Free Books!

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 Old cookbookswhere 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 andBooks 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 Was there ever a greater collection of (used and possibly outdated) media textbooks?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.

I Feel Pretty … Oh So Pretty — I (Finally) Learn about Makeup

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 … ???

‘Hunger Games’ food

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?

In Which We Demonstrate How Everything Leads to Football This Week

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!

My Friend Bob Writes His Book!

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 thomasbo@realtracs.com. Tell him his editor sent you.

Food: The Don’t-Go-Anywhere-Near-This and the What-Are-You-Waiting-For?

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.

Can I Call Myself A Photographer Even If I Didn’t Get Paid?

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 321@earthlink.com to learn more.