A Sweet Valentine’s Day

I love my husband. I love endless chocolate. I love Valentine’s Day, road Valentine's dessertstrips 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 Valentine's cakedreams. 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 — Valentine cookiestwo 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 …

Valentine’s Day Desserts — and a Worthy Cause

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.

Empty Bowls

Children go to bed hungry in America. Hard to believe, right? But it’s true. And one way to help is to support your local Empty Bowls meal. The Empty Bowls movement is a loosely connected network of fundraisers that funnel the local money raised back into the local community to help the local hungry. Churches, schools and other groups typically sponsor the meals. You buy your ticket and go eat — usually it’s something simple such as soup, crackers and water — and then as a thank-you and a reminder of the empty bowls so many people face every day, you take home a handmade pottery bowl that volunteers have donated. In my town, the Salvation Army Auxiliary sponsors an Empty Bowls lunch every year, and it’s a must-go big deal. Restaurants and caterers bring their best soups for sampling and judging, there’s a Salvation Army fashion show where the models mingle with the crowd and try to get the most votes — in money — for their thrift-store outfits and there’s one of the best bake sales and silent auctions around. My family has gone to this for years and so far we’ve amassed quite an intriguing collection of bowls. But I think the ones we got this year are the best ever — and we lucked out because they all three coordinated. How cool is that? Learn more about Empty Bowls at http://www.emptybowls.net

Easter

Easter dessertsEaster is one of those easy family holidays that Easter treatsgives you lots of bang for your buck — if Christmas is the stress-inducing standard then Easter falls somewhere above Valentine’s Day but below birthdays. Well, that’s my opinion today anyway, when I’m a few years past midnight hours of frantically finishing Easter dresses for my two daughters and managing the Easter-morning chaos of baskets and eggs before church. At least the food is still easy, with Easter bake sales everywhere. I found these goodies at the Empty Bowl luncheon this past week sponsored by the Salvation Army Auxiliary in Florence, Alabama. From works-of-art cakes worthy of Easter dinner to peanut-butter fudge for munching as you did more shopping, there was something for everybody. Hope everyone has a stress-free and photo-op-filled Easter weekend, with chocolate bunnies for all!