Lunch

DSCN2579No, this is not what I’m planning for lunch today. Because that would be silly. You don’t indulge in this much rich & yummy frosted baked goodness for your mid-day meal. These gems from Sweet Treats Bakery, in Tupelo, Miss., strictly are breakfast items. (Note No. 1: Actually, lunch today is a leftover half of the Mediterranean Veggie Flatbread Sandwich from City Hardware in downtown Florence, Ala., home of the only balcony dining on Court Street. Note No. 2: I wouldn’t actually eat ALL of this for breakfast. Some crumbs would remain. And Note No. 3: Both of these places are locally owned and locally managed eateries that serve fresh & flavorful food accompanied by friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes. Highly recommended — and that’s a completely unsolicited and un-paid-for recommendation.)

Keep (Small) Shopping

We’ve had Black Thursday Night Friday, where we spent all day fighting crowds and staking out parking spots at the mall. Coming up is Cyber Monday, where we hit multiple “submit order” buttons while watching out for the boss’s signature sneaky walk-arounds. But the best day of all is today: Small Business Saturday, sponsored by American Express and promoted by the Small Business Administration and The 3/50 Project. If your skin is dried out and your eyes are watering from all the florescent lighting you couldn’t get away from yesterday and your sinuses are protesting all the perfume samples sprayed your way, head to the nearest hometown downtown  this morning. You will find friendly local folks who sincerely are glad you stepped into their stores and will make you feel welcome and valued. You’ll meet your neighbors. You’ll talk to visitors. And you’ll find everything you need for a memorable holiday 2012. Look, I enjoy a mall crawl as much as anybody. Sometimes you just need a Cinnabon and The Gap and disinterested employees who are paid too little for too much work to care whether you buy anything or not. Nothing wrong with that, at all. The thing is that shopping downtown with your local retailers is a different experience — it’s somehow more satisfying, as if you’re doing something good and helpful.  That’s how I felt, anyway, when I spent my Black Friday wandering around my downtown of Corinth, Miss., where I spent a little bit of or maybe some or maybe a pretty good chunk found great gifts for lots of folks on my list and perhaps a whole big bunch a few things for myself. Highlights: The fun and funky decor and jewelry at the newly opened Baxter & Me and the wearable style and creative embellishments at women’s boutique Andi Grace. I also went to the bank, the dry cleaner’s, the alterations shop, a jewelry store for a couple of repairs, the library, the coffee shop and the museum; had conversations on sidewalks; waved and smiled to tons of folks; and enjoyed brownies made and sold by the young niece of one of the store owners — all in three or four hours and a couple of blocks from the house. And to prove my dedication to supporting the local economy, I’m showing you my shopping results — without revealing specific contents. Remember — no peeking until Dec. 25!

It’s Still Fall, Y’all

This is why I love my town of Corinth, Miss.: There is a gorgeous house literally on every corner. I was walking around recently in that lovely winter-is-on-its-way autumn twilight — which, this being Mississippi, means a drop in temperature from 95 degrees to 50-something — and found myself in front of this home. The combination of the scrolling black iron fence with the soft orange decor against the darkening sky was a perfect Halloween moment, even if this was a couple of days past Oct. 31. I’ll take it, though.  And of course I want to know how the gourds in the urns on either side of the door remain perfectly stacked: Glue? Gravity? Zenful balance? This being Corinth and Mississippi, I probably could simply walk up the steps and knock on the door and ask. But I think I’ll preserve the mystery.

You Say “Tomato Head,” I say “Let’s Go!”

Who doesn’t love a quirky hometown pizza place, especially if you value creative menus, local flavors and non-corporate atmospheres? Husband JP and I have several favorites scattered around, although we still mourn the loss of Tomato Tomato in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where we first encountered the trend of naming pizzas for streets and thus enjoyed eating our way through the downtown ‘Boro. Luckily, Younger Daughter introduced us to another Tennessee pizza place that quickly moved toward the top of our list: The Tomato Head, in downtown Knoxville. Of course you’ve got yummy pizza (and appetizers and burittos and salads and sandwiches and …) and good local beer in a funky and hip (without that annoying “-ster” addition) setting. Those things are required. But The Tomato Head goes further — it’s created its own Tomato Head culture. The owner and staff support local art, music and poetry. They recycle. They use as many responsibly grown local and/or organic ingredients as possible. They make their own dressings, desserts and breads. They opened their own bakery, The Flour Head, which supplies a local school with fresh and nutritious baked goods for lunch. This is local pizza at its best.

Does Every Good Food Idea Start in Asheville, N.C.?

 Tupelo Honey Cafe, a restaurant native of Asheville, N.C., is taking its first step in world domination with its first non-Asheville location opening this weekend in pedestrian-friendly Market Square in Knoxville, Tenn. But in this case, world domination is a good thing: Tupelo Honey Cafe focuses on organic, local, hormone-free and good-for-you made-just-for-you fresh food. Check out especially the pecan pie, goat-cheese grits, tomato soup, pimento cheese and black-bean cakes. Grand opening is 11 a.m. Monday. You probably should go now to get in line.

Paris, France, by way of Knoxville, Tennessee

I never have been to France and have no knowledge of French-ness whatsoever, but a recent visit to the French Market Créperie in downtown Knoxville, Tenn., seemed like a European-Parisian-non-American sort of experience — albeit slightly tarnished by discovering the guy behind the counter was from our non-French town of Tupelo, Miss. But, still. The menu features crepes, salads and baguette and croissant sandwiches, but  the star attractions are the crepes. So yummy! So fun! My buckwheat crepes with goat cheese and walnuts were unbelievably delicious. (I’d never had a buckwheat crepe, but you get a substantial and slightly sweet and nutty flavor which holds up well to most fillings.) My cappuccino was prepared perfectly, and we all practically licked our plates to get every last crepe crumb. The decor was rockin’ a French vibe, too, with all sorts of fleur-de-lis, Eiffel Tower and bicycle references. Again, I have no idea what a real French cafe in the real France is like, but the French Market’s adorable bistro chairs and sidewalk tables combined with French honey, petit fours and macaroons for sale will make you start throwing “s’il vous plait”s around and talking about Victor Hugo just for the heck of it. Actually, all I know about Victor Hugo comes from seeing “Les Misérables” on stage about a dozen times — which is to say that I know nothing about Victor Hugo and France equally. But I do know good food and good times — and you can find both at Knoxville’s French Market. Dites-leur que Catherine de “Café avec Cathy” que vous avez envoyé. (Thank you, Google Translate!)

Cookies? Butter? Sugar? Yes, Please

You know you’ve been lazy and bloggy-averse when even your mom tells you to update your page.  So … yes, ma’am. Here you go. Plus, since I’m sitting here watching the “Dancing with the Stars” folks be all healthy and active, I really should do something equally energetic. Like blogging. (What, by the way, is the deal with these half points? Is this allowed in Mirrorballus Land?) Speaking of “healthy,” run as fast as you can to your nearest Trader Joe’s and buy a jar of Cookie Butter. (You also can order it online, but you’ll want to balance your intake of this incredibly delicious and addictive spread with as much running as you can manage.) This gift from the Angels of Yummy is exactly what it says: cookies mashed up into creamy buttery spreadable goodness. It’s like peanut butter without the peanuts. (Or butter either, actually.)  The “Speculoos” on the label refers to a kind of Scandinavian/French thin gingerbread-like shortbread-type of cookie. Also, the word “sugar” is mentioned four times in the Cookie Butter ingredient list: Sugar syrup, plain ol’ sugar twice and — my favorite — candy sugar. Candy. Sugar. Candy sugar! Topped off with sugar, sugar AND sugar. What could be better? Cookie Butter melts insanely lusciously into pancakes, waffles, muffins, biscuits and other warm-from-the-oven treats. Or spread it on graham crackers, ginger snaps, vanilla wafers or whatever you’ve got handy.  In the store, the 11-ounce jar is less than $4. The nutrition label has a lot of zeros on it — for vitamins, calcium and iron. But don’t let the rest of the label lull you into thinking “this really isn’t that bad.” Sure, it says only 90 calories and 6 grams of fat in a serving, which as we all know is half the stats of other nut butters. But, wait. The Cookie Butter serving size is 1 tablespoon, which also is half of other nut butters. Sorry about that. Worth it, though!

Friends Bearing Presents

Presents! I love presents! Particularly the unexpected kind — the kind that somebody gives you just because & for no reason, the kind that make you feel special because somebody thought of you and went to the trouble to do something for you. Such as that wonderful little box of “Pocket Espresso To Go.” A friend and her husband, who are enthusiastic travelers, found these adorable little packets of espresso AND chocolate in Italy and brought one back for me. I especially am tickled with the coffee pitcher on the package — it seems so … Italian! I also received a trio of some of my favorite things when I helped host a wedding shower for a friend’s daughter. Are hostess gifts a Southern thing? It’s times like this when my native non-Southerness comes out because I always forget about hostess gifts and then when I receive one I’m thrilled and surprised and then of course I mentally run through all the times I should have given hostess gifts and I wonder, “Did I?” Anyway, our mother-of-the-bride friend is a gracious native Southerner and ALWAYS does the correct thing. She knows that we all are crazy about her 1) hand-knitted dish cloths, 2) homemade plum-fig jam and 2) seasoning mix made from her own dried herbs, so that’s what she gave us when we hosted a shower for her daughter. How did I end up with such sweet and thoughtful friends? (Reminder to self: Give people more presents.)

A New Olympic Sport?

You get extra points if you immediately know what this image is and what it means. Until a few weeks ago, I would have had no idea  — A new kind of container for growing tomatoes? A techno-modern jewelry holder?  An industrial-minimalist magazine organizer? Good guesses. But all wrong. The orange part depicts a basket (or “disc entrapment device”) used in playing disc golf and, since this course was in the sandy wilds of north Florida, the arrows are directing you to the next hole so that you don’t get lost and subsequently carried away/eaten by hordes of mosquitoes. Do you know anything about disc golf? I was completely clueless until I hung out with my 13-year-old nephew and his mom (my sister-in-law) and dad (my brother) during our recent family beach trip. Banish all thoughts of lazily playing Frisbee with your dog — which, by the way, is never as successful as it looks on TV — because the only thing that carefree activity has in common with competitive disc golf is you throwing something. A disc-golf family like my nephew’s travels to courses and competitions the way other families take to the road for high-level baseball or softball games. When playing a course, competitors lug around backpacks filled with a couple of dozen discs and say things such as “This mid-range one is good for a hyzer flip, or should I use an overstable disc for a low-speed right backhand fade?” Since trees are the main challenge, my nephew suggested I make my first disc-golf attempt when we reached the one hole that was in the open — although you had to throw across a 700-foot-long ravine. Luckily, my brother volunteered to climb down and retrieve my discs that barely made it … well … I’d generously say 25 feet. This is serious stuff and much, much harder than it looks. I will never smile again when the subject of disc-golf at the summer Olympics comes up.