This is why I am in awe of Older Daughter. It’s an experiment she set up for our almost-5-year-old grandson, also known as Capt. Adorable, sort of along the lines of a “Sid the Science Kid” investigation. (Speaking of Sid and his preschool co-horts, am I the only person who thinks Gerald will turn out to be Keith Moon‘s grandson?) Older Daughter and the Captain wondered what would happen to an egg left soaking in water and one left soaking in vinegar. They identified the hypothesis — he thought the water egg would turn into a snowball and the vinegar egg into what he logically called a lava ball (because if there’s a snowball then surely there’s a lava ball, right?). Mommy helped with the handwriting but the scientific drawings are all the Captain’s. I predict a bidding war between John Hopkins and Stanford in about 20 years.
Have you ever been to Marietta, Ga.? I’d sort of skirted around it a few times — and, of course, being a Southern well-versed in my Confederate history, when I hear “Marietta” I also hear the sounds of Sherman’s invasion (they’re still peeved about that, you know) and the Great Locomotive Chase. But now I’m adding this town to my list of food destinations, starting with the Marietta Diner, which is only a “diner” in the sense that people go there to eat. It’s a large, noisy, family-friendly, food-abundant destination. We went with friends during a recent wedding weekend in nearby Kennesaw. Don had been there before and suggested we try it, although he couldn’t really describe the place. “It’s big,” he said, helplessly. “There’s a lot of food.” I wish I’d listened to him before I ordered pan-fried feta cheese in lemon butter for the table as an appetizer, although it was so good that I’m not sorry at all. Then came soup. And salad. And squares of spinach pie. (I can’t spell “spanakopita.”) And bread. And THEN came the entrees you ordered oh-so-long-ago when you first thought you were hungry. (All this, I might add, while in sight of tempting cakes, cookies and other desserts staring at you from the bakery section. Ouch.) I got kabobs because USUALLY that translates into a smaller and more manageable dish. But …. no. All you need to know is that the Marietta Diner is one of Guy Fieri’s top “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” I believe that about sums it up. Also, Alton Brown and his family reportedly live in Marietta. Although I didn’t spot him at the diner, I have the feeling that in public he sort of blends in and you would only notice him in passing and think “Who’s that geeky looking guy who forgot to shave?” Stay tuned for another Marietta post about the biggest, most gigantic and most huge liquor/wine/beer store I have ever seen in my life. And that’s saying something.
Remember that TV show on TLC called “While You Were Out“? Folks would send their unsuspecting loved ones out of town for a couple of days and then have a designer and crew (and TV cameras, of course) come in to redo a room. It aired from 2002 to 2006, and my two then high-school- and college-age daughters and I watched every episode. (Side note No. 1: We three got to meet the ultimate WYWO cast of cutie-pie Evan Farmer, super-hunk Andrew Dan-Jumbo and empowered-funny-woman Leslie Segrete when they filmed an episode in Birmingham, Ala., and I covered it for my newspaper.) The combination of designing, redecorating, renovating, keeping a secret and sneaking around, all in front of millions of TV viewers, was irresistible. (Side note No. 2: My daughters, along with Older Daughter’s now-husband, even did a WYWO on husband JP and me. While we were honeymooning after our 2004 wedding, they redid my bedroom from “divorced single mom” to “sophisticated power couple.” Using a gorgeously colored wine theme, they repainted, repositioned furniture, brought in wine accents and even replaced my grungy nightstands with super-cute wine-rack tables that we still use.) And even though he wasn’t nearly as huge a fan as we were, my husband pulled a WYWO on me while I was
enjoying some cat-free mornings spending a few days out-of-town. First, when I got home, I immediately noticed that the house was clean — probably much cleaner than when I’d left. And since we have four cats, a clean house takes some work. When I complimented my husband, he admitted he’d discovered the secret of housecleaning: Do some every day so it doesn’t pile up into one big mess. I was so proud! Second, I noticed he’d replenished my supply of my favorite gum — adorable! Then, he proudly showed me our mailbox, which now sported our house number. “I thought it was about time,” he said, “since we’ve lived here for almost two years and sometimes the mail folks still can’t find us.” A clean house, my favorite gum and a properly identified address would have been enough, but toward the end of the evening, he finally couldn’t take it anymore and said in exasperation, “Aren’t you going to go in the guest bathroom tonight?” Turns out he’d put up my birthday present from this past year — a funky and wonderful blue-painted mirror made from recycled wood that we’d left leaning against the wall for months while we wondered if it were too heavy to hang. So far, it’s not. Also: I have the best husband in the world.
Two words: “Blue food.” That is what we’ll all be eating in the future, says Jack White, of both Pulaski, Tenn., and Los Angeles. And he should know about food and the future, since he’s the one who created the dystopian feasts in the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games.” White, food stylist to the stars in 75 feature movies during the past 20 years, was in Florence, Ala., — home of his alma mater, the University of North Alabama — sharing “Hunger Games” and food-styling insight with an appreciative crowd
of District 12 supporters. “All I know is that if you want futuristic food, make it blue,” he said, laughing. “For some reason, movie folks go crazy over blue food.” Also, apparently quail eggs will be big in the future, too, so start buying quail-egg stock immediately. Showing photos of the Hunger Games food in the making, White gave us insider information from the secret world of movie-making. For instance, every item of food has to be edible in case the director spontaneously wants the actors to eat — and this random going off-schedule, off-script and off-budget is what makes White’s job stressful anxiety-producing tons of fun since he starts working on food details MONTHS in advance. Plus, he has to produce multiple and identical items for each food scene — the single loaf of bread you see on screen has 74 exact copies nearby, waiting for stardom with the next take. And the next one … and the next one … and the … And, yes, it bothers him when scenes he spent days and $$$$ on are cut. “But I get my paycheck either way,” he said, with a grin. And, no, actors don’t actually eat the food. “At least the older, seasoned actors don’t,” White said. “The new, young actors will dive right in when they’re supposed to eat in a scene and they’ll really enjoy the food, and then the older actors will say, ‘Well, good. Now you’ve got to do the same thing 100 times today.” Dustin Hoffman, he added, usually has a fork in his hand or an empty fork coming from his mouth when he’s supposed to eat but arely actually chews and swallows. (And now I’m going to wander through “Tootsie” and check this.) Other tips from White include 1) use Israeli couscous as a good all-round basic food (it takes colors, it’s blandly pleasant tasting and it shoots well), 2) use olive oil to clean the soot off your smoked suckling pig. (Who knew?) and 3) to amaze and delight your friends, make tiny cuts in the whole cooked fish you’re serving, loosen the bones and then put it all back together for seemingly effortless fish-deboning at the table. I also learned that I really need a food stylist every day in my own kitchen, but I’m guessing that’s not going to happen. Oh, well. White spoke at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, which also was hosting its second Edible Books Festival. And, of course, one of the entries was a “Hunger Games” cake, from one of my favorite bakeries, Yummies, in Tuscumbia. Don’t you love it when cake and books and movies collide?
As soon as I re-remember how to download photos from my new iPhone to my laptop (stupid technology!), I’ll share photos of Grandson Nolan’s fourth birthday — because that’s what we proud grandmas do and we don’t really care how many adorable children you see today because we know our grandbabies are the adorablest. So there. In the meantime, though, I want to brag on my adopted home of the Shoals, in northwest Alabama. This little corner of the state has produced probably more Very Important Folks than any other two-county area anywhere. From Glencoe, the 1840s stallion from whom practically all thoroughbreds are descended, to politicians, musicians, writers, engineers, athletes, designers, actors, humanitarians and real-life heroes through the years, the Shoals is known for its talented, determined and creative people. Take the “The Hunger Games,” for instance. We’ve got four — count ’em, four — connections to this blockbuster hit movie. Muscle Shoals’ favorite duo Secret Sisters sings one of the most haunting songs on the soundtrack; Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars, half of which is Florence resident and University of North Alabama graduate John Paul White, has two tunes (one with Taylor Swift); UNA grad and middle Tennessean Jack White (no, not THAT Jack White) was the food stylist and UNA culinary student James Perini was the food-stylist assistant. Now, if only I’d been the one to figure out the next must-read young-adult fiction series, it would all be perfect. What about young wizards who are picked for a fight-to-the-death reality TV show? Or a mysterious castle that’s also a school for angsty teen vampires and a sullen but conflicted Alan Rickman? Or maybe …
Happy New Year! Even though the Tournament of Roses parade (and I guess a football game?) isn’t on until tomorrow so it really doesn’t feel like New Year’s morning, this is the first day of 2012. So far I’ve celebrated by (thinking about) a healthy breakfast and (thinking about) doing an exercise DVD, so I count that as a successful year so far. And since we”d already enjoyed the big-city lights of Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend, husband JP and I stayed home for the New Year’s Eve countdown. We chased some screw-top bubbly wine we’d unaccounatably found in the back of the fridge with some yummy Christmas chocolates, threw glitter out on the front porch and alternated being horrified by the (literal) spectre of a propped-up spray-tanned Dick Clark and being sympathetic with the Mobile, Alabama, TV hosts trying to make the anti-climatic Moon Pie drop and the lackluster crowd seem somehow festive. It’s a tough job. Bye-bye, 2011. You brought us adventures, opportunities, a boy grandbaby and much love and joy. However, you also brought us a few tears, fears and heart-stopping moments. Overall, though, you were pretty balanced. Here’s to 2012 — and we’re eating as many black-eyed peas as we can today.