Does Every Good Food Idea Start in Asheville, N.C.?

 Tupelo Honey Cafe, a restaurant native of Asheville, N.C., is taking its first step in world domination with its first non-Asheville location opening this weekend in pedestrian-friendly Market Square in Knoxville, Tenn. But in this case, world domination is a good thing: Tupelo Honey Cafe focuses on organic, local, hormone-free and good-for-you made-just-for-you fresh food. Check out especially the pecan pie, goat-cheese grits, tomato soup, pimento cheese and black-bean cakes. Grand opening is 11 a.m. Monday. You probably should go now to get in line.

Cookies? Butter? Sugar? Yes, Please

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!

September Sales Bring April Awesomeness

This is why I love shopping post-season clearance sales. These two spring/summer dresses? Total price — less than $30, which is less than I spend on a typical Starbucks order. Because you might as well pick up one of those oh-so-cute coffee mugs while you’re there. And some extra Via. But back to the dresses. Going by the original price tags, I would have spent about $200 on these. And of course, when I picture myself wearing these dresses, I also have long tanned legs and perfectly toned arms. And, if I’m fantasizing, might as well thrown in some soft and shiny hair. Sorry for the mental meanderings here — saving close to $200 makes me giddy.

Friends Bearing Presents

Presents! I love presents! Particularly the unexpected kind — the kind that somebody gives you just because & for no reason, the kind that make you feel special because somebody thought of you and went to the trouble to do something for you. Such as that wonderful little box of “Pocket Espresso To Go.” A friend and her husband, who are enthusiastic travelers, found these adorable little packets of espresso AND chocolate in Italy and brought one back for me. I especially am tickled with the coffee pitcher on the package — it seems so … Italian! I also received a trio of some of my favorite things when I helped host a wedding shower for a friend’s daughter. Are hostess gifts a Southern thing? It’s times like this when my native non-Southerness comes out because I always forget about hostess gifts and then when I receive one I’m thrilled and surprised and then of course I mentally run through all the times I should have given hostess gifts and I wonder, “Did I?” Anyway, our mother-of-the-bride friend is a gracious native Southerner and ALWAYS does the correct thing. She knows that we all are crazy about her 1) hand-knitted dish cloths, 2) homemade plum-fig jam and 2) seasoning mix made from her own dried herbs, so that’s what she gave us when we hosted a shower for her daughter. How did I end up with such sweet and thoughtful friends? (Reminder to self: Give people more presents.)

Why You Shouldn’t Borrow A 6-Year-Old’s Wardrobe

You’ve seen those adorable little girls’ clothes made out of cheerful cotton prints. They’re everywhere, from upscale children’s boutiques to outdoor craft shows, and I love them. I love the contrasting patterns and the coordinating colors. I love the exuberance of swirling paisley and whimsical florals. I love the simplicity of form that let the fabrics shine. I love the ribbons and ruffles and the sweet girlishness of it all. And I’d often wondered, “Why aren’t there clothes like this for grownup women? I’d sure buy them!” Then I came across a booth in an antiques/gifts/clothing co-op that had both girls’ and women’s handmade clothing in this style and when I saw them side-by-side, I realized why adult women generally don’t dress like 6-year-old girls. It’s just too … too … cute. But I loved the aprons, and those easy breezy cotton skirts? Perfect for a summer shopping trip — possibly to somewhere that has real grownup clothes.

I Feel Pretty … Oh So Pretty — I (Finally) Learn about Makeup

Makeup always has been a mystery to me — like some sort of basic language every other female had learned while I was in Starbucks one day. If you’ve ever caught me staring intently at your face, it was because I’m trying to figure out what you did to look so good. I mean, how do you keep your eye shadow from flaking off? How do you know where to put blush? And what, exactly, am I supposed to highlight? Scary stuff. I approach buying makeup the same way I approach buying flowers for our yard: Embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, I go to the most generic store possible, avoid all helpful sales people who might ask me questions I can’t answer and hurriedly toss things in my cart based on whatever the tags say. (Part shade? Full sun? Fair skin with pink undertones?) However, while you can get away with that when it comes to our yard (Are the flowers blooming? Okay then.), when it comes to my 50-something-year-old face … not so much. I’d been vaguely dissatisfied for a few weeks when I happened to spot TV makeup artist Carmindy’s “Get Positively Beautiful” in my own bookshelves. I remembered getting it when I was in a mega bookstore a couple of years ago with the urge to BUY SOMETHING USEFUL RIGHT NOW but I couldn’t remember ever even opening it up. So I sat on the floor, paged through it and suddenly had the revelation: “I actually can do makeup. I can crack the code.” I’m not sure if it was the confident and straight-forward advice in the book (as opposed to Bobbi Brown‘s “Beauty,” which I’d bought a few years ago because everybody said she was THE makeup person for women-my-age but the book was a 400-level-class and I hadn’t even registered for Makeup 101) or if I was finally ready to learn, but suddenly it all made sense and I couldn’t wait to get started. First, I faced my pathetic makeup drawer. I ditched almost all of it: Broken blue eye shadows (That’s what you wear if you’ve got blue eyes, correct?), years-old foundations, concealers in all sorts of “colors,” dried tubes of mascara (Who can remember to close them?) and dark matte lipsticks guaranteed to last all week … or something. Then I went shopping, sticking to my generic-retailer approach for budgetary purposes. (Recognizing I was in a vulnerable state, I somehow subconsciously understood that a trip to the department-store cosmetic counter would result in a sizable dent, financial-wise.) Spending almost 30 thoughtfully intense minutes in the makeup aisle instead of my usual rushed drive-by shopping, I followed Carmindy’s advice and chose contrasting eye colors, light glossy lip colors and transparently pink cheeks. She also recommended lightweight glide-on primers and highlighters, which I’d never used. The result? I feel much more polished, feminine, prettier and put-together. The truth may be that makeup is sort of like exercise for me: Nobody may be able to tell the difference on my outside, but on my inside I sure feel better about myself. And, really, that should be all that matters. On the other hand, I had to get husband JP to help me open the L’Oreal True Match Naturale mineral blush I bought. I could not figure it out — Where does the powder come out? How do you attach the brush? He helpfully pointed out that a piece of plastic still covered the sifting holes even though I’d already removed one piece. Then he left me on my own. Carmindy … ???

When Life Gives You Parties, Make Mimosas

We aren’t bragging or anything — well, I obviously am, although the rest of this group is much better behaved —  but a group of friends and I have pretty much perfected party-hostessing. Seems as if every year one of our children is getting married or getting engaged or graduating or having a baby, and naturally each of these occasions calls for a celebration. We can plan a party at the drop of a (wide-brimmed, ribbon-decorated white straw) hat and check off half of our to-do lists before the men in our lives — who, even after all these years, still do not understand the difference between “tea” and “brunch” — can ask “Tell me again why you pay so much for flowers when the side of the road is full of them?” Take, for example, the bridal shower a few weeks ago that we hosted in an old bank in the once-thriving and now-quiet Sweetwater business district of Florence, Ala. Recently the space had been a restaurant and the owner now rents it for events. We originally thought “rustic,” “vintage” and “weathered” were appropriate decor themes to coordinate with the exposed brick walls, tin ceilings and original woodwork. However, a professional we consulted — we’re always up for a second opinion — suggested we go sleek, sophisticated and girly instead for a visually intriguing contrast. And she was correct. The light and airy silver “bamboo” chairs paired with snowy white linens and stunningly tall tropical-flower centerpieces were the perfect touches. Add a steady supply of mimosas, good times and good friends and you’ve got a party. I told you we are good!

Yes, Shoes Do Have Soles — But Are They All ‘Super Prime?’

You know that one of the most valuable people in your contacts list (I would say “Rolodex” but, really, does anybody use one of those anymore?) is the shoe-repair person. If you find one who’s perfect for you — someone who understands your love affair with your shoes, can diagnose and fix any problem and won’t keep you separated from your favorites any longer than necessary — you are beyond lucky. I had an off-again on-again relationship with one in my former Alabama town. He was good, but he knew he had a monopoly on local shoe repair and so he wasn’t bothered in the least about keeping your good black leather boots “in the back” for more than a month or misplacing your beloved 3-inch red heels. Sigh. Happily, though, in my new Mississippi town, I’ve found the best shoe repair person ever. Ever. He’s quick. He’s thorough. And he understands. I was truly embarrassed a few weeks ago when for some reason I looked at the bottom of these blue flats — my spring go-to standard pair — and saw a hole. A hole! I’d been going around wearing shoes with a hole in them! I could feel my maternal grandmother (born in 1901, she was the last of the Victorians) gasping in her grave. But my new shoe-repair person didn’t seem at all shocked. He calmly took my shoes, gave me a receipt and told me to come back in a few days. I did, and he handed me a practically new pair, with these very cool soles I’d never seen before. They’re sort of like a secret  — I bet I’m the only person I meet today walking around with shoes made from “United States Oak — super prime.”

 

Fresh Produce

Full disclosure: This is not me — it’s the photo from the Fresh Produce catalog. However, I do have dark hair, especially when I’ve forgotten to go to the salon; I do love a walk on the beach; and my Fresh Produce Buttonside Henley makes me smile, too.

You’re probably like me — you go through spurts of obsessing over liking a specific clothing style and you simply cannot get enough of whatever it is and you’re determined to add to your closet every single one you find and can afford. Because if one is good, then more than one is better, yes? But not always. Best-forgotten phases for me include tribal scarves (I’d spend 20 minutes trying to get that carelessly-thrown-on look and then immediately pull the thing off a minute after I left the house because I felt silly. And as if I couldn’t breathe), yoga-inspired T-shirts (Note: Be careful about where Buddha is placed) and the unfortunate brown-pants period when I pretty much looked like a UPS delivery person. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) More successful forays have been  into pencil skirts, non-see-through leggings (true treasures!)  and shades-of-black sheath dresses that somehow disguise muffin tops and lumpy thighs. But the thing I’ve been reaching for when I’m not trying to fool people into thinking I’m a grownup I get home after work is a nice soft and comfortable henley top. You know — those sort-of preppy, cotton-knit, three-button, collarless and usually-quarter-sleeve pullovers. I can layer a T-shirt or a tank-top underneath, add a sweater or roll up the sleeves. So when women’s clothing company Fresh Produce offered to send me anything I wanted from its summer catalog in exchange for blogging about it, I bypassed all the easy-and-breezy (and relaxed-cute) dresses, shorts and skirts and went straight for the henley tops. Okay, I was influenced, as always, by the photo of carefree beach-walking, because that is what I wish I could do every single day. But, my new Buttonside Henley in Classic Stripe — I chose the cheerful Periwinkle color — is an acceptable substitute. Cool and casual, it fits perfectly. (Check the size chart because, according to Fresh Produce measurements, I needed to order a size down from my usual. And the size chart was correct.) Plus, this style passes the Husband Test — unlike the bright-pink jeans I’m waiting until he’s out of town to wear. Overall, a winner! Fresh Produce was co-founded and still is run by mom-entrepreneur Mary Ellen Veron and primarily is made in the U.S. You’ll find the clothing sold in Fresh Produce stores, online and in more than 500 specialty retailers throughout the U.S. and Caribbean.

What Your Table Should Wear for Spring Parties

After being inspired by these completely cool table coverings at Nellie Mae, in Tuscumbia, Ala., I am immediately ditching all the matching and carefully pressed contents of my linen closet shelf drawer and going for joyously eclectic creativity. I mean, how sweet are these? I love the ethereal layering of the neutral-toned tablecloths on the left and then the cheerful fabric garlands, rosettes, bows and flowers decorating the one on the right with the netting underskirt. I think these would be perfect for a bridal shower or even an informal outdoors wedding — you know, those oh-so-fun weddings that are really just parties in disguise, where the bride wears cowboy boots and everybody’s kids are running around and there’s beer and barbecue for all (except the kids, of course). On the other hand, I’ll always love the simple elegance of crisp white napkins paired with Grandmother’s linen tablecloth. And the retro fun of colorful vintage table squares that demand place settings of Fiesta ware. Of course, the way Husband JP and I usually eat is out. Or on the couch watching basketball. But I just like to know that I COULD set a nice table if I were inclined to.