Newspapers ‘R’ Us

Husband JP and I are newspaper geeks. We met at a newspaper — Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. We work for newspapers — he’s actually fortunate enough to get a regular paycheck from one. We talk and post and discuss and argue about newspapers (and also whose turn it is to clean out the cat boxes and which one of us forgot to buy beer). And we buy newspapers — you know, the old-fashioned kind made of paper — everywhere we go. When we travel, our hotel room is littered with newspapers. We take stacks into restaurants (although not the really good ones). We pile them in the back seat of the car and haul them home for additional perusal. In doing all this, we stumble across some fascinating things. Such as the fact that the May 27 edition of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press — the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — weighed in at an incredible 2 pounds and, when folded, was 1 1/2 inches deep. This is, we calculated, about four times bigger than your average regular daily paper and seemed mainly due to an inordinately large amount of advertising inserts. Most papers, it seemed to us, had a lighter number of inserts for Memorial Day Sunday. Anyway, this is the sort of stuff that fascinates us. Just wait until you hear our discussion on Times Roman versus Times New Roman.

Sister Myotis, Beer and Frozen Yogurt

Friends, food and fun — who would turn down an evening like that? You know I’m first in line. But when partner-in-crime event organizer Sherry wanted to go see something called  “Sister Myotis’ End Times Hootenanny” at Theatreworks in Memphis yet couldn’t describe exactly what would be on stage, I was a little concerned. “You just have to see for yourself,” she kept saying. “You have to have the total experience.” And she was correct. As she always is.  Sister Myotis is … well … she’s … well … think drag-queen versions of  TV’s GCB church ladies with … uh … more colorful wardrobes. That’s about the best I can do. You really have to go see for yourself. (Sister is taking a well-deserved rest now but  keep checking for her return.) However, I can describe the food we had that evening at Boscos Squared, a restaurant and brew-pub in midtown Memphis‘ Overton Square entertainment and historic district: Delicious.  Boscos is a popular gathering spot for its spacious yet cozy interior, lovely outdoor dining space and not-too-extensive menu of handcrafted beers and bar-food favorites. We had a yummy hummus duo to start, and some of the dishes we ordered at our table included an intriguing black-bean and goat-cheese tamale and the classic cedar-plank salmon and roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. Our server patiently helped us choose the proper beer and even took our picture on multiple cameras because none of us believe anything really happens unless we take a picture of it. After dinner, we enjoyed a stroll in the gorgeous early-spring evening — which was only enhanced with a stop at bakery and frozen yogurtery YoLo, where we sadly learned that gelato is MORE fattening than ice cream, not less as we had always thought. Oh, well. That probably wouldn’t bother Sister Myotis, so we didn’t let it bother us.

Chillin’ at the Ajax

Anytime husband John Pitts and I are 1) together and 2) close to Oxford, Miss. and 3) it’s anywhere close to eating time, we celebrate by heading to the downtown square for some of the best food in the state … or anywhere.  And the thing is, you can’t take a wrong step once you’re there. Oxford has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places to eat. Take our newest favorite — Ajax Diner. This is real down-home cooking paired with a good beer selection, as if your Southern grandma cooked Sunday dinner at the local bar and invited the whole town. Best bets here are macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole and burgers. I decided to ignore the “List of Approved Foods for Patients with Malfunctioning Gall Bladders” my doctor gave me, and I went for the fried oyster salad (although in deference to The List, I didn’t eat all the cheese).  But a better list is “Things We’re Going To Try the Next Time We Go To Ajax:”  Black-bean chili with local ground beef, homemade pimiento cheese in a grilled quesadilla and the blackeyed-pea and catfish cakes. And maybe fellow Ajax fan Eli Manning will be there.

Eating in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

You know how you’ll go by the same restaurant every so often and it seems really intriguing and you think, “We really should eat there some day.”? After the twenty-third time or so that my husband and I were in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and walked by the Maple Street Grill, downtown on the square, we finally decided to go in  and, you know, eat. Turns out that Maple Street is a popular local gathering spot for lunch and dinner as well as drinks and tapas at night in the upstairs bar, Maple Street Uncorked. And no wonder. The interior space has that urban-cool feel of downtown renewal without being pretentious about it — it’s cozy, comfortable and Southern elegant all at the same time.  The lunch menu was enticing — a grilled portabella sandwich, pan-seared tuna, fish taco and turkey and apple sandwich all sounded yummy. (Not to mention the Fried Hershey Bar. Since I’ve been banned from deep-frying sugary objects at home since our leftover Valentine’s candy debacle, I have to take advantage of anytime I can snag a warm & melty fried delight.) Dinner featured steak, chicken and pasta entrees, while the Uncorked menu included tapas choices such as a hummus flight and a cheese board along with I-really-want-to-try-that drinks — Cucumber Rain, made of Rain Organic Cucumber Lime Vodka with sweet-and-sour mix and ginger ale, seemed especially to be calling my name. Extra points to Maple Street, too, for online ordering and a smart-phone app. We’ll be back.

So Long, 2011 — Or, What Happened to All That Money We Had Laying Around?

Happy New Year! Even though the Tournament of Roses parade (and I guess a football game?)  isn’t on until tomorrow  so it really doesn’t feel like New Year’s morning, this is the first day of 2012. So far I’ve celebrated by (thinking about) a healthy breakfast and (thinking about) doing an exercise DVD, so I count that as a successful year so far.  And since we”d already enjoyed the big-city lights of Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend, husband JP and I stayed home for the New Year’s Eve countdown. We chased some screw-top bubbly wine we’d unaccounatably found in the back of the fridge with some yummy Christmas chocolates, threw glitter out on the front porch and alternated being horrified by the (literal) spectre of a propped-up spray-tanned Dick Clark and being sympathetic with the Mobile, Alabama, TV hosts trying to make the anti-climatic Moon Pie drop and the lackluster crowd seem somehow festive. It’s a tough job. Bye-bye, 2011. You brought us adventures, opportunities, a boy grandbaby and much love and joy. However, you also brought us a few tears, fears and heart-stopping moments. Overall, though, you were pretty balanced. Here’s to 2012 — and we’re eating as many black-eyed peas as we can today.

R.I.P., REM … But At Least You Still Have Great Food in Your Town

Both my husband and Older Daughter are REM fans and were saddened to hear that the Athens, Ga., band was officially calling it quits. Husband JP has been a fan from practically REM’s very beginning, although of course Older Daughter wasn’t even born when future band members Michael Stipe and Peter Buck met in an Athens record store. (Historical note: “Record store” is an ancient term for the place in the olden days where teenagers would hang out and buy records, which were these sort of flat vinyl rounds that music came on back then. See also: “Antiques.”) So that tells you something about REM’s appeal and longevity. Coincidentally, Older Daughter and Son-in-Law recently spent a long weekend in REM’s hometown as a treat for themselves before Baby Boy No. 2 arrives in mid-November.  And why did they choose Athens, Ga.? “For the food, obviously,” Older Daughter said when I asked the same question. That’s my girl! While Athens long has been known as a hip music town and of course the University of Georgia is there — with its football team’s new eye-catching all-red uniforms — it also has a growing reputation as a food destination. Luckily, it did not disappoint the baby-mooners. And although they didn’t see any sign of REM folks that weekend, several of the eateries they tried did claim REM connections. Here’s their list, in case you want to indulge in some REM stalking research yourself (P.S. Older Daughter is a vegetarian who’s allergic to glycerin, Son-In-Law needs to eat lightly due to gall-bladder issues and they both tend toward gluten-free, sometimes ):

  • Big City Bread Cafe — a bakery and cafe that serves  breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Highlights were the hummus, the roasted vegetable and tofu saute and the bakery’s cookies.
  • Grit — a vegetarian paradise that also serves burgers. Offers great salads and sandwiches as well as Italian, Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Ike and Jane Normaltown Cafe and Bakery — a bakery/cafe  known for its yummy doughnuts. Need we say more?
  • Jittery Joe’s Coffee — a local roaster and wholesaler with several retail spots around town. I can smell it from here.
  • Last Resort Grill — named after a 1960s Athens music club, the Last Resort was the most upscale spot on the kids’ food tour. Plenty of good entrees with a vegetarian dish right smack on the menu, which always is a good sign.

Slugburger Festival in Corinth, Mississippi

This past Friday night, my husband and I took a romantic stroll through the carnival that’s part of the eagerly anticipated annual Slugburger Festival set up for the weekend just a couple of blocks from our house, in Corinth, Mississippi. We smooched on top of the ferris wheel and he won me a stuffed animal in the football toss and we walked arm-in-arm-in-cotton-candy and … aw, okay, you know that is all a big fat lie. I can’t fool you. Forget the romantic stuff. We did go to the festival, but naturally we bypassed the family fun and potentially romantic area and headed straight for the beer garden, where we loaded on Bud Light and rocked out to some great blues. But the carnival looked fun, in a scream-your-head-off-and-feel-your-stomach-do-flip-flops sort of way. And I know some of you are just now rejoining me after getting stuck at the words “Slugburger Festival” and wondering what, exactly, we and the good folks here in Corinth are doing and, more importantly, what we’re eating. I hope you read the link and learned that slugburgers are in fact an innovative and popular Corinth food item that people travel hundreds of miles for. And no slugs are harmed in the making of this sandwich, so it’s okay. But you’ve got to eat them hot and fast and please do not ask for catsup. That marks you as a non-slugburger connoisseur — or a Yankee. Not sure which is worse. Anyway, the festival continues tonight with country music, more carnival rides and all the beer and fried food your gall bladder will allow you to have you can eat.

Can We Fit an 8-foot Table into a 6-foot Backseat?

Let’s go shopping! It’s the best kind — where you just look and don’t bring anything home. (Incidentally, this is my husband’s preferred way of shopping.) Recently friends and I were cruising around nearby Smith Lake, close to Cullman, Alabama, and we passed an ironworks store/wedding rental on a county road. There were four of us, and three of the four have wonderful taste in all things decorative and are excellent and enthusiastic shoppers: One has an eye for vintage bargains, one keeps an organized list and only buys for specific needs and one thinks looooong and hard about each purchase. On the other hand, one of us just wants to go drink but always says “Sure! Let’s stop!! That looks like fun!!!” when the others see a tempting gardening/furniture/home decor/antiques shop because I she’s afraid they’ll make her stay home next time. But sometimes treasures such as gracefully scrolled metal furniture and luminous and colorful glassware delight even the most impatient shopper.

And to prove that I am not a total decorating and shopping failure, I offer Exhibit A: Part of our front porch. I was going for cozy, casual and not ugly. The rocking chair we bought a few years ago from Cracker Barrel, the fern stand I got at Hobby Lobby at one of those incredible sales at which you feel as if the store’s paying you to take stuff away, the pillow’s from T.J. Maxx and the flowers (picked out with help of Husband JP) are from Lowe’s. I buy all greenery at Lowe’s because I’m terrified of the workers at local nurseries who actually talk to you and ask if they can help you and who expect a somewhat intelligent reply in return when all I know is that I need plants I can’t kill that have the little sun and shade icons on them. Sigh. Come to think of it, my friends probably WILL leave me home next time.

I’d Like a Yellow Submarine to Go, Please

One of my new favorite places is Yellow Deli in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For one thing, it’s just fun to say. Go ahead — try it right now: “Yellow Deli.” See? You can’t say it without smiling. And you can’t eat there without smiling, either. This is the place to, literally, feed your inner hippie. I mean, I’m all for any restaurant that lists “sprouts” as an add-on to your sandwich, offers homemade granola for breakfast and would rather pour you a cup of mate instead of coffee. (The very thought of “mate” instead of coffee horrifies me, but, you know, I celebrate diversity.) Think Bob Dylan meets Sgt. Pepper and then Alice Waters invites everybody over for tea with her friend Arlo Guthrie. Or maybe that’s just my own personal fantasy. But there’s definitely a 1960s-70s vibe here, and there’s a reason for that. A Chattanooga couple founded the Yellow Deli  in 1973 as “a place where people from all walks of life could come and touch a living demonstration of God’s love in those who served them.”  (http://yellowdeli.com/) Things got a little rocky at times — read both the “History” portion of the website and the Wikipedia entry for varying accounts — but there’s no denying that the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga serves fresh and delicious food along with a warm and casually funky atmosphere. Both my 76-year-old parents, my 20-something-year-old daughters and my three-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable loved it — and there aren’t many places where we all feel at home.  The inside is meticulously clean — an admirable feat considering all the rustic wood and handmade touches — the outside is gorgeously landscaped and the whole place is like getting a hug from your best friend. If your best friend could make a Hibiscus Fruit Cooler with sweet-potato pound cake. And don’t look for “Men” and “Women” signage when it comes to the restrooms. I think the Yellow Del’s all-inclusive sign pretty well sums it up.