Every year I imagine I’ll throw a fabulous Oscar-watching party. I imagine everyone — me, included — wearing Caifornia-chic casual style. I imagine a creative bounty of innovative finger food. I imagine intelligent movie-savvy conversation. But of course what happens instead is that I forget it’s Oscar night until three minutes before and I end up watching in my ratty pajamas and eating out of a Cheetos bag and saying things to the cats such as “‘An Education’? I’ve never heard of that movie before.” The cats are not impressed. However, if you imagine a glittering and successful Oscar-watching party and you have faith that you will actually do it, then take a look at this AP article about Oscar-inspired cocktails: http://www.heraldnews.com/lifestyle/x655498432/Oscar-inspired-cocktails-toast-the-movies It might have shown up in your local newspaper but in case it didn’t, you’ll want to take a look. Raise a glass for me, and I’ll in turn toast you with a Cheeto.

Food and Friends

What could be better than friends and food? My cooking club, the GINGERS (Girls In Need of Gourmet Experience Really Soon) got together recently for a Chinese meal, Southern-style. We were all impressed with the tableware our hostess used: A set of dishes her ex-father-in-law had bought in Southeast Asia decades ago. And even better was the food everybody brought to put on these dishes: Seaweed salad, barbecue chicken wings with peppers, a mushroom medley, jasmine rice, spicy cookies and other yummy dishes. I’m always amazed at how culinarily creative and innovative my fellow GINGERS are — I’m definitely the weak link and I think they keep me around only because I’m the one with the most e-mail patience when it comes to setting our meeting dates (“If Polly can’t do Saturday the 15th and Sarah can’t come on Tuesday the 23rd and Cheryl’s out of town on Monday, can everybody do next Friday, instead?”) My contributions to the evening were quick run-into-the-store additions to the menu: Chinese wine and beer, vegetable and brown rice sushi, almond cookies and some chocolate-covered Piroutte-like cookies. But I have an excuse: I was babysitting my 23-month-old grandson, Capt. Adorable. Plus, believe me when I say anything I could buy would serioulsy taste tons better than anything I could make. One of the best things one of us brought, however, wasn’t food at all. One GINGER has a granddaughter adopted from China. She brought one of the traditional gift bags her granddaughter had given her classmates to celebrate the recent Chinese New Year and told us all about what the various items represented — fascinating! So we learned as well as ate and talked and laughed. Our evening was a balanced blend of exploring authentic Chinese food and celebrating the Americanized versions we’ve all come to know and love. Now we’re trying to decide if we want to tackle Irish or not. The only thing I know about Irish cooking is that I love the fried mashed potatoes at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida — but I’m willing to learn.

Valentine’s Day

Back when my two now-23-and-25-year-old daughters were in high school, our house was one of those where all the kids gathered for after-parties — after graduation, after prom, after band banquet, after whatever. I got pretty good at figuring out how to feed dozens of kids — little weiners and chocolate-chip cookies always were big hits — and enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, I sort of miss those days. But Younger Daughter brought them back this weekend when she hosted a party for the girls in the high-school percussion ensemble she’s working with this semester. She planned the menu and did a great job of combining healthy with Valentine’s indulgence: Carrot and celery sticks with no-fat vegetable dip, tortilla and pita chips with salsa and spinach-cheese dip, raspberry squares, Valentine’s fortune cookies, iced and decorated sugar cookies and No-Pudge Fudge cupcakes, vegetable and turkey rollups, pimento cheese (necessary for all Southern parties, you know), olives, Red Velvet cake balls and a chocolate fountain with pretzels, marshmallows and fresh pineapple and strawberries. And she used what we had around the house for decor — red candles, various heart-shaped items and the cards and boxes of candy that were the party favors. And all I had to do was help with food prep and then I got to go watch the Olympics opening ceremonies on TV while YD took care of everything else — she and the girls even cleaned up afterwards. And one of the best parts? Leftover sugar cookies for breakfast the next morning!

And check out my weekly newspaper column about everybody’s favorite love holiday at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100212/ARTICLES/2125000

Food and Books

This past week, my four-woman book club had our November meeting at my house with the book “The Space Between us” by India-native Thrity Umrigar. We had just finished “The Help,” about black maids and the white women they worked for in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, and “The Space Between Us” is much the same story — privileged upper class women and lower-class servants. However, “Space” focuses more on the relationship between two individual women and what happens when that relationship is tested. We all loved this book for the insight into Indian culture and the stories of struggle, love and loss the two women main-characters endured. Highly recommended. And because book club is just us four friends, whoever is hosting usually tries to find some favors and cook a dinner that goes along with the theme of the book we read that month. Luckily, for my turn I found three oh-so-cute enameled trinket boxes from India at the World Market in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. And for cooking, I turned to Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey’s “Easy East/West Menus for Family and Friends.” Okay, I didn’t actually cook anything from that cookbook — you know me better than that — but I did get some good quick and easy menu ideas (thank you, grocery stores!): Roasted onion and garlic jam on toasted strips of nan bread, sauteed chicken breasts in a garlic and ginger sauce, turmeric rice with onions and golden raisins, roasted asparagus, a couple ready-made heat-and-eat curry dishes (hot, hot, hot — but tasty, in a hot mouth-burning sort of way) and English tea cookies for dessert. Good friends, good books, good discussion, not-so-bad food — and my three friends don’t mind the bonus cat hair they get at my house, at all.


tin-angelIf you’re headed to Nashville, Tennessee, put Tin Angel on your nashville-jan-2009-008places-to-eat list. Heck, it’s worth making a trip there on its own. From the tin ceiling and weathered brick walls to the menu featuring fresh and innovative dishes to the feeling of neighborhood and convivial warmth (important on freezing winter nights when it’s literally, you know, freezing), Tin Angel is one of my new favorite places. We visited the West End restaurant on the strength of a review my husband had read in the Nashville Scene (http://www.tinangel.net/images_miscellany/scenereview.pdf) and ordered according to the reviewer’s recommendations. All I can say is, “Yes, please.”  I had the spinach salad with poached egg, and it was the best spinach salad I’ve ever had — not your usual bacon-sugar-vinegar combination but instead some sort of savory yummy deliciousness topped with a velvety poached egg. Only my mother’s warning voice in my head kept me from licking the plate.  My husband had the Catfish Pomme de Terre with a horseradish crust and mustard sauce on braised shredded cabbage and I had grilled scallops, one of the evening’s specials, both accompanied by our go-to restaurant seafood wine — a bottle of Conundrum. Our dishes were full of balanced and layered satisfying flavors and the portions were perfect. A wonderful evening and a memorable meal! We ate late enough — in fact we closed the place down — that we had no lines or parking glitches, but Tin Angel is so popular that at peak times you probably will. Worth it, though. Here’s the Web site: http://www.tinangel.net

Restaurants in Florence, Alabama

dish-and-florence-leaves-002Sometimes it’s easy to forget that some of the best places to eat are in dish-and-florence-leaves-003your own backyard — or your own downtown. Dish Gourmet Cafe and Catering in Florence, Alabama, is a small and cozy lunch bistro serving some of the freshest sandwiches and salads in town. Favorites include the Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna and the Thai Beef salads as well as the Portobella and Goat Cheese Panini, Blackened Salmon Reuben and Pimento Cheese BLT Wrap. Even the fresh-fruit side dish-and-florence-leaves-001is delicious and, well, fresh — unlike some so-called “fresh” fruit salads that taste freshly thawed instead of freshly cut. In warm weather you can eat on the sidewalk and watch most of Florence drive and/or walk by, but eating inside is a delight, too, with the abundant greenery in the window seats and a hand-painted  mural on the wall. And do not forget to choose a homemade dessert. Dish is the perfect place to take company visiting for the holidays or to meet friends for a work or shopping break break. It opens at 11 a.m., Mondays through Fridays. Call 256.766.2414.

Election Night Food

election-night-food-003My husband and I are enjoying election night with some fun party food inspired by a story on NPR. Here’s the menu: Deep-dish Chicago pizza with pineapple for Obama, New England crab cakes for Biden, tortilla chips with salsa and jalapeno cheese dip for McCain and wild salmon salad for Palin. To demonstrate party partisanship, I added blue cheese and red wine. Dessert is all-American apple pie, although the NPR story suggested Baked Alaska, of course. We’re settled in for the night, munching away with both laptops going plus CNN on two TVs and NPR on the kitchen radio. Almost everybody I talked to today said their polling places were the most crowded they’d ever seen and more new voters than ever had turned out. I had a half-hour wait at 8 a.m. where I vote, but at 6:15 p.m. my husband walked in and out in five minutes. I didn’t mind waiting though — it was like a neighborhood gathering where I saw folks I hadn’t seen for months and caught up on some good gossip. What a great day when you can combine patriotism, food, family and friends.