I love my husband. I love endless chocolate. I love Valentine’s Day, road trips and the great state of Tennessee. Not to mention literacy and newspapers. So you know where husband JP and I had our Valentine’s Day date this year: at the “For the Love of Literacy” dessert tasting in Selmer, Tenn., where all of these favorite things converge into one can’t-miss extravaganza. The Independent Appeal newspaper, in Selmer, hosts this wildly popular annual Valentine’s event to benefit the McNairy County Literacy Council. It’s sugar & chocolate & all-things-yummy beyond your wildest high-fat-content dreams. Businesses, churches, book clubs, other non-profits and both professional and amateur bakers bring out their best recipes to woo the judges for best-of titles and sway the crowd for people’s choice votes. It’s all chocolate, all evening and you’d better start slow or you’ll regret it later. JP and I have learned to be discriminating — two cake pops instead of three, three pieces of fudge instead of four and only one trip back for more Strawberry Surprise or double-mocha espresso brownies. But it’s all for a good cause. I mean, that’s the ONLY reason I ate all those mini peanut-butter cupcakes and had to sample the tiramisu twice. I’m passionate about literacy like that. Also, I did pick up on some dessert trends, because I had to have some excuse for circling the room eight times I always am on the food-reporting beat for you. For example, classics such as the no-bake chocolate-oatmeal cookies seem to be making a comeback, items with organic and natural ingredients are on the rise and, as always, appearance and decorations are key. The things I do just to keep you all updated …
Oh my cookies! And cupcakes. And brownies. And fudge and cheesecakes and truffles and trifles and all sorts of all things yummy and sweet and delicious. Imagine walking into a room filled with every bite-sized dessert imaginable, and your only responsibility was to wander around and eat as many as you could. Imagine Butterfinger Cake and chocolate gelato chased by peanut-butter balls and chocolate-covered strawberries. Imagine strawberry-lemon parfait topped off with a pina colada Italian ice. A Valentine’s Day fantasy? A dessert lover’s hallucination? A never-to-come-true unattainable dream? Nope. This was a reality — at least it was for one night at the Community Center in Selmer, Tenn., where the local newspaper, the Independent Appeal, hosted a fund-raiser for the McNairy County Literacy Council. The council had lost much of its United Way funding, and Independent Appeal publisher Janet Rail was determined to help make up the difference. So the Independent Appeal asked folks to bring their best desserts to the community center, set up some tables and brought in a band and for $5 you could buy a ticket and enter Dessert Paradise. Almost 25 churches, clubs, businesses, restaurants and other groups were there, tempting you with chess squares and cake pops and peanut brittle and other things you didn’t even know you wanted until you saw them and had to have some. I believe I said “Just one more trip around the room to make sure we didn’t miss anything” at least 12 times and we still didn’t sample everything. Here’s hoping this becomes an annual tradition — and a successful fund-raiser. Because I’m willing to do my part and attend every single time.
I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you how many of these desserts I sampled at Thanksgiving dinner, but let’s just say I can tell you without a doubt that every one of these yummy pies and cakes and cookies and trifles was absolutely delicious. My daughter’s in-laws always have a big Behel-family feast — and luckily they consider my husband and me as family. My daughter’s mother-in-law made the chess and pumpkin pies from her grandmother’s recipes and her brother-in-law’s wife made the dark chocolate and buttercream cupcakes. As you can imagine, my husband and I started out sharing a plate of dessert goodies but quickly realized that we each needed our own. And there was my husband’s favorite: Green bean casserole. And my daughter’s famous corn casserole. And Paula Deen’s broccoli casserole. And light and soft homemade rolls. And now I’m making myself hungry all over again.
We’re still unpacking and settling in to our new house. And that’s good, because I’ve wrung two newspaper columns out of the experience and I’ve got a couple more percolating. When that last box is empty, I’m not sure what I’m going to write about. Maybe that’s why I keep putting off tackling all those boxes in the garage.
My husband and I are pretty independent people and usually function successfully without having to know what the other’s doing and where he/she’s doing it every minute of the day. So I was surprised when he uncharacteristically questioned me about my estimated whereabouts for Thursday. “Are you going to be around the house all day?” he asked. Several times, in fact. Finally, he admitted he’d ordered something for my Mother’s Day present and it was supposed to be delivered sometime on Thursday. Naturally, because I’m annoyingly nosy charmingly curious, I tried to figure out what was coming. Not flowers, for sure. Dear Husband used to send lovely bouquets to the newsroom where I used to work, but now that my office is my kitchen table and I don’t have co-workers to be jealous of to admire the flowers, what’s the use? And we can’t have fresh flowers at the house because the cats eat them and, of course, regret it a couple of hours later. Yuck. So, what would my husband have come up with for a Mother’s Day delivery? I couldn’t imagine — and couldn’t wait to find out. Finally, the FedEx truck pulled up and this is what I got: The most delicious and adorable chocolate-covered strawberries I’ve ever seen. I mean, these babies are huge! And gorgeous. Now, I know that a chocolate-covered strawberry is one of those things that sometimes does not deliver on its promise — it can look a lot better than it tastes, right? But these were red and juicy and fresh … as promised. They’re from Shari’s Berries, http://www.berries.com/. I loved these so much that I didn’t even mind when Dear Husband said he’d heard the company advertised on a radio show that … well, let’s just say I don’t agree with the host’s political views and usually try to avoid all contact with anything at least slightly related to this guy. But I’m making an exception here. Yup — apparently all it takes to buy me off is a box of chocolate-strawberry perfection.
Making chocolate roses is a simple yet impressive Valentine’s Day project that I promise you can do. Because I did it, and believe me, that’s saying something. Chef and caterer Emily Kelley, of Florence, Alabama, demonstrated this recently for local American Association of University Women members. To make the dough, add 1/3 cup clear corn syrup to 10 ounces melted semi-sweet chocolate. Stir until doughy. On wax paper, flatten into circle and let harden between wax-paper sheets. To make roses, peel away wax paper and cut circle into triangles. Use one triangle for one rose. Pull pieces of dough from triangle and roll into balls. Using your hands, flatten balls into thin circles. For center stem of rose, roll one circle jelly-roll style. For rose petals, fold and shape chocolate circles around stem. Make these whenever you want, store at room temperature and use them to decorate your fabulous Valentine’s dessert. Or they can be your fabulous Valentine’s dessert — they’re completely edible and taste sort of like Tootsie Rolls. White chocolate and peanut-butter flavored baking morsels would also work, although Emily was unsure about corn-syrup ratios with those ingredients.