Sid James Nakhjavan savors weekends at country home in Gold Hill

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Photo by Ann Cipperly

by Ann Cipperly

While most people know Sidney James Nakhjavan as a sophisticated career woman who has traveled the globe, on weekends she can be found in her ancestral heartland, Gold Hill, where her family were among the first settlers 170 years ago. Instead of a suit, Sid dons yoga pants and a hunting vest to gather eggs from her chickens and cook fresh meats and vegetables with herbs from the garden.

The daughter of Dora James and the late Cal James Sr., Sid grew up in Opelika and cherishes memories of visiting her grandparents, Rebecca and Fob James Sr., in Gold Hill. She remembers fishing with her grandparents and enjoying delicious meals.

After graduating from Opelika High School, Sid earned an undergraduate degree from Emory University, following in her mother’s footsteps. Sid majored in international studies with minors in French and history. She studied for a summer in France, and during her last year at Emory, she interned at the Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta.

“In college, I discovered the world as a fascinating place,” says Sid, “and that we are global citizens even in rural Alabama.” She stayed in Atlanta for a few years working at Emory in alumni affairs and fundraising.

Once she decided to pursue a career in higher education, Sid attended Johns Hopkins University, receiving a master’s of liberal arts with concentrations in 19th century romantic music and African-American literature.

“At that point in my life,” says Sid, “I began reflecting on my youth. Things I loved growing up were heavily influenced by my parents, grandparents on both sides and Gold Hill.

“My studies in music and my love for African-American literature trace back to Gold Hill. I grew up going to Gold Hill and hearing family stories about ancestors from Oakbowery and Gold Hill and their love of music and local heritage.  It is my heartland — my loveland.  This heritage is real to me and a reflection of honest, hardworking, diverse, and genuine people.”

In her final days at Johns Hopkins, Sid came home one weekend and unintentionally interviewed with the late Gordon Bond, then dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn.

“I had no intention of moving back home,” remembers Sid. “My next stop was going to be New York, but instead I came home. I was 29 and single, thinking what in the world am I doing moving back to Alabama?”

She moved home in January 1994 to begin work as the first development officer in the College of Liberal Arts. She was eager to make a difference, as the college was starting to raise funds for the art museum.

Two and a half years later her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “We knew as the disease progressed that things were going to be challenging,” adds Sid.

Prior to his illness, her father had evolved from Diversified Products to owning a car dealership. Sid left her position at Auburn to work in the family business to help through the transition. The family sold it and closed a year later on the anniversary of his funeral.

“I learned that no matter what your values are that they apply to every situation in life,” says Sid. “Our values are family, love and putting others first. We wanted to buffer the tragedy from other people. We did everything we could to take care of the people working with us.”

In September 1997, following the sale of the dealership, the late Dean Tom Reagan from the College of Architecture, Design and Construction offered her a position. During that time, she met her husband, Behzad Nakhjavan, who is professor and chair of architecture.

They were married in September 1999 at the Gold Hill United Methodist Church, and have a son, Ari.

In 2004, an opening in Auburn’s College of Human Sciences caught Sid’s attention.  Seeking to transition from a seven-year period in pharmaceutical sales, she accepted a position as the professional staff liaison for the Women’s Philanthropy Board (WPB). Her mother Dora was a founding member of WPB.

Under her leadership, the WPB has grown to nationally recognized levels and has inspired multiple programs with similar missions.  All of these programs are located in the Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies.  And these programs impact hundreds of people annually and feature outstanding speakers, including Knight Kiplinger, Nancy Lopez and Laura Bush.

“Everything in my world goes back to our values of family, love and building up people,” says Sid. “I am very blessed that in every aspect of my life, I manifest my family’s values.”

With Sid’s success, her love of Gold Hill has never left. After leaving the Cary Center at the end of the day, she takes the long route home, driving through the rolling hills of her ancestral homeland. On weekends, Sid and her family spend time at their country haven.

Sid’s great-great-grandparents, Nathaniel Minns and Rebecca McCurdy Robertson, moved to Gold Hill in the 1850s from Oakbowery and gave the land for the church in which she married and the one room school house where her grandmother attended elementary school.  Her other great-great-grandparents, George Washington Ellington and Mary Burden Ellington moved to Gold Hill in the 1870’s.  Their home remains standing today.

Her great-grandparents, Sue Reese Robertson and Calvin Sidney Ellington, both from Gold Hill, had a daughter, Rebecca Ellington James who married Forrest Hood “Fob” James Sr. Her late father, Calvin Ellington James, and Sid are namesakes for Calvin Sidney Ellington.

After all of her travels, Sid feels there is no place more beautiful anywhere in the world than Gold Hill.  Three years ago she updated their home there. While her husband cooks during the week, Sid prepares meals on weekends, using vegetables and herbs from the garden and eggs from her 13 laying hens.

Fresh meats, chicken and vegetables are her favorites. Persian omelets are popular for brunch using fresh eggs from the hens and herbs from her gardens.  Entertaining in Gold Hill dates back almost two centuries and in her down time, Sid carries on her family’s love of serving delicious food.

With her dog Lillie Belle by her side, Sid gathers indigenous greenery and wild flowers from the fields and uses fabric remnants to decorate for guests.  Tables are arranged in front of the lake, forming an idyllic setting for entertaining.

“When I am in Gold Hill,” says Sid, “I feel I at home and close to my ancestors, grandparents and Dad. My son is the seventh generation from Gold Hill, and his best friend is his cousin, also a seventh generation Gold Hillian.

“I am always honored to uphold and respect my family’s legacy,” adds Sid, “and to do it in my ancestral heartland is especially meaningful.

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Recipes:

Seasoned With Herbs, Fresh Foods and Love in the Heartland
Menu
Appetizer
Fresh cheese tray
Main Course
Pot Roast
Rice
French Baguette
Caper Sauce
Desert
Fresh Berries

Fresh Cheese Tray and Figs
Arrange assorted fresh cheeses such as Brie, Roquefort, chevre and Boursin on tray. Garnish with red and white grapes, rosemary and fresh mint. Serve with fresh figs (when in season), and crackers.

Pot Roast with Fresh Vegetables and Herbs
3-4 lb. brisket of beef or roast
Beef stock, fresh or canned, or water to cover (about 2 quarts)
4 large carrots, scraped and cut into bite sized pieces
3 ribs of celery, sliced and cut into bite sized pieces
8-10 small yellow potatoes, scraped and cut into bite sized pieces
1-3 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme minced
1 bay leaf
1 leek, trimmed, split, and well rinsed to remove all dirt and sand
12 peppercorns
Salt to taste
Fresh rosemary
Fresh sage
Place beef in a large Dutch oven or pan. Add beef stock or water to cover. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 to 4 hours or until meat is fork tender.
Remove the meat, slice it, and arrange on large platter with vegetables placed around beef. Remove bay leaf. Garnish with fresh rosemary and sage. Serve warm with rice and French baguette. Serves 10-12.

Sauce for Pot Roast
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup beef broth or broth from beef
2 Tbsp. or more drained bottled capers
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat butter in a 3-4 cup saucepan. When butter is melted, add flour. Stir with a wire whisk and when blended add broth, stirring vigorously and constantly. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or longer.
Add 2 Tbsp. or more of drained, bottled capers just before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with beef. Yields 1 cup.

Fresh Berries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint blackberries
1 pint raspberries
1 pint whipping cream
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pineapple sage
Fresh mint
Wash berries thoroughly, combine in a large serving bowl and place in refrigerator to chill. Whip cream until thickened. Place in bowl and garnish with cinnamon, fresh mint and pineapple sage.

Menu
Appetizer
Pimento Cheese and Fresh Vegetables
Main Course
T Lish’s Sweet Garlic Grilled Chicken
Roasted Vegetables
Dilled New Potatoes
Dessert
Key Lime Pie

Pimento Cheese and Fresh Vegetables
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Colby Cheese
2 (4 oz.) jars diced pimento peppers, drained
½ jar (16 oz.) mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste
Fresh carrots, celery stalks, red and yellow peppers
In a medium bowl, combine Cheddar cheese, Colby cheese, pimentos, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Add Tabasco sauce as desired.
Mix well and serve with fresh carrots, celery stalks, and sliced red, green and yellow peppers. Note: This dish may be prepared the day prior to the occasion.

T Lish’s Sweet Garlic Grilled Chicken
Tiffany Denson, Founder, T Lish Dressings
4-8 boneless breasts of skinless chicken
1-2 bottles T. Lish Sweet Garlic Dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
Cast iron grill pan
Wash chicken and remove visible fat. Place chicken breasts in a large zipper seal bag. Pour dressing over chicken. Seal and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Brush inside of skillet with vegetable oil or smear with solid vegetable shortening. Place over medium high heat until skillet is very hot. Add chicken and let sit, undisturbed, until chicken releases from the pan and has the level of desired grill marks – about ten minutes.
Flip chicken and repeat until fully cooked. Check to ensure chicken is cooked thoroughly and no longer pink in the center.

Roasted Fresh Vegetables
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups cremini mushrooms
2 cups chopped butternut squash
1 zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 yellow squash, sliced and quartered
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, or more, to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray. Place broccoli florets, mushrooms, butternut squash, zucchini, squash, bell pepper and onion in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet.
Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and thyme; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Gently toss to combine. Place into oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until tender. Baking time may need to be adjusted depending on the thickness of the vegetables. Serve immediately.

Dilled New Potatoes
24 tiny new potatoes
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) sweet butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Scrub potatoes and dry. Melt butter in a heavy flameproof casserole with a tight-fitting cover. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Coat with butter.
Cover and cook over low heat for 30 – 45 minutes. Shake casserole occasionally. Potatoes are done when they can be pierced with a tip of a sharp knife. Toss with dill and serve immediately.

Key Lime Pie
For crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 Tbsp. sugar
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well. Then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate. Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.
For Filling:
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly). Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.
For Topping:
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
Just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream.

Brunch Menu
Persian Omelette
Sister Schubert’s Cinnamon Rolls and Sausage Wrap Rolls
Assorted breads and preserves
Fresh Bacon
Conecuh County Sausage
Milk and Assorted Juices
Percolated Coffee

Persian Omelette
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 green onions, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 oz. baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
9 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half
1 cup Greek yogurt, for serving, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil and butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until simmering. Add red onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the green onions and garlic and cook for 2 minutes longer.
Stir in the spinach; cook until the leaves begin to wilt. Add chives, cilantro, parsley and dill and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Take skillet from the heat.
Beat the eggs, milk and some pepper in a blender low speed for about 30 seconds. Pour eggs over the veggie mixture. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake until the omelette is just set and lightly golden brown on top, 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool on a baking rack for 5 minutes, then place a large platter over the top of the skillet and flip the omelette onto the platter, bottom-side up. Slice into wedges and top with a dollop of yogurt, if desired

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