Little Lunch Date

My four year old cousin Jake tagged along for girls’ lunch at Annie Ruby’s the week before last.  It was me, my sister, Eugene, my cousin Lauren, Grandmother and my mom.  Jake is used to this set-up as my family is overwhelmingly comprised of women.  He certainly kept us entertained.

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As we enjoyed our delicious fare, we asked Jake about what he’s been up to and his Christmas.  Every response started with “well….” and “actually….”  He is very articulate for his age.

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When I asked him what he got for Christmas, he said “one hundred and one hundred presents.”  A couple of other ladies who came up to the table asked him the same question and they got the same response I did.  Jake is a pretty smart cookie so by the end of the afternoon, cousin Lauren had taught him that one hundred plus one hundred is two hundred.

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I asked him if he likes his new baby cousin Vera, which he said he did.  I asked him if she can talk and walk and he said no.  I then asked what she does do and he said “she fusses,” which cracked up the whole table.

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Though the rest of us ordered soup and sandwiches, Jake ordered superman ice cream (which we did not tell his mother…). I was unfamiliar with this flavor of ice cream.  It’s coloring resembles cotton candy, but I tasted it and I’m fairly certain it’s just vanilla ice cream with food coloring.  What a scam!  Jake loved it.

We also got him hooked on orangeades, a drink that has been beloved by my family for generations.  I suppose we should consider it Jake’s initiation.

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On the way back to his grandmother’s house, we drove by a pasture of black cows.  Jake has been around the agricultural community since he was born so I asked him if he knew what kind of cows they were.  He very confidently said, “Angus!” Lauren, Eugene and I were very impressed.

When Jake got out of the truck, he insisted on giving us all hugs and kisses  He then invited us to come to his house and play and even offered to take us to the park.  Jake sure is a ball of energy but we had a fun time with him!

Y’all keep it real,

Sugarlump

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Hi, I’m Awkward.

I would like to start out by saying that I manage to function fairly well in society.  For the most part.  And then there are evenings like the one the day after Christmas that one might liken to an electrical short.

The night was off to a good start when my immediate family and my aunt, uncle and cousins agreed to meet up at the local Mexican joint in Burkesville called El Rey.  This happens to be one of my favorite Mexican spots, which might come as a surprise to most culinary connoisseurs considering the other dining choices in the one stoplight town are Subway, Annie Ruby’s, Jones Restaurant and Pizza Hut.   As far as I’m concerned, between my grandmothers’ cooking, Annie Ruby’s, and El Rey, my days would be full and bright.

I ordered a number 5 combo, which is two enchiladas any way you like ’em and what else but rice and beans.  I went for chicken with verde sauce.  Excellent choice if I do say so myself.  My cousin Lauren got fajitas with shrimp and beef that looked like everything you could ever hope for in something hot and sizzling, my sister ordered fajitas nachos, which I think is a genius concept, and my cousin Kristen got chicken, cheese, and rice, a dish that has recently won me over.  I couldn’t see far enough down the table to drool over whatever my parents, aunt and uncle ordered, but I’m sure all of their dishes didn’t disappoint.

I had nearly eaten a basket of warm tortilla chips all by myself when my food arrived.  I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t get enough of that salsa.  Though I’m sure I was beyond full at that point, I wolfed down my enchiladas as if I were being timed.  I’m usually among the slowest of eaters.  I can offer no explanation for why I continued to consume Mexican food as if my stomach were a bottomless pit.  I sat back, thoroughly satisfied when our waiter came by to ask if I was finished.  In what can only be described as a state of delirium induced by my bulging stomach, I responded, “I’m funnnyeah.”

I casually looked around the table to see if my cousins and sister had heard what I just said.  Indeed, they had.  They promptly started laughing hysterically as soon as the waiter had cleared my plate.  I think the sound that came out of my mouth was the unfortunate, bigamous marriage of “finished,” “done” and “yes.”  This was funny for the next few hours.  I’m always happy to provide entertainment with the meal.

After our Mexican feast, Eugene, Lauren and I went to Glasgow to see Anchorman II.  Now, every time I’ve ever been to this cinema, the approximately 50 seat theaters are about 1/7 full.  We were a few minutes late, but figured the previews would still be playing and we would have our choice of seats.  Wrong! We opened the door to the theater to find it packed full, with 2 open seats on the far left of the front row, which was approximately 4 feet behind the 25 foot screen.  This sent us into a fit of giggles as we shuffled to the front of the theater and I sat on the edge of Eugene’s seat with my head craned back so far that I was sure I would need a neck brace immediately following the movie.  Every minute for the first 5 minutes of this, one of us would get tickled over our movie-watching arrangement.  By the grace of God, not far into the movie, a few people in the far right front row of the theater decided seeing Anchorman II from 4 feet away wasn’t worth scoliosis and left. Instantly recognizing out moment of opportunity, Eugene, Lauren and I scurried across the front of the theater to the right side where we could each enjoy the movie from our own seat.  We were still so close that the screen was nearly out of focus, but I have to say, at such close range, every inch I could scoot back made a remarkable difference.  Due to our intimate range from the screen, however, there were times during the movie when it was unclear whether we were so close that the image was distorted or if the actors were truly making funny faces.

On the way home from the movie, Eugene and Lauren had a few more good laughs over my mangled attempt at English from dinner.  Miraculously, I had full range of motion in my neck the following morning.

I’m funnnyeah.

Bye,

Sugarlump

It’s kind of not so great…

I recently purchased Gwyneth Paltrow’s new book, “It’s All Good,” intrigued by the idea of healthier and cleaner eating.  The book offers a lot of great information and recipes about eating diary-free and gluten-free.  It also discusses healthier choices for fats and non-meat proteins.  As someone with a sensitive stomach, I thought I might try out some of these ideas with my meals.  Don’t get me wrong though, you won’t catch me eating tofu lettuce wraps any time soon/ever.  Except that one time I made them for dinner at my parents’ house.  I tried hard to sell them to my dad as a delightfully healthy alternative to beef tacos and he just wasn’t buying it.  And neither was I.  So I decided to apply my new way of thinking about eating to a fairly familiar food: pizza.

I headed to Dominos one evening a few weeks back.  I went in and ordered a medium gluten-free pizza thinking that was the smallest size.

Dominos guy: “Oh we only have the gluten-free in a small.”

Me: “Ok perfect.  How much will that be?”

Dominos guy: “11.99?”

Me: “Wow that seems expensive for a small…”

Dominos guy: “Well you can get a medium for 7.99!”

Me: “I thought you said the gluten-free crust only came in a small.”

Dominos guy: “Well it’s not really gluten free.”

Me: “What do you mean? Your gluten-free crust isn’t really gluten-free?”

Dominos guy: “Well if you ordered a medium it wouldn’t be.  The medium is a better deal unless you need the gluten-free for health reasons.”

(DUH?  Why else would I order gluten-free?)

Me: “I’ll take the small gluten-free, please.”

Verdict: The pizza was pretty terrible and expensive.  I think I’ll stick to the real stuff and just eat it infrequently.

My next venture was speckled lima beans.  I must admit that I usually make these with bacon grease and on this occasion I fully intended to make them that way; however, there was no bacon or bacon grease to be found in my refrigerator.  Having carefully studied all of the critical pantry items for a dairy-free and gluten-free household, I had thought it was worthwhile to purchase a TUB of coconut oil at the wholesale club.  Never mind that I only cook a few nights per week, I hate coconut, and I am the only one in the household that will be using the coconut oil.  The 54oz tub was just the ticket.

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Seeing the tub of coconut oil sitting on the counter, I decided to throw a few healthy spoonfuls in as my fat for the beans.

Boy was that a misstep.

I thought it would be a subtle taste, but no.

I threw in a halved onion and 2 cloves of garlic to try to mitigate the undesirable coconut flavor.  It helped, but the coconut was still there in a big bad way.  Bacon grease and coconut oil are not similar flavor profiles in case you were wondering.

Verdict:  Good thing you can use this stuff as moisturizer.  I’ll be smelling pretty tropical for the next 23.4 years or however long it takes me to saturate my skin with that tub of coconut oil.

Having failed miserably with savory options, I thought I might have better luck with something sweet.

Nope.

I found this recipe that sounded great for a gluten-free fudgy chocolate cake.  How bad could that be?

BAD.

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It looked so pretty, but underneath that icing lay a very strange tangy, cleaning solution-like aftertaste and a chewy texture much like an actual dish sponge (not to be confused with the lovely texture of sponge-cake).

It nearly ruined chocolate cake for me.

In an effort to stay positive and salvage the situation, I have been scraping off the naturally gluten-free chocolate icing and eating it by the spoonful.  I now have a scalped cake in my refrigerator.

Verdict:  There’s a reason people bake with wheat flour.

I’m hungry.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump

North comes South: Part II

Day 2 of my friend Blair’s visit was quite busy.  We started off the day with a plan to hike part of the Natchez trace and suited up in several layers of athletic apparel to face the nippy wilderness.  But first, we made a stop in downtown Franklin for a little retail therapy and sustenance.   I took Blair to several of my favorite spots: Iron Gate, Gino, Philanthropy and Anthropology.  Blair found a couple of cute pieces for Easter at Gino and then we decided a sweet treat was in order as delicious smells wafted over from the adjacent Meridee’s.  I had a strawberry pastry that I intended to eat just half of, but before I knew it, it had disappeared on me.  Blair got a cookie that I made a note to try sometime.  And by sometime, I meant later that afternoon.

As we walked to the car to head on to the Natchez trace, I lost Blair.  She was behind me one minute and as I went to unlock my Jeep and hop in, she was nowhere to be found.  I circled the car only to find Blair trying to get into another car two spaces ahead of mine.  We had a good laugh over that.

Our drive to the Natchez trace took us through the beautiful farms in Leiper’s Fork. I had never been over that way so it was an uncharted adventure for both me and Blair.  We saw lots of different animals. Blair was particularly taken by the horses wearing “sweaters.”  They were pretty darn cute.

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Don’t let this clear, sunny sky fool you; it was about 45/50 degrees.

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We arrived at the trail entrance and embarked on our hiking adventure a little leery of the heavily wooded/potentially creature filled path.  Thankfully, we didn’t encounter anything questionable except a swampy patch and a little horse poo.

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Not too far into our journey, we stumbled upon this beautiful view.

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Selfie alert!  Here we are at a large bluff along the trace.  You can’t judge us because there was not a soul within miles who could have possibly taken our picture.

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Limbo anyone?

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I was very interested in the neat shadow patterns of the trees.

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About 2 miles in, the trail opened up into this lovely lawn.

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Lots of pretty wildflowers.  Seeing this reminds me that I once suggested to my Dad that we turn part of my parents’ lawn into a meadow.  It was a no-go.

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We came across this memorial honoring the soldiers who traveled along the Natchez Trace during the war of 1812.

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We hiked the trail for roughly 4-5 miles.  Our pedometer seemed to be confused by our frequent elevation changes through the hills so our mileage was a little ambiguous.   We weren’t terribly concerned about it.  It was a nice hike and a nice chat and we were happy to have made it out of the wilderness alive.

It was 2:00PM by the time we wrapped up our hike and we were kind of hungry.  Just a little ways down the road, we stopped in “downtown” Leiper’s Fork for some lunch.  We first ventured into Puckett’s, which looked delicious, but neither of us was really in the mood for a rib-stickin’ meal of BBQ or meatloaf.  I was craving a salad (a very rare occurrence for me) and Blair thought something a little bit lighter sounded good, too.  We were about to head back to downtown Franklin when we spotted a little café.  Perfect! We walked in the door and started reading what looked to be a lovely selection of salads, soups and sandwiches.  The “host” greeted us with a very confused look on his face as he speculated, “Lunch?”  Not knowing any other commonly accepted term for a mid-day meal, Blair and I responded, “Yes?” (duh?).  He then informed us that the grills had been turned off.  We said no worries; we were hoping for salads anyway.   His frown deepened as he informed us that he wouldn’t be able to serve us salads either because apparently when the grill is shut down, this establishment that serves many things not prepared on a grill is paralyzed, and it is impossible to prepare anything edible for two hungry young ladies even though there were pre-packaged items staring at us in the refrigerated case in between us and Mr. No.  We left a little miffed and happily noshed on salads and fried pickles at 55 South back in downtown Franklin.

We arrived back at my place mid-afternoon and inadvertently took a power nap while catching up on some March Madness.  Then it was time to get ready for dinner.  On to the next meal!

Blair loves sushi so I knew I had to take her to Virago at some point during her visit.  Not only does it have great sushi, but it’s also one of my favorite restaurant designs in Nashville.  Good lighting, not too loud, different dining formats, great use of texture, interesting crowd, prime location in the Gulch.  It’s a pretty swanky spot.

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We sat at the bar so we could watch basketball.   After thoroughly reviewing the menu, we ordered sushi and drinks and settled in.  I can’t explain it, but something possessed me to order a cocktail spiked with jalapeno.  It was very interesting and mostly enjoyable until my sushi that contained sriracha entered the mix.  It probably didn’t help matters that I also dunked each bite into soy sauce mixed with a sinus-clearing portion of wasabi.   Towards the end of the meal I ordered a bowl of plain rice to counteract the inferno building in my mouth.

It was still a reasonable hour when we wrapped up dinner so we headed down the road to Patterson House, a throw-back speak-easy in Midtown.  We ordered fancy, chemically-engineered, hand-crafted drinks.  And doughnuts.

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We got to talking to the bartender (as this is the south after all) about the concept of this establishment and how it reminded us of a “mixology”-type bar in Boston, called Drink.  Much to our surprise, this bartender knew Drink because Patterson House had hosted several guest-bartenders from Drink recently.  This world is impossibly small at times.   We chatted with the bartended some more about her favorite places to eat in Nashville.   She recommended City House and Rolf and Daughters, two places high on my list to try in Germantown.  She also mentioned the Catbird seat, which is located directly above Patterson House.  I made a note to check it out.  Sadly, our new friend was moving to San Francisco in the near future, but it was nice to meet her.

And on that note, we concluded day 2 of our adventures.

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

North comes South: Part I

My good friend from college Blair came to visit me a few weeks back.  She was my first non-family member Yankee visitor and it was her first time in the south.  EVER.  It was a pretty big deal.

I picked up Blair at the airport early Wednesday afternoon and went over some ideas of things to do and try out during her stay.  Even though it was a little chilly (I’ll have you know it was 80 degrees the weekend prior), the afternoon she arrived was supposed to be the warmest of the days while she was here so I suggested we pack up a picnic and head out to Arrington Vineyards.  I had never been before but had been told by many people that I should go if I had the chance.  We packed up supplies in the largest beach tote known to man, picked up some cheese and olives at Whole Foods and headed on our merry way.

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After a scenic drive away from the city, we arrived at Arrington Vineyards for our free wine tasting.  Our server gave us his spiel, telling us we could try up to 8 different wines.  I asked Blair how many she was going to try, to which she replied, “8! I’m on vacation!”  I like the way she thinks.  No wonder we’re friends.

We were both starving and decided to nosh on the cute little crackers offered at the tasting to cleanse the palate between wines.  Blair referred to them as cracker pillows, because they did indeed look like pillows made out of a cracker.  Our server agreed and we giggled about it for a good 5 minutes.  For the record, this was before we had sampled any wine, which was unfortunate for Blair who tasted the crackers first.  I asked her how they tasted as she chewed for an eternity.

“Very…dry.   They make you thirsty.  In a bad way.”

I tried one or four also and concluded that they were indeed the driest crackers I’d ever tasted.  Who knew something so small and cute was capable of robbing your mouth of all moisture.  Perhaps they should use them at the dentist instead of that terrible saliva sucker thing…

For the rest of the trip, Blair and I referred to anything or anyone who put a damper on things as a cracker pillow.  As in, “Man, he was a real cracker pillow.”

Anyway, we tasted our 8 wines and decided on a bottle to purchase and enjoy with our picnic.

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I went to the car to retrieve the picnic and as I walked back up to the porch, I got several comments on my monstrosity of a bag.   It really does come in handy on such occasions.

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We set up our spread and caught up for several hours as we enjoyed our wine and cheese.  The sun began to set on the Vineyard and it was time to pack up and get ready to go downtown for dinner.

Normally, if I’m trying to ensure that my guests have a good time and/or trying to convince them to move to Nashville, I take them to places that I have been to and know are worth returning to.  I hadn’t been to Arrington Vineyards, but that was a hit so I continued breaking my rules that evening by suggesting we try a new restaurant in town that I hadn’t yet been to.

We freshened up and headed downtown to The Row, which had just opened the week before.  We arrived to a nearly empty restaurant and were seated in a booth in the corner under some very harsh, interrogation style lighting.  We asked if they could maybe dim the light a little, which they couldn’t (poor lighting design) so we asked to move.  We were re-seated in a very dark section and began to study the menu by candlelight.  From one extreme to the other in the span of 30 feet.

The menu had lots of southern classics to choose from.  I picked chicken fried chicken with cheese grits and bourbon sweet potatoes and Blair got the BBQ, brussel sprouts with bacon, and fries.  What the restaurant lacked in atmosphere it sadly did not make up with its food.  While it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t special.  I know better than to order fried chicken with two grandmothers from Kentucky.   Shame on me.  I’m sure the restaurant would be more pleasant if it were full, but I’m not in a hurry to go back and neither is Blair, particularly if she has to come all the way from Boston.  So maybe I should have quit while I was ahead with the blind adventures.  Thankfully, Blair was willing to write off that one since we started off well at the Vineyard and had several days of pre-approved adventures ahead.

And that was just the first 8 hours.

Stay tuned for parts II & III.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump