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.

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.

Shopping for Gifts

Aw, such cute cuddly Valentine’s Day stuffed animals, right? Anybody would love to get one of these, right? Okay, look closer … closer … closer. Can you see what else is included in these gift packages? Yup, you’re seeing right. I mean, nothing says “I love you” like a six-pack of Bud, correct???!!! All over Mississippi today, women are questioning their choice of husband/boyfriend/significant other, I’m sure. A co-worker of my husband snapped this pic in a convenience store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, on Valentine’s Eve — I guess he figured he needed visual evidence since who would believe him, really? The store owner said that he’d made up the first one at a customer’s sort-of-joking request. He put the finished product out on the counter and immediately somebody bought it … and then somebody else saw it and wanted one … and then word spread and the owner’s daughter had to come in and make up these six-pack gift bags for two solid days — and they’re still selling out. So next year, when Valentine’s Day rolls around and a six-pack for Valentine’s Day  is the It Gift all across the country, remember that you saw it here first.

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

Music

CD mixes -- The SmithereensMy husband is the best CD mixer ever. I think it stems from his CD mixes -- Art Garfunkelwide-ranging curiosity about all things pop culture. He’s open to every music genre and has an encyclopedic knowledge of who recorded what and when, where and with whom. He even made tape mixes back in the olden days — not easy! But now he’s got CDs and computers and iTunes and he comes up with some brilliant mixes. (In fact, five years later people still say that the mix he created for our wedding favors was the best. Ever.) So you can guess what my Valentine’s present was: A lovely, lovely mix of some beautifully quirky love songs. Like The Smithereens’ “A Girl Like You” and Art Garfunkel’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever).” There’s also “Message of Love” by The Pretenders, “This and That” from Michael Penn,Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris’s “This Is Us” and some Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison plus a song I’ve never heard, “Renaissance Eyes” by Don Dixon. This CD is a keeper. My husband, too.

Valentine’s Day Gifts

See's Red Satin HeartSee's best Valentine's candyForget eggs Benedict and mimosas — the contents of a See’s Candies Red Satin Heart make the best Valentine’s breakfast. Ever. My favorites are the lemon and raspberry truffles, the luscious and buttercreamy Bordeauxs and the milk molasses chips. Yes, indeedy. I’m telling you that See’s is the most-accessible best candy ever. Your local mall probably has a See’s kiosk set up this weekend — it’s the one with the six-deep crowd gathered around it today. Be a Valentine to yourself and indulge. Just save the Rum Nougat and the Dark Chocolate Butter for me, please. Visit http://www.sees.com for more.

My son-in-law, a high-school art teacher, is one of the best artists I know. He does pottery, drawings, prints, etchings, Jason Behel artworkJason Behel artworkphotography and just about anything else he decides he wants to explore. He’s a big, bald sort of scary-looking guy who you’d never suspect could create such beautiful and whimsical art work. Such as this Valentine’s Day card he made for his wife/my daughter. He made it from heavy cardstock and treated the outside to resemble a piece of finely worked leatherwork. When you “unlock” it, the card opens to reveal an intricate cutout scene of their little Jason Behel artworkfamily — the two of them and their 10-month-baby who’s also known as Cutest Grandbaby Ever and Capt. Adorable — and a heartfelt message. It made my daughter tear up. And ask him why he’d made her arms so long. A minor detail (and she does sort of have long arms). Anyway, I wish I had a tenth of this talent. Also, I wish that they could move right next door to me and he could spend all his time doing art that would sell for enough money that would make them comfortably happy and they could take care of their families and we could all sit around all day eating See’s candy and being extremely grateful for our good fortune. Also, I wish everybody a happy Valentine’s Day — which seems a little more attainable.

Valentine’s Day

Last minute Valentine's Day giftsToday combines two significant calendar dates: Friday the 13th and lingerie for Valentine's DayValentine’s Eve. And that makes sense, because it surely will be bad luck for any man who forgets how important tomorrow is. I’m not sure why Valentine’s Day shopping is so tough for most men. I mean, it’s shopping. It’s buying something pretty and sweet and lovely and romantic for your pretty and lovely and romantic sweetheart. How hard can that be? Luckily, my husband is a good sport and he answers all our why-did-my-husband-buy-me-a-new-Dustbuster-for-Valentine’s-Day questions in my column in the TimesDaily today, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090213/ARTICLES/902130309