personally don’t love their faux leather, but the cotton and denim ones rock (as do their bras — their bras are GAME CHANGERS.) I also really like these leggings from Amazon for basic black workout tights. When I need to be a little fancy, I’ve been throwing said sweaters over a midi-length silk slip dress. But mostly, I’ve been living in my gray turtleneck/leather legging uniform with APL sneakers. One pair pink, 💋 one pair white!

  4. This scarf makes it socially acceptable to wear a blanket in public, and I am here for it. But pairs great with these socks around the house.

  5. The best-smelling candle is this one. Hard stop.

  6. The coziest blanket is this one. Hard stop. (I stash it in my linen closet when not in use, because it looks like a college dorm room to me.)

  7. Hair claws are back. Chrissy Teigen says so. Jen Atkin says so. And for the sake of convenience, I say so, as well.

  8. 2019 horoscopes, anyone?

…But what do do with all those winter veggies? Photo: jessgraves.com

…But what do do with all those winter veggies? Photo: jessgraves.com

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  1. Onto the kitchen, the site of most people’s resolutions. I’ve been cooking from Gwyneth Paltrow’s 💋 The Clean Plate cookbook like a boss. Say what you will about her (I like her!), but her cookbooks rock. Thus far, I’ve made about ten recipes and every single thing has been totally delicious. I’m finding this cookbook particularly useful right now because I have produce delivered weekly via an Atlanta-based CSA called Fresh Harvest. I love getting loaded up with fresh veg every Tuesday, but sometimes I’m left scratching my head about what to do with it all. The Clean Plate has helped me learn three new ways of cooking chard, and for that, I am grateful. Another revelation: cauli rice! As it turns out, not terrible! Also in rotation right now: Salad for President and Everything I Want to Eat.

  2. Once Dry January ends, I also fully intend to try out some of the recipes in A Woman’s Drink, a groovy cocktail book my sister gave me for Christmas.

  3. Speaking of cooking, I’ve been making a lot of soup. A LOT. OF. SOUP. I got one of these YETI mugs for Christmas and like it so much for couch soup consumption, I bought myself another.

  4. In the vein of kitchen things, these OXO pop containers have revolutionized my pantry.

  5. I ditched my toxic teflon-coated nonstick pans in favor of chic, French blue GreenPans.

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Are You a Wintrovert?
A back-page essay I wrote in Atlanta HOME magazine. I’ve got a little more to say about it.

A back-page essay I wrote in Atlanta HOME magazine. I’ve got a little more to say about it.

“Wintrovert” is my new favorite compound word: a useful combo of “winter” and “introvert,” it perfectly encapsulates this post-holiday, pre-Spring stretch of cold, gray days that plead for total hibernation.

I wrote a back-page essay (above) for the winter issue of Atlanta Home magazine about the idea. (You can also read it online here.) Inside, I laud all of the many virtues of this time a year — cozy blankets, a proliferation of candles, big stock pots of soup, TV binges and books in bed — and a big, stable dose of rest.

2018 was a year I will remember for the rest of my life as one of the hardest I have ever endured. Death, abuse, theft, threats to my health and safety and a pedantic string of petty crises splashed across my windshield and obscured my view with no warning. Being behind the wheel of my life suddenly felt like a treacherous act. Steering straight became impossible.

So while I love the optimism of a new year every year, this year, in particular, I took January seriously. I have shamelessly leaned into self-care, tending to myself as if I were paying a visit to a sick friend. The world has slowed and turned inward, and so have I.

Have I bought more turtleneck sweaters, sheet masks and paperback books than anyone needs this season? Yes, probably. I have also been voraciously consuming anything that nourishes me or makes me laugh, from podcasts and cookbooks to time with friends and family in other cities. I have Marie Kondo’d my entire home and loved on my dog even more than usual. Through these things, I have been healing. Because if nothing else, embracing your inner Wintrovert is a cyclical prescription to help mend a year’s worth of fractures.

It’s going to be a great 2019, I can feel it.

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Click Your Heels Three Times
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I’m never not on the hunt for something cool and Southern-bred: these chic loafers ($388) were conspired in Charleston by photographer and designer Amanda Greeley, then handmade in Italy from genuine leather. I love the Flame color in particular, it’s got a certain nonchalance that with the lift of a slight heel, might make it the perfect wear-everywhere fall shoe. Hey fancy feet, wanna get out of here?

Sneaking Away to Cashiers

Last week, I met up with some buds in Cashiers, North Carolina who were taking part in the Cashiers Historical Society’s Designer Showhouse. If you’re not sure what that is, it basically means a bunch of interior designers each take over one space in a roomy home and flex their decorating skills… which makes for some major #inspo. My friend Mindy and I camped out at the gloriously serene Chattooga Club, where, after a quick drink at Bear Bar with our friend Elizabeth, we stayed in the Orchard Suite and had fireplace girl gab in hotel robes with a bottle (or two…) of wine. If you are ever there for breakfast, try the eggs Chattooga — they won me over with the addition of a little UGA caviar. (See? #Fancy.)

I want to pause for a second on the topic of our friend Elizabeth White Cook. She spearheaded the Showhouse this year in tandem with her teammate Sarah Slaughter and the internal Historical Society folks and, in my opinion, really put a waning event back on the map. It was all I saw on Instagram for a full week — I was having FOMO, and I was there! If you have a small business and you are in need of a kind, attentive publicist to advocate for your company to the media, I really could not suggest any better team than her own at Domino Media Group. I know Elizabeth as both a client and a friend. She just goes above and beyond in all that she does, and I think that deserves attention.

A view from the interior porch of the Chattooga Club. Photo: jessgraves.com

A view from the interior porch of the Chattooga Club. Photo: jessgraves.com

I confess that I’m not the world’s hugest interior design geek, so while I enjoyed taking in all the beautiful rooms, earmarking lots of ideas for my own place, my favorite part was playing art “eye spy” — the house was full of vivid paintings and pottery from Atlanta friends like Kerry Hays and Paige Follman. (Both are worth your insta-follow, by the way… I’ve noted a handful of other folks I like following at the bottom of the newsletter.)

I think I had the most fun inside the Vendor Village. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the years or follow me on Instagram, you might know I love hunting for (and loving on) talented artisans, painters and makers — especially those making their living in the South. So it was a real joy to reacquaint myself with some familiar faces… like Mini Hay, who was a fourth-generation staffer at the beloved King Street jeweler Croghan’s in Charleston. Many moons ago, my friend Christie Doss was the in-house publicist for an online marketplace called Taigan. Taigan is a transcendent place. It’s positively teeming with incredible things you’d never find elsewhere. Back then, Mini’s line of “Goldbug" jewelry (a sweet riff on Charleston’s prevalent “Palmetto” bugs) was on the site, and Christie put them on my radar. Ashlyn Stallings ended up writing a beautiful story for The Love List that we published ages ago which you can still read. Mini is an accomplished designer who has since expanded her Goldbug line a great deal since we wrote it up, go take a look and see for yourself.

Mollie Jenkins Pottery was a favorite of the Cashiers Designer Showhouse vendors. Photo: jessgraves.com

Mollie Jenkins Pottery was a favorite of the Cashiers Designer Showhouse vendors. Photo: jessgraves.com

A little deeper into the Vendor Village, a handful of other things I thought you all might like to know about: we visited with our buddy Mallory Jones who, in collaboration with a handful of eclectic painters, makes really beautiful Italian silk scarves under the line Rinnovo Studio. We had a quick chat with the Sea Island Forgefolks (I seriously covet those kettles) and super-cool ceramicist Mollie Jenkins, and then got a peek at the colorful stock of skins at Blair’s Belts. On the way out, stacks of denim from Midheaven, made exclusively with tall women in mind, which thrilled me, because I can never find jeans long enough. (SOML.) I earmarked a pair for fall.

Before heading out of town, we made the mandatory stop at Cashiers Farmer’s Market. Mindy bought a brown bag of juicy late-season peaches, some of them the size of baseballs. Kinda jealous of that snag tbh. Among other things, I grabbed two enormous, perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, which I cooked in a dead-simple Mark Bittman puttanesca and served over angel hair. Y’all. Those things were insanely good. I honestly don’t know why people bother with tomatoes any other time of year, you can’t fake a ripe, in-season Southern tomato grown from a wise seed. (Sorry Ina, in this case, if you cannot find, store-bought will not do.)

I’ve got two chicken carcasses in an Instant Pot that I need to tend to (stock-o-clock!), so I’ll leave it here. Talk next week?