If your Fourth of July plans call for some barbecue this weekend, I hope it’s as good as this plate of finger-lickin’ goodness I got at Bar-B-Q by Jim in Tupelo, Mississippi, this week. Now, I am not a barbecue fanatic. I never get up in the morning and say, “I’ve got to have some barbecue today.” But when good barbecue falls in your lap — and anybody who eats with me knows I mean that literally — you cannot refuse. Bar-B-Q by Jim is moist and succulent with a faint woodsy flavor. It’s perfect on its own, but a dribble of the molasses-based sauce makes it even better. The cole slaw is crunchy and crisp and not drowned in mayonnaise, the potato salad is firm and savory and not drowned in mayonnaise and those rolls — light and rich and buttery all at the same time. Thank you, Jim Beane, for making barbecue that even non-barbecue folks like me can love. Go to http://bbqbyjim.com/ for details.
You know I’m easily impressed, but I’m not the only one who’s a fan of Ichiban, an Asian restaurant that’s recently opened in Sheffield, Alabama. Now most of y’all probably have an Ichiban in your town. “Ichiban” is a Japanese word that means “the best” and many Asian restaurants use that as a name. Or that’s what I’ve read, anyway. Our Ichiban is becoming a popular spot for locals looking for something new. I love getting my food in these red lacquered bento boxes — sort of exotic, especially for someone like me who mainly eats out of Cheetos bags. Everything tastes fresh, the sushi bar is excellent and the service is friendly. And of course there’s green-tea ice cream in fried wonton shells. Better than Cheetos any day. Ichiban in Sheffield is open at 11 a.m. every day except Saturday, when it opens at noon. It’s at 1207 S. Jackson Hwy., phone number 25.389.9888.
After she graduated college this past December, Younger Daughter moved back home to work part-time and figure out the next step – which is going to be wonderfully awesome, whatever it happens to be. In the meantime, I get the benefits of living with someone who is the healthiest eater I know. And she cooks! When I’m empty-nesting, my usual lunch is 1) breakfast, 2) coffee with friends, 3) steam-table civic-club meeting buffets or 4) Cheeto crumbs eaten standing in the middle of the kitchen. I like Younger Daughter’s way much better. Here’s a typical lunch she’ll sort of insist on fixing for us: Organic cream of tomato soup and stir-fried veggies with sourdough cheese and herb toast. She plans and preps and I clean up — a great deal for both of us.
If you have time to squeeze in one more summer read, make it “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” a delightful history lesson, love story and entertaining read all in one. Did you have any idea that the British island of Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during World War II? It was news to me. In a gentle peeling away of layers of secrets, this book chronicles the occupation and its aftermath and the island residents’ courage and human spirit to endure. Plus, it’s written in one of my favorite literary styles: A series of letters. I love reading books that make me feel as if I’m peeking into the characters’ real lives — that all this is really happening and we readers get to watch it unfold naturally. Plus, who doesn’t love the vicarious thrill of reading other people’s letters? The story of the writing of this book also will move you. I won’t spoil it for you, but the authors were passionate about their subject and about getting the book written and in readers’ hands.
And there’s still more to this story. My four-woman book club chose this a couple months ago. In this group, the hostess chooses the book, leads the discussion and usually gives out favors related to the month’s read. My friend Cheryl was hosting for “Guernsey,” and she went online to find out more about the island and get some ideas for favors. Jackpot! She found Guernsey Cream Fudge from Channel Island Confectionery Ltd. and ordered a variety of flavors for us. I’m telling you that this is the best fudge I’ve ever had. It’s different, probably, from what you think fudge should taste like — this is smooth and creamy (but not soft) and literally melts in your mouth. It’s rich without that too-much-sugar-and-butter aftertaste. Plus, Cheryl struck up an e-mail correspondence with the fudge folks, who sent us much more information about the German occupation and their own family’s experiences during the war. They even invited our book club to Guernsey for a visit! Since the four of us have a hard enough time organizing our monthly meetings, that probably won’t happen, but it was nice to be asked — and, when you read the book, you’ll see that that’s exactly how things unfolded in the story. Anyway, order some fudge at http://www.guernseycreamfudge.com/ — and read the book.
Whenever you get a hankering for real food in a real place, try Borroum’s Drug Store in Corinth, Mississippi. My husband and I were there on the Third of July, when Borroum’s was among the few downtown Corinth restaurants open for the holiday weekend. But Borroum’s is bustling even when everything else is open – it’s where the locals hang out every day and you should, too, although you’ll be immediately pegged as a visitor when you ask for a menu. This is the authentic old-fashioned soda fountain/drug store from years past. It’s crowded and noisy and messy and you need to check your cholesterol counter at the door. Husband had a cheeseburger and fries and I had the tuna melt, which truly was exactly like my mother used to make: More tuna than mayo. We had a great time eating and eavesdropping on Corinth gossip and people-watching as folks came in to the drugstore part. Then we enjoyed checking out the old photos and antique displays on the way out. Here’s the thing, though, that is what I love about Corinth: At Borroum’s and almost everywhere else in town, the old and the new and the history and the right-now sort of blend together and you can’t really tell the difference. In other towns, a place like Borroum’s would be a touristy spot that somebody bought and redecorated after it had changed hands from the original owners a couple times. In Corinth, it’s run by the original owner’s great-granddaughter — and it’s the real thing. Check it out at http://borroumsdrugstore.net/
Am I the last person to find out about fried okra? I’m not talking about the okra your mama slices and sprinkles with cornmeal or flour and fries in an ancient cast-iron skillet. That’s what “fried okra” always meant to me — up until this week, that is. Because now when I think about fried okra, I’ve got a completely different picture: Whole okra pods fried to light and crunchy deliciousness and sprinkled with a bit of salt. I’d had fried green beans before and was sort of underwhelmed, but I promise you, fried okra is incredibly tasty and addictive. I found them at a Fresh Market produce section and because I’m a junk-food connoisseur and cannot resist anything new — Oil! Salt! Crispy goodness! — I had to try them. And am I glad I did. Everyone I’ve shared with loves them, too. There’s a hint of okra’s signature “slimy” taste and a definite sort of fresh-from-the-garden flavor that reminds you you’re eating vegetables. And vegetables are good for you. Okay, these are fried vegetables. But still.
On the other hand, learn from my mistake and ignore this new product at Target: S’mores Tortilla Chips. You would think that chocolate and marshmallow and tortilla chips would be a great combination — well, I did, anyway — but they are not. Somehow, the usually rich and sassy combination of sweet and salty flavors did not work here. Instead what you got was something akin to the fancy candy bar you picked up on impulse from the clearance rack right before you got to the cash register and then when you got home you realized the expiration date was 2002. But you bit into it anyway. And were very, very sorry.