Spring breezed through the kitchen today when husband John Pitts politely wondered if perhaps I might possibly scramble him some eggs to fortify him for his wintry trek to work this morning. (I actually cook — I mean turn-the-oven-on-and-cause-pots-and-pans-to-become-dirty cook — about once a week and he’s always careful to use this one opportunity thoughtfully.) He had told me a couple of days earlier that he had brought some farm-fresh eggs home from his office and, as with most cooking-related topics, I nodded and said “Oh, that’s nice” while at the same time wondering if I could sneak yet another Amazon box past him and if it was Annalise or Frank (or maybe BOTH of them???) who killed Rebecca. You know — important stuff. But this morning, with ice creaking outside and gray snowy light filtering in and SCHOOL CANCELLED YET AGAIN, I was more than happy to do the wifely thing and cook my husband some food. And I’m glad I did, because when I opened this box of real honest-to-goodness eggs from honest-to-goodness chickens who walk around on the honest-to-goodness ground as nature intended, it was as if we time-traveled to the middle of April, with sunshine and flowers and butterflies and all things spring. Thanks, nature. We needed that.
It does exist! I’d heard rumors about sugar-free pumpkin spice syrup but had not spotted this rarely seen creation in all of my many meanderings through T.J. Maxx grocery aisles … until now. I found this lone bottle tucked away behind the vanilla and hazelnut flavors on the top shelf in the Tupelo store (which is one of my favorite T.J.s, with its smattering of good-zip-code designer finds and a truly breathtaking hair and skin-care section). Not sure if I had broken into someone’s pumpkin-spice stash or if it had inadvertently been pushed to the back, but I grabbed the pumpkin-spice and put it in my cart immediately, under the jealously watchful eyes of two other shoppers who were not as quick. Or fast. Or, perhaps, pumpkin-spice obsessed. Yeah, yeah, I know. I know that “pumpkin spice” is (brilliant) marketing and mostly has nothing to do with actual pumpkins. I know that Starbucks and other retailers have wiggled their way into my head and made me lust after cozy & rustic & warming pumpkin stuff I didn’t even know I wanted. (Candles! Lotions! Pringles!) I know that no actual real pumpkins are harmed in the making of almost everything claiming a connection to our favorite orange squash. And yet. Here I am drinking pumpkin spice coffee and eating a pumpkin spice muffin with pumpkin butter, thinking about lunch with pumpkin beer to go with pumpkin salsa and pumpkin-seed crackers. I may need an intervention. But could you wait until Christmas, please? I’ve got a bunch of pumpkin soup leftover in the fridge.
Husband JP and I were lucky enough to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Older Daughter’s in-laws, who pretty much set the standard for Southern hospitality and generosity. Not to mention incredibly good food — melt-in-your-mouth smoked turkey, Older Daughter’s signature corn casserole, homemade sourdough rolls and that broccoli salad with onions and grapes I love but never make myself were only a few of the highlights, along with JP’s favorites of deviled eggs and green-bean casserole. After we rolled ourselves away from the table, it was time for after-dinner entertainment — which, predictably, seemed to split along gender lines. Those who were planning upcoming shopping trips — this group seemed to be mostly women — settled in to scan the ads and make a schedule. Outside, another group — and this one was mostly men —
tried to outdo each other with feats of strength, skill and endurance chopped firewood from a lovely old cherry tree and fixed a balky chainsaw. But then we regrouped for a late afternoon hike. And I got to take some banana pudding home! So my Thanksgiving started out with precious grandbaby hugs and ended with a bowl of leftover goodness. Hope yours was full of love and sweetness, too.
You know how you get dressed in the morning and you think you look perfect respectable and even nice but then somehow you get a glimpse of what you REALLY look like and It Is Not Good and you wonder “Why did I think I should wear that?” Yes. You know what I’m talking about. (Un)luckily, I got this opportunity recently when I covered a corporate cooking competition for a feature story for the TimesDaily newspaper in Florence, Ala. It was a hot summery day outside but I knew it would be below freezing in the building where we’d be, so I dressed in layers — that’s me in the pink pants and white sweater, taking notes. (Also, if you wear a white jacket/sweater to a cooking thing, be prepared to answer such questions as “Excuse me, but where’s the milk?” and “Do you think we should saute or broil this?”) From the front (photo on the left), you can see that my outfit works okay. Not the most flattering, but okay. However, from a side view, you can see that I should have never left the house in this and should be condemned to watching extra reruns of “What Not To Wear.” This is what happens when you wear six layers of clothing — underwear, jeans, camisole, belt, top and white droopy sweater. Also, when you eat cupcakes for breakfast. But I mainly blame fashion.
Older Daughter and son-in-law are the most incredibly creative parents I know. I understand where my son-in-law gets that from: His parents are do-it-yourself and use-what-you-have advocates from way back. I’m not sure where Older Daughter gets it from since my idea of creativity is making peanut-butter chip instead of chocolate-chip cookies, but somehow she takes ideas from Martha Stewart and inspiration from Pinterest and, with a few fabric scraps and leftover nails, she’ll end up with something wonderful. The two of them collaborated on this fantastic backyard project that’s the talk of their neighborhood: A music station and a tunnel-maze, both made from found and recycled items. First, they collected their materials. Older Daughter hit yard sales and resale stores for the used kitchen tools that would become the musical instruments, and my son-in-law measured and cut leftover PVC pipes for the maze. They then spent much design time working out the configurations before attaching everything to the two plywood pieces they’d nailed to their fence. The buckets in between hold spatulas, whisks, spoons and other “mallets” for music-making as well as cars and balls for the maze (which also, as almost-4-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable naturally needed only 30 seconds to figure out, works great for small water balloons.) Whenever
I visit the Captain’s friends come over, I head they run straight for the backyard. Listen, I can play a mean roasting rack, accented with a really cool saucepan beat.
Have fun letting your good times roll today — whether you’re eating King Cake (watch out for that baby) or pancakes or paczki or your completely-bad-for-you pastry of choice. Of course, nothing goes better with eating rich fried sugary food than our other favorite activity: shopping. Younger Daughter and I spotted this could-be Mardi Gras wreath in Nellie Mae, an adorable boutique in downtown Tuscumbia, Ala., that’s owned by classmates of Older Daughter. And that sort of threw me. I mean, I’m used to my children’s friends being old enough to check my teeth and fill my prescriptions and give me speeding tickets, but buying clothes and jewelry from people I used to chaperon on field trips takes some getting used to. (Stay tuned for more Nellie Mae photos and other downtown-Tuscumbia finds — so cute!)
As so often happens, once you open your heart and fall madly in love, the object of your desire is cruelly yanked away and you’re left only with the crumbs of passion and teasing reminders of happier times. Not that I’m comparing the loss of Mellow Mushroom‘s seasonal Homegrown Harvest Pie & Drunken Fun Guys & other yummy menu items to an intense but doomed love affair … oh, wait … that’s exactly what it is. Mellow Mushroom craftily got us hooked on this absolutely delicious pizza, made with nutmeg-seasoned roasted butternut squash nutmeg on an olive oil and garlic base & topped with parmesan and Montamore cheeses and a swirl of Arugula pesto. And then there were the Drunken Fun Guys — little pillows of pizza dough served with three beer-infused sauces: a spicy cheese dip with Abita Turbodog brown ale, a stout and honey glaze and a Rouge Dead Guy ale spicy mustard. And there there were the Magic Mushroom Soup and Holy Shiitake Pie — also gone but never forgotten. I only mention these now-unattainable treasures because 1) I’m fascinated with how Mellow Mushroom has merged a successful capitalistic business plan with its counter-culture too-cool-to-care laid-back attitude, 2) maybe you’ll be inspired to try to recreate these taste treats at home and 3) maybe the next round of limited-time offerings will be just as good. Fingers crossed.
Whenever we go to Chattanooga, Tenn., it’s difficult to leave the eclectic exuberance of Northshore food (doughnuts, hot dogs, beer, coffee, wine, biscuits, pancakes, cupcakes) for the more uptown feel of downtown eateries. But recently Younger Daughter recommended 212 Market Restaurant, which is at … 212 Market St., near the Tennessee River. And she was correct. From the strangely comforting 1980s-style decor to the exemplary service and fresh-tasting food — much of it from local farmers and ranchers — 212 Market is a winner. We ordered as we like to do — mainly from the salad, sides and appetizer sections of a menu — and ended up with yummy vegetables and well-dressed salads that blended contrasting tastes and textures together deliciously. Warm homemade bread and glasses of reisling were the perfect touches. And of course we have to check out the dessert menu, too. After all, woman cannot live on lettuce and carrots — albeit satisfying and tasty lettuce and carrots — alone. And who can resist a dessert sampler of creme brulee, cheesecake and chocolate truffle cake? I think we all know the answer to that. 212 Market also is known for its wine selection and offers a solar deck out back where dogs and bicycles are welcome. You’ve gotta love a place where dogs, bikes, wine and creme brulee mingle comfortably.
I love taking cooking classes. It’s so much fun to be with other folks who — as hard as this is to believe — are as culinarily-challenged as I am. Yes, it’s true — there are a few of them out there. However, it’s also true that most cooking-class students are talented and innovative food fans who want to improve their skills and increase their repertoire. I mainly just like to eat. Every once in a while, though, I am able to impress. Such as during a recent class I took at the Shoals Commercial Culinary Complex. “Ah, you’ve done this before,” the instructor/chef said as he observed my onion-chopping technique: While keeping the ends intact, slice the onion in half and then half again to give yourself a flat base to work from, remove skin but don’t slice off ends, then make horizontal cuts and then vertical cuts and then cross-cuts, resulting in quick and easy diced onion. Of course, I learned that from my friend Sherry, who is a Shoals-famous cook and cooking instructor now working far away from home. Temporarily, we all hope. I mean, the chef teaching in her absence at the Culinary Complex is a nice guy. He knows what he’s talking about and is helpful and patient and everybody enjoys his classes. But is he Southern sassy? Does he know the difference between oatmeal and grits? Is he willing to stop at every Starbucks he sees on a road trip? Come home, Sherry! We miss you! I’ll even chop up some vegetables in your honor.