You know you’ve been lazy and bloggy-averse when even your mom tells you to update your page. So … yes, ma’am. Here you go. Plus, since I’m sitting here watching the “Dancing with the Stars” folks be all healthy and active, I really should do something equally energetic. Like blogging. (What, by the way, is the deal with these half points? Is this allowed in Mirrorballus Land?) Speaking of “healthy,” run as fast as you can to your nearest Trader Joe’s and buy a jar of Cookie Butter. (You also can order it online, but you’ll want to balance your intake of this incredibly delicious and addictive spread with as much running as you can manage.) This gift from the Angels of Yummy is exactly what it says: cookies mashed up into creamy buttery spreadable goodness. It’s like peanut butter without the peanuts. (Or butter either, actually.) The “Speculoos” on the label refers to a kind of Scandinavian/French thin gingerbread-like shortbread-type of cookie. Also, the word “sugar” is mentioned four times in the Cookie Butter ingredient list: Sugar syrup, plain ol’ sugar twice and — my favorite — candy sugar. Candy. Sugar. Candy sugar! Topped off with sugar, sugar AND sugar. What could be better? Cookie Butter melts insanely lusciously into pancakes, waffles, muffins, biscuits and other warm-from-the-oven treats. Or spread it on graham crackers, ginger snaps, vanilla wafers or whatever you’ve got handy. In the store, the 11-ounce jar is less than $4. The nutrition label has a lot of zeros on it — for vitamins, calcium and iron. But don’t let the rest of the label lull you into thinking “this really isn’t that bad.” Sure, it says only 90 calories and 6 grams of fat in a serving, which as we all know is half the stats of other nut butters. But, wait. The Cookie Butter serving size is 1 tablespoon, which also is half of other nut butters. Sorry about that. Worth it, though!
We’ve talked about art in one of my favorite adopted towns of all time — Chattanooga, Tenn., here and here. Now, art is good. I like art. I like people who make art, which is convenient since I work (most days) in an art museum. But when it comes to other things Chattanooga really is good at, have to put “coffee” high on the list. I’m not sure if it’s the mountain or the river or that whole we’re-cool-and-hipster-and-still-a-little-bit-country thing Chattanoogians have going, but folks there sure love and know their coffee. Me, too. At least the “love” part. Chattanooga fans surely will recognize where these two photos come from. On the left, it’s Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, identifiable by its awesomely wonderful desserts. It’s one of those bakeries where you just stare through the glass and say “I want one of those and one of those and …” And, yes, the foam on my macchiato is a bit too foamy, but really that’s a minor complaint for such a fun location and satisfying sweetness. On the right, nobody could mistake the sturdy recycled tables and skillful foam art of Camp House Espresso, a few blocks from both the burgeoning Southside Art District and bustling downtown Market Street. The Camp House building truly is multi-purpose, housing at various times during the week a church, an entertainment venue and a clothing mission as well as a coffee house. That is sooooo Chattanooga.
Okay. Here’s a test for book-club members. My four-woman group recently read a newly published book about family relationships that’s been making the rounds lately. (Side note: We were sort of “meh” about it, but more on that later.) It was my turn to host, and since at our mettings we always try to
outdo and impress each other prepare a meal that ties in to the book we’ve read, I felt as if I’d hit the jackpot because one of the main characters in this book is a chef. Food descriptions are scattered throughout, and, honestly, we all agreed that they were the best part of this book. Anyway, I took my cue from the book and made, among other things, Elvis Cookies (roasted banana ice cream sandwiched between peanut butter cookes and rolled in caramelized bacon) and a spinach frittata. So the question is: What book did we read? If you’ve been keeping up with book-club news, you should get it. Of course, the other question is: Did anybody actually believe I’d made this entire meal myself, all by myself? As a widely known non-cook, I can understand folks’ skepticism. After all, while I worked in the kitchen that day, my husband anxiously kept asking me, “Honey? What are you doing? Do you feel okay?” and my fellow book-club members were stunned into silence when they saw their plates. At least, I think that’s why they didn’t say anything as they were eating.
Hmmm … is there anything better than a sweet not-good-for-you-at-all treat? No. There is not. And lately I’ve gotten to sample some especially yummy treats. On the left, how about some cake pops? My friend Susan C. was the first person I knew who ever made cake balls. That was about two years ago, and now that everybody’s got them, I sort of think she invented them. And now we’ve gone on to cake pops — fun little round bites of moist cake dipped in candy coating and sprinkles that you don’t even have to get your fingers messy when you eat them. Our neighbor brought these over to us to thank Husband JP for bringing in her garbage can when she forgets — he’s thoughtful that way. And then, on the right, we have a box of Chattanooga’s Julie Darling Donuts. These are absolutely positively without-a-doubt the best doughnuts ever — with the possible exception of a hot just-glazed plain Krispy Kreme. I don’t know what’s in them that makes them so good but they are so good. I have to slice pieces off over the course of several days so I don’t just dive in. Julie Darling even showed me how good a true jelly doughnut can be. I never liked the usual version — a glop of tasteless gel-like colored stuff in the middle — but Julie Darling’s jellies are stuffed full of the real thing and the contrast of tart strawberry puree with the sweet icing and rich doughnut is simply … perfect.
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.
In my town of Florence, Alabama, the newest place to eat and greet is Frostbite, a make-your-own-yogurt-extravaganza spot. I know that folks in Other Places That Aren’t Here have been enjoying yogurt like this for a couple of years and may be all blase and nonchalant about it, but even after several months of pumping yogurt and trying to decide between Butterfinger or Snicker sprinkles and can you mix hot fudge and caramel sauce, it’s still a thrill that’s not getting old. Here’s how it works: There are three machines with two flavors of soft-serve yogurt each that change daily. You can sample each flavor and then grab a cup and pump away. Then you add your own toppings, ranging from cereal to candy to fresh fruit as well as a couple of flavors of ice-cream sauce. When you’re done, you plop your creation on a scale and pay by the ounce — usually about $4-$6. There are several different approaches to designing your own dessert. Some people head straight for their favorites every time. Some people experiment with different combos every time. Others try to see how much they can cram into one cup — $15 yogurt, anyone? — while others are so frugal that they limit themselves to the toppings that weigh the least (puffed cereal tops that list). So far, my favorite yogurt flavors are Birthday Cake, Vanilla Bean and Espresso. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve tried to take a photo of my own creation but, honestly, I’m sort of embarrassed to let you all see how many crumbled-up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups I can pile on a scoop of yogurt. Sad, really. I obviously need to go back today and try again. Check out Frostbite, which is locally and independently owned (whatever happened to TCBY, anyway?), on Facebook.
Hello, lovely fried pillows of crispy and melty Oreo goodness. Oh my cookies, as 2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable says — literally, in this case. We were driving through our town of Florence, Alabama, when my husband casually says, “Look at that sign. It says,”Cold beer, hot wings and fried Oreos.’ We should go there sometime.” Since he and I each are obsessively devoted to finding the best of two of these three categories — the wings for him, the Oreos for me and the beer for both of us — I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed this Wing Shack of paradise before. Sadly, my husband had to go back to work or something after our discovery so I was left on my own to immediately indulge in an intense Oreo fried orgy objectively and calmly check this place out. All I can say is: Thank you, dear person who first had the radical idea of frying Oreos. I love you.
We went to Tunica and all I got was some chocolate cake. My husband was luckier, however — he picked up two first-place awards from the Mississippi Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest for headlines and sports columns. We were in Tunica recently for the MPA annual get-together and awards luncheon. It was my first glimpse of the famous gambling town and only my second time ever to go to a casino. And in fact we didn’t even go to the casino so my record still stands at once … and I don’t think I got the full experience even then since I only sat at a nickel machine for a few minutes and watched my dollar bill dribble away. Sigh. Anyway, our Tunica adventure was on a Saturday and my sports-editor husband could only take enough time out of a work day to drive over (Down? Up?) to the luncheon, so we only saw the inside of the Harrah’s conference-center room. I had a blast sitting with friends from my husband’s newspaper, and although we were all less than impressed with the food and the service — Seriously, no tea or water refills and only one carafe of coffee for 200 people? — our dessert of chocolate cake certainly looked intriguing. The cake itself was on the dry side, but the berry puree and the chocolate ganache were divine. I also can report that I saw beautifully landscaped grounds and a sign advertising the Paula Deen Buffet, but that’s about it for my Tunica Harrah’s experience. Husband and I agreed we needed to come back and stay longer. See for yourself at http://www.harrahstunica.com/casinos/grand-casino-resort-tunica/hotel-casino/property-home.shtml.
I promise you: These miniature cupcakes — “petit fours” in northwest Alabama-ese — are as yummy as they look. Here in my town, if you’re having any kind of party you’ve got to have petit fours from the Victorian Tea Room. They are so soft and tender and melty you barely have to chew them up. If it’s a celebration, you’ll find Victorian Tea Room petit fours. Over the years, I’d say I’ve served hundreds of them here at our house. When Older Daughter got married, she had four — count ’em, four — Victorian Tea Room wedding cakes that tasted just like big petit fours. People still come up to me and say, “I’m dreaming about those wedding cakes.” Yes, indeedy. The kind folks who make these will decorate the tops any way you like — flowers, baby shoes, class years in school colors. And even though Older Daughter has grown up and moved an hour away and has her own house and her own family, she adheres to tradition and wanted Victorian Tea Room petit fours for Capt. Adorable’s second-birthday party. And, really, they’re perfect for toddlers. Plus, adults gobble them up like them, too. As her contribution to the Captain’s party, Younger Daughter wanted to decorate them herself. So we ordered four dozen plain and YD tapped into her inner cupcake-artist to create these beautiful little bites of adorable cuteness. The plan was for me to do some, too. However, you see the polka-dot ones in the upper left-hand corner? And the one with the big gloppy dot in the middle? That was the one I started … until YD gently took the tubes of colored gel away from me and suggested that I merely observe. She was right. Also: We should have ordered five dozen, because they went fast. Check out the Victorian Tea Room at http://victoriantearoomcatering.com