I am such a geeky nerd. Or is it a nerdy geek? I’m not sure, but It’s whatever you are when the communications department chairman at the university where you somehow were asked to teach a media-writing class cleans out his office and leaves a big box of used books in the lobby with a “Free to good homes” sign and it’s like a mega sale at T.J. Maxx — you are THAT excited. So you pull the box over to a nearby chair and ignore the student chatter around you and delve into the treasures: “Ethics in Media Communications”! “Communicating for Results — A Guide for Business and the Professions”! “Media Flight Plan III”! Was there ever a greater collection of (used and possibly outdated) media textbooks? Strangely, I seemed to have been the only person interested in this unexpected bounty, and the department chairman walked by and whispered approvingly that I could ignore the two-to-a-customer posted limit. I cannot wait to browse through these and revel in the grownup luxury of getting to read textbooks without having to study them — and that right there, I believe, is what marks me as a nerd. And THEN, to make this day even better, my newspaper-editor husband brought home a couple of Junior League cookbooks from the food editor’s giveaway stash. Both were published in 1977, when only single women got to use their real names and everybody else got to hide behind their husbands’. The golf-themed cookbook from Augusta, Ga., is in green, of course, and features adorable golf illustrations. The hardback cookbook from Nashville is rather more posh — as Nashville believes it is — and starts with a formal-dinner menu that starts with caviar soup, which I don’t think I’ll be making but it sure is fun reading about.
Makeup always has been a mystery to me — like some sort of basic language every other female had learned while I was in Starbucks one day. If you’ve ever caught me staring intently at your face, it was because I’m trying to figure out what you did to look so good. I mean, how do you keep your eye shadow from flaking off? How do you know where to put blush? And what, exactly, am I supposed to highlight? Scary stuff. I approach buying makeup the same way I approach buying flowers for our yard: Embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, I go to the most generic store possible, avoid all helpful sales people who might ask me questions I can’t answer and hurriedly toss things in my cart based on whatever the tags say. (Part shade? Full sun? Fair skin with pink undertones?) However, while you can get away with that when it comes to our yard (Are the flowers blooming? Okay then.), when it comes to my 50-something-year-old face … not so much. I’d been vaguely dissatisfied for a few weeks when I happened to spot TV makeup artist Carmindy’s “Get Positively Beautiful” in my own bookshelves. I remembered getting it when I was in a mega bookstore a couple of years ago with the urge to BUY SOMETHING USEFUL RIGHT NOW but I couldn’t remember ever even opening it up. So I sat on the floor, paged through it and suddenly had the revelation: “I actually can do makeup. I can crack the code.” I’m not sure if it was the confident and straight-forward advice in the book (as opposed to Bobbi Brown‘s “Beauty,” which I’d bought a few years ago because everybody said she was THE makeup person for women-my-age but the book was a 400-level-class and I hadn’t even registered for Makeup 101) or if I was finally ready to learn, but suddenly it all made sense and I couldn’t wait to get started. First, I faced my pathetic makeup drawer. I ditched almost all of it: Broken blue eye shadows (That’s what you wear if you’ve got blue eyes, correct?), years-old foundations, concealers in all sorts of “colors,” dried tubes of mascara (Who can remember to close them?) and dark matte lipsticks guaranteed to last all week … or something. Then I went shopping, sticking to my generic-retailer approach for budgetary purposes. (Recognizing I was in a vulnerable state, I somehow subconsciously understood that a trip to the department-store cosmetic counter would result in a sizable dent, financial-wise.) Spending almost 30 thoughtfully intense minutes in the makeup aisle instead of my usual rushed drive-by shopping, I followed Carmindy’s advice and chose contrasting eye colors, light glossy lip colors and transparently pink cheeks. She also recommended lightweight glide-on primers and highlighters, which I’d never used. The result? I feel much more polished, feminine, prettier and put-together. The truth may be that makeup is sort of like exercise for me: Nobody may be able to tell the difference on my outside, but on my inside I sure feel better about myself. And, really, that should be all that matters. On the other hand, I had to get husband JP to help me open the L’Oreal True Match Naturale mineral blush I bought. I could not figure it out — Where does the powder come out? How do you attach the brush? He helpfully pointed out that a piece of plastic still covered the sifting holes even though I’d already removed one piece. Then he left me on my own. Carmindy … ???
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?
When it comes to bookstores, we all have our favorites. Some folks like small and cozy. Some folks like bright and airy. Some want chairs and tables for group chatting. Some want soft curl-up-by-yourself chairs. Some want a full menu of coffee, tea and munchables. Some think cups and crumbs should be banned. But no matter what your bookstore preferences, you can’t help falling in love with Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. This is the mecca of book lovers everywhere. For more than 30 years, Square Books is where you go for that quintessential bookstore experience. It’s where unknown indies and multi-million bestsellers mingle happily. It’s where you can find the titles everybody’s talking about and the ones nobody’s even noticed … yet. It’s where you can blow the budget on rare editions or fill your basket with bargains Plus, the folks at Square Books so kindly painted their stairs with practically all of my favorite things — except for “Survivor,” chocolate-covered cream-filled doughnuts and (this week) LSU. Geaux, Tigers!
When my looooongtime friend (and Aug. 2 birthday sister) Melissa met and then married a wonderful man named Bob Thomas, we all approved. He was then and is now caring, intelligent, supportive, strong and funny. He has a strong Christian faith and is absolutely and totally committed to his family. Through the years, we’ve all at one time or another had the same thought: “Gee, Bob, the things you’re saying are so wise and thoughtful. You really should write a book.” He must have read our minds because this year he finally did it. I’m telling you, you need multiple copies of this handy little self-published gem so you can give them to those men in your life who 1) need a friendly nudge, 2) need to be disabused of the notion that marriage is all about THEM or 3) need nothing at all except a “Thank you for being such a great guy.” Bob covers everything you need to know on the subject of marriage, from sex (“Clipping your toenails in bed is not good foreplay.”) to starting a family (“Never leave Wal-Mart without diapers. Don’t bother calling home to see if you need them — just buy diapers.”) to simply getting along (“Women are required to use a set number of words in a day. If it is bedtime and your wife has not used up all her words for that day, just lie back and listen intently.”). It’s all gold, believe me. And as funny as Bob is, he backs it up with authority … Biblical authority, that is. He connects everything he says with Scripture. But he does it the way that he lives his life: As a quiet but powerful testimony of faith and love. Plus, he shows great wisdom in recognizing (free and no-cost) editing talent. But I get no financial gain whatsoever from sales — except if Melissa and Bob get more money, then we girls can go out to lunch more often — so it’s entirely OK for me to demand you buy many copies of this book. You will love it. Email email@example.com. Tell him his editor sent you.
Think fried. Think crunchy. Now think onions. Doesn’t that sound as if it would be a lovely combination — sort of like fried onion rings without all that pesky finger-licking grease? That’s what I first thought when I spied these “Onion Chips” at the Fresh Market in Huntsville, Alabama, recently: “Chips made out of onions! Genius! Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?” But the answer to that question was clear after one bite: No one had done this before because it’s a horrible idea. At least this version is. You know how when you accidentally eat some of the inedible onion skin and it literally tastes like paper — paper that tastes really really bad? Imagine that in crispy form and you’ve got these onion chips. Yuck. It’s sad that somehow the concept of fried onions got messed up so badly. I couldn’t even think of anything to do with them after everybody I forced to taste them politely declined to have any more. I mean, there’s your sign, right there. I’d thought about grinding them up for breading crumbs or salad add-ons or something creative like that, but these don’t even deserve a second life.
So to offset such food awfullness, go out and buy/borrow/read/look at/check out Martha Foose’s new cookbook, “A Southerly Course.” Martha is a Mississippi native and personifies the best of the Magnolia State — open-hearted, generous, adept at storytelling, skilled in the kitchen and wrapping it all up with a wry sense of humor and an appreciation of all the cultures and heritages that make up today’s South. And the recipes are absolutely wonderful: Bacon Crackers. Sugarcane Sweet Potatoes. Honey Pear Salad. Pickled Crawfish Tails. Summertime Spaghetti Squash. Peach Shortcake. Dandelion Cracklings. And the photos! Gorgeous food close-ups using heirloom china and vintage linens combined with hometown shots of the Foose folks — Martha even reveals her messy refrigerator door — make this cookbook seem both a food-feast and a friend’s scrapbook. But “A Southerly Course” is more than a collection of user-friendly yummy recipes. Martha knows that the soul of good cooking is the love that goes into every spoonful — the sharing of good times with family and friends, the sharing of laughter around the table, the sharing of priceless memories with those you care about. Now, that is Southern cooking, Mississippi-style.
Woo-hoo! It finally happened: I got published!!! Well, sort of, anyway. But not for writing. See this book cover? Look on the far left-hand side, the second photo down, where the “3” is. See that photo of a cotton field? That photo, my friends, is mine. It came from me and my trusty beat-up old Kodak EasyShare that rattles around in my purse and usually is smeared with lipstick and coffee. The photo’s also on page 113 of the book, with my name. Spelled properly, too. Surprised? Me, too! What happened is that several months ago, I got an e-mail from someone named Sam Crowther. He said he was writing a book about growing up in Texas and needed a photo of a cotton field. He had found a blog post I’d written about cotton fields and wondered if he could use the photos. I have to admit that at first I was suspicious. Sounds like some sort of scam, right? But then I googled “Sam Crowther” and found out he’s a real person from an upstanding community-minded family and he actually did grow up in San Angelo, Texas, where his grandfather owned the hardware store. So there. I gladly gave Mr. Crowther permission to use the photos and then promptly forgot all about it, until this book arrived in the mail a few days ago, and there I am — well, my photo, anyway. I’m serious here — I totally was thrilled to see a photo I’d taken printed right there in a real live book. Amazing! Who says that blogging doesn’t actually lead to fame and fortune??? And I’m serious here, too: Mr. Crowther’s book is a fascinating read. He tells wonderful heartwarming stories of his small-town childhood and other anecdotes of his life that I’m betting you’ll relate to. E-mail him at Crowther firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
I don’t want to make light of the situation in case this actually really ever has happened to you, but a boat almost fell on me the other day and I just sort of thought that maybe you should add “falling boats” to your list of Road Hazards to Watch Out For While Driving. Along with — in my part of the world, at least — roving panthers (it’s true that the presence of panthers in our area is only a rumor — but there are those who swear it’s true), streams of tobacco juice and lazily drifting plastic Wal-Mart bags. And the thing is that the falling boat was only the beginning to a very strange 24 hours. So strange, in fact, that I had to break it up into two newspaper columns to get the whole story out. Read Part No. 1 and then go on to this past week’s column, Part No. 2. There are just some days when everybody stays away from you because it’s obvious you have somehow invoked the god of bad karma and all your friends are smart enough to take cover. Thankfully, all boats stayed firmly anchored the next day and all was well.
And here is one reason I’m so glad I’m married to my husband. I was browsing through his extensive book collection when I found his decades-old paperback copy of “The Andromeda Strain,” which I’d never read. I zipped through it that night and when he asked me later how I liked it, I shrugged. “It just sort of ended with the scientists saying the organism had evolved into something harmless and it was no big deal,” I said. “Seemed like a letdown for such an intense buildup. My husband just stared at me. “Uh,” he said, “I don’t think you read the whole book. There are a couple of pages at the end that you need to go back and look at it.” So I did, and he was right. Husbands rock!
I have to admit that I don’t know anything about Sweden beyond that Swedish muppet guy and the wonderful breakfast I order at the Original House of Pancakes in Birmingham’s Five Points that comes with powdered sugar, whipped cream and strawberries. (Now, that’s a breakfast.) Or I didn’t know anything before I got addicted to those internationally bestselling Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With …” books. If you haven’t picked these up, you’ve got to. And keep the coffee pot handy because that’s basically all they do in these books: Hack into computers, track down killers and drink endless cups of coffee. I can’t get enough. And luckily my food-loving book club read the first book in this trilogy — and extra-luckily our hostess for this meeting is our friend who specializes in creating marvelicious meals for the rest of us to enjoy. She went all out for our “Girl with the Dagon Tattoo” night and created a Swedish smorgasbord that I believe Larsson himself would have felt right at home with. We had smoked salmon, pickled herring, beets, potatoes, ligonberry preserves, pickles, cheese, sandwiches and of course coffee and cake for dessert. Oh my cookies. It was delicious, and she made us feel so special. We always nominate her for Best Hostess Ever and we threaten not to leave whenever she has us over. You’d think she’d learn, but we’re glad she hasn’t.
I was so proud of myself. Our recent yard sale had but a major dent in the household clutter, and we’d sold tons of all that stuff that sort of accumulates and nobody in the family knows why or where it came from or why somebody had to have it in the first place. Such as sure-I-can-knit-eight-Christmas-stockings supplies. And I-know-I’ll-use-these-purple-silk-flowers someday. And gotta-have cookbooks. Well … actually … we know where all those come from. Raising hand guiltily. I am a cookbook junkie. I admit it. I’m easily seduced by pretty pictures and promises of attainable culinary delight. I’m eternally optimistic, even though deep down I know I’ll never make all … uh … most … okay… any of the recipes. But somehow having the book in my possession makes it maybe perhaps possibly likely that I might someday make Peppercorn Roasted Pork with Vermouth Pan Sauce and Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream-Cheese Frosting for dessert. Maybe. Anyway, everybody — husband, children, friends — commented on how well I’d cleaned out my cookbook stash, and I was starting to believe that maybe I could be trusted to wander through a cookbook aisle once again. However, the very next weekend after our yard sale (The. Very. Next. Weekend.), we went to a friend’s yard sale and because of course the rule is that you HAVE to buy something at a friend’s yard sale, I naturally gravitated to her Table O’Books — and found these cookbook treasures. Oh, I should mention that my friend is a newspaper cookbook editor, so it’s possible that in the back of mind I thought maybe I’d find something interesting. Maybe. I mean, “Boy Eats World?” How cool is that? And “The Real Woman Cookbook” is a hoot — all feisty and sassy in the manner of Peg Bracken and Erma Bombeck. “The Fearless Chef” has some wonderful-sounding recipes, and the “Layers of Flavors” and the book about flavored oils have gorgeous inspiring photos. And I got them all for only $5. “I’ve just got to clean out all my cookbooks,” my friend said. My husband just shook his head. But the minute I create a gourmet feast from one of my new cookbooks, he’ll thank me. And I’ll sure let you know when that happens. The cooking part, I mean.