I love it when folks who love good food and good wine give parties, ’cause we all know we’re in for a treat. Now, don’t get me wrong. “Party” to me pretty much means a bag of Ruffles and a container of french onion dip. After all, what else do you need? But if somebody’s going to all the trouble of planning something special, then I’m thrilled to get an invite. Such as my friend Sarah’s 60th birthday party, which was at a local wine shop with food from a great local restaurant. Sarah is a former caterer and a fantastic cook and knows her wines, so all guests were looking forward to a memorable evening — which we got, and then some. The food, from Sweet Magnolia Cafe, featured a Cajun flair with deconstructed muffalettas and the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. Ever. The fruit and chocolate cupcakes were extra yummy, and the Wine Seller folks had appropriate wines ready for everything you could eat. It was the perfect party, made even better by the fact that my fear of knocking over a wine-bottle display proved groundless. It even inspired me to dream big — maybe for the next party at our house, I’ll add a bag of Cheetos. Baby steps, you know. Baby steps.
Happy spring! Saturday, March 20 marked the arrival of this much-anticipated season. Most years by now in my northwest-Alabama northeast-Mississippi southern-middle-Tennessee corner of the South, we’ve already had several gorgeous spring days. But 2010? Not so much. That’s why everybody who saw it loved this spring-like tablescape at a recent book-signing with author and columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson. It was a typical gray and cool and wet day, but the folks at ColdWater Books in Tuscumbia, Alabama, outdid themselves with these sweet and delightful touches of spring. I love the gentle pop of colors in the blue-and-white print tablecloth, the pink punch and the yellow flowers. And aren’t you impressed with that huge pottery bowl holding ice and water bottles? When I first saw it, I was thinking $300 or more handmade one-of-a-kind creation. But no. It’s a $30 planter from Lowe’s. Sweet! Just make sure the one you buy doesn’t have a hole for water drainage, and you’re good. And here’s another good idea: Buy Johnson’s new book, Enchanted Evening Barbie & the Second Coming: A Memoir. It’s Johnson at her best — funny, smart, insightful and a tad wistful. The book-signing was the first time I’d met her, and if you ever get the chance to meet her, too, take it. She was so gracious and friendly — a real delight. And if you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy of Johnson’s previous book, Poor Man’s Provence. It’s about the second home she and her late husband, Don Grierson, created for themselves in Cajun Louisiana. But be warned: It will make you want to drive down there to see it for yourself. Spring-break road trip, anybody?
We all know that one of the best parts about Cajun Country is Cajun food. When some friends and I spent this past weekend in Mississippi and in Lake Charles, Louisiana, we did our best to sample as much Cajun cooking as possible. One of our favorite spots was Pujo Street Cafe in downtown Lake Charles, where we had lunch and took refuge during a Saturday afternoon downpour — and then enjoyed ourselves so much that we didn’t want to leave. The New Orleans-style cafe is one of those successful downtown-renovations — the building used to be a drugstore and apparently was the town gathering spot. Thanks to a fresh and innovative menu, delightful decor and friendly and helpful service, I can see why it still is. Pujo has a light and airy sidewalk courtyard and inside it features intriguing local art work on the exposed brick walls. And the food? Let’s just say we didn’t leave much behind. One of my friends raved about her Shrimp Angel pasta, and I refused to share any of my Oysters Pujo — pecan-crusted fried oysters with spinach and gouda cheese. Check out Pujo Street Cafe yourself at http://pujostreet.com.