‘Hunger Games’ food

Two words: “Blue food.” That is what we’ll all be eating in the future, says Jack White, of both Pulaski, Tenn., and Los Angeles. And he should know about food and the future, since he’s the one who created the dystopian feasts in the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games.” White, food stylist to the stars in 75 feature movies during the past 20 years, was in Florence, Ala., — home of his alma mater, the University of North Alabama — sharing “Hunger Games” and food-styling insight with an appreciative crowd of District 12 supporters. “All I know is that if you want futuristic food, make it blue,” he said, laughing. “For some reason, movie folks go crazy over blue food.” Also, apparently quail eggs will be big in the future, too, so start buying quail-egg stock immediately. Showing photos of the Hunger Games food in the making, White gave us insider information from the secret world of movie-making. For instance, every item of food has to be edible in case the director spontaneously wants the actors to eat — and this random going off-schedule, off-script and off-budget is what makes White’s job stressful anxiety-producing tons of fun since he starts working on food details MONTHS in advance. Plus, he has to produce multiple and identical items for each food scene — the single loaf of bread you see on screen has 74 exact copies nearby, waiting for stardom with the next take. And the next one … and the next one … and the … And, yes, it bothers him when scenes he spent days and $$$$ on are cut. “But I get my paycheck either way,” he said, with a grin. And, no, actors don’t actually eat the food. “At least the older, seasoned actors don’t,” White said. “The new, young actors will dive right in when they’re supposed to eat in a scene and they’ll really enjoy the food, and then the older actors will say, ‘Well, good. Now you’ve got to do the same thing 100 times today.” Dustin Hoffman, he added, usually has a fork in his hand or an empty fork coming from his mouth when he’s supposed to eat but arely actually chews and swallows. (And now I’m going to wander through “Tootsie” and check this.) Other tips from White include 1) use Israeli couscous as a good all-round basic food (it takes colors, it’s blandly pleasant tasting and it shoots well), 2) use olive oil to clean the soot off your smoked suckling pig. (Who knew?) and 3) to amaze and delight your friends, make tiny cuts in the whole cooked fish you’re serving, loosen the bones and then put it all back together for seemingly effortless fish-deboning at the table. I also learned that I really need a food stylist every day in my own kitchen, but I’m guessing that’s not going to happen. Oh, well. White spoke at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, which also was hosting its second Edible Books Festival. And, of course, one of the entries was a “Hunger Games” cake, from one of my favorite bakeries, Yummies, in Tuscumbia. Don’t you love it when cake and books and movies collide?

Cupcakes and Tablescapes

Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is  hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars  with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …

You Say “Goodbye” and I Say “Hello!”

When my boss asked to meet me at a coffee shop a few days ago, I was surprised. She’s so busy at work she barely has time to drink coffee in the break-room, much less take an hour away from the office. I figured this had to be Something Big.
“I’m doing such a great job, she probably wants to give me more responsibilities,” I thought confidently. “Maybe a move up? Or probably the big bosses realize they’re underpaying me and finally are giving me that raise. Yeah, yeah, that’s it.”
But as we sat down with our coffee, she sighed and said, quickly, “I’m just going to say it: I’m sorry, but you’re fired.”
Gee, this sure wasn’t going how I expected.
And, OK, she didn’t say “you’re fired.” I think Donald Trump’s the only one who can say that. What she actually said was, “Things are tight. They’re cutting the budget and dropping some things, and one of those things is you. It’s about money, not you. And I’m so, so sorry.”
Because she’s my friend as well as my boss, I knew she meant that last part.
On the other hand, that first part sure sounded like “you’re fired” to me.
Now, I know times are bad. I know the economy’s weak and finances are rocky and folks have to tighten their belts. It’s just that nobody asked me if I wanted my own personal belt pulled in a few notches.
Because I was fine with it the way it was.
And here’s the thing: This was the first time I’ve ever been let go from a job. Ever. And this is what I learned: It’s a lousy no-good very bad feeling.
Family and friends told me to go with that feeling.
“Take time to grieve,” they said. “Rant. Rave. Cry. Vent. Get it out.”
It will be alright, they promised. After all, considering the devastation and destruction nature heaped on the South this past week, losing my job doesn’t rank anywhere near the end of anything significant.
But it is the end of something.
It’s the end of 15 years of writing my a column for the first newspaper I ever wrote a column for.
My job – the job getting the budget ax – was writing a weekly column as a freelancer for the TimesDaily newspaper in Florence, Alabama. So today is the last Friday that column appears in the TimesDaily print edition.
I’m still in the sad phase of The Three Steps of Grief in Losing Your Newspaper Job.  (By the way, those phases are 1) “I’m Really Really Mad,” 2) “I’m Really Really Sad” and 3) “Can Some of You Young Whippersnappers Show Me How To Use the Twitters?”) Hanging out with readers every week for almost 15 years in the pages of the TimesDaily has been an honor, a privilege – and a blast. I’m going to miss it. Heck, I already do.
And if you’re here at my blog because you read about it my final TimesDaily column, welcome! So glad you’re here.
Let’s sit and reminisce for a minute.
We sure have had fun during these years, haven’t we? We’ve laughed and cried together, grieved and celebrated. You stuck with me through weddings, graduations and band-booster meetings. We went shoe shopping. You helped me raise two daughters and four cats. Most recently, you shared husband hints to help me train the man who finally succumbed to my feminine wiles after decades of bachelorhood.
Thank you for that.
Thank you for everything.
And since there are plenty of adventures ahead, I hope you’ll keep visiting here. You don’t have to sign up or register or pay for anything or be bombarded with ads for stuff you don’t want to buy, so pour a cup of coffee and let’s keep the conversation going.
You won’t believe what 3-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable said the other day!

Business 101, or I Know Billy Reid!

Oh my goodness, y’all. Did you read today that fashion designer Billy Reid won the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers/Vogue Fashion Fund award as an exceptional and exciting emerging talent? And did you notice that he was described as Southern and country and small-town? Well, he lives in MY Southern and country small-town of Florence, Alabama, and I know him! I’ve been to his house! His sister-in-law and her husband are my periodontists!! He sometimes remembers my name!!! It tickles me no end to see somebody I know — somebody I know as just a regular normal person — all dressed up and under the lights in photographs with Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld. Good for him. He really is a nice family guy with an elegantly classic yet at the same time sentimentally laidback sort of style. It’s like J. Crew meets Holly Golightly and they go have tea at Grey Gardens. See for yourself. I’ve even picked up a couple of Billy Reid pieces at his super-super-way-out-of-season discount sales, which is the only way I can afford designer duds. But the two sweaters and the skirt I did buy are some of my favorite clothes — Reid has high standards for quality and workmanship, which, of course, accounts for the high (for me, at least) prices. And he’s a great neighbor, too. His shop — with company headquarters on the second floor — is smack dab in the middle of downtown Florence, and he’s become a huge community asset. He hosts parties, supports causes and encourages local musicians and artists. He and his family came to Florence — his wife’s hometown — after post 9/11 frugality sunk his fledgling fashion business. He regrouped and started again, and now he’s hanging out in New York with the fashion elite. See where determination and hard work will get you? And talent. And creativity. And financing. But the one thing I really admire Billy Reid for is his incredibly marketing savvy. He knows how to style his brand and get that brand out there. Everything that represents him and his business is consistent and authentic — you know it’s Billy Reid as soon as you open the envelope or read the Facebook post or see the print ad. Seems to me that no matter what business you’re in, that’s a tremendous advantage.