Three Things Thursday: (Three Days Late) Sunday April 12, 2015

I have so many “happies” to contribute to Nerd in the Brain’s Three Things Thursday this week that it took me three extra days to post it all!

(Yeah, nice try.)

We were in Augusta last weekend, visiting my Mom-in-Law, Linda.

Friday night, we took a sunset cruise on the Augusta canals, in a Petersburg boat, which is a reproduction of the pole-barges used to ferry cotton down the Savannah river to the Augusta mills in the late 1800s.  The hour and a half boat tour offered wonderful live music with the Henrys (the trio of violin, stand-up bass and guitar we enjoyed hearing so much a few weeks ago at 5 o’clock Bistro) and we brought a bottle of wine and a picnic of cheese and charcuterie to enjoy along the way.

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Saturday night, we took Linda to a wonderful restaurant in old downtown Augusta, called Frog Hollow Tavern.

Duck rillettes!

Duck rillettes!

The food and service were truly amazing.  I’m in the restaurant business, so it’s always so nice when someone just does it all right.  Details make the experience as much as the cuisine.

Augusta’s a little further South than Atlanta, so Spring was more firmly entrenched.  It was such a lovely weekend, with blue skies, warm sun and a riot of colorful flowers.

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My husband and I have made a tradition of dressing up for Easter every year. He dons his seer-sucker suit, I coordinate an ensemble and hat (Easter bonnet!), and of course we always get the rest of the family to doll up, too.  It’s so much fun – I always love our annual photos.

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Wishing you all a wonderful week!

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Food, Family and Memories

I still crave my grandmother’s cooking, although she’s been gone now for more than 15 years.

My Granny

My Granny

She wasn’t a “chef,” or a fancy cook, but she prepared delicious, abundant meals and she poured her love for her family into every casserole and every slice of cornbread. I think because she and my granddaddy had lived through the Depression, when times were so hard and food was scarce, it was important for her afterwards to make a feast of every family meal.

Sunday dinner at my Granny’s was a momentous occasion. (And Sunday dinner means lunch, by the way.  In the old South, “supper” is the evening meal.)

She started cooking for Sunday on Saturday morning.

She always had two or three meats (ham, a beef roast, fried chicken, fried catfish or country-fried steak with white gravy) along with one or two types of potatoes (mashed with gravy/sweet potato casserole/potato salad), a vegetable medley casserole, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, fried summer squash, fried sweet corn, green beans, slow cooked turnip greens with fatback, fresh sliced tomatoes in the Summer and fried green tomatoes in the Spring, and my all-time favorite, cornmeal–battered okra (the super crispy, slightly burned pieces are the best).

Hushpuppies, fresh-baked cornbread, yeast rolls and biscuits to sop up the gravy, or to slather with butter and her homemade plum jelly.  Coconut cake, banana pudding, pecan pie, strawberry shortcake and peach cobbler would satisfy your sweet tooth (should you have any energy left to open your mouth.)

I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in this country. I’d trade every one of those meals for one more chance to sit at her table.

Of course, she never sat at her own table. She bustled throughout the entire meal, filling up glasses with iced tea and water, fetching a fresh batch of biscuits from the oven, replenishing the chow-chow. After everyone else had stuffed themselves senseless, and the table was cleared, she might stop a moment for a small plate for herself.

She was always urging you to eat more. “But your plate is empty!” she’d wail.

Biscuits, butter and jelly

Biscuits, butter and jelly

Bulging eyes, tightening belts, groaning tummies and protests of being “full as a tick” had no impact: She’d just sniff and mourn that “you must not have liked it.”

Jewish grandmas got nothing on Southern grannies for food and guilt.

There are days when I yearn for for the food of my childhood.

Her food.

I’ll pick up squash and fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market.  I even bake biscuits. I have the technology, recipes and equations that should make them taste the same, but they never do.

Southern food is au courant.  Farm-to-table is all the rage.  You can spend a fortune on something called “soul food” in trendy restaurants in New York, Chicago and L.A.

The true soul of Southern food isn’t just grits and greens, though; it’s the passion that goes into making them.

It’s the time and care in the cooking, the bond of the family at table; the joy of generations sharing stories and sustenance, passing down the memories along with the recipes.

It’s my Granny,  piling up my plate not just with food, but with her love.

“We believed in our grandmother’s cooking more fervently than we believed in God.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Daddy’s Girl

Yes, I am a Daddy’s girl. Since I am also a Southern girl, there is no shame in this at all.

Regardless that I am a forty-something adult woman, it is not only perfectly normal, but socially acceptable for me to still call him Daddy.  Not Dad, not Jim.

(In the South, btw, Daddy is actually pronounced \ˈdeh-dē\ or “deddy”) 

383614_10151224165692561_295008258_nThere is a special relationship between Southern girls and their fathers.

Southern mamas teach their daughters to be strong women; but their fathers teach them that they are invincible princesses with arcane superpowers who should be treated with monumental respect.

Daddies teach their girls that they are brilliant and beautiful, worthy of love and loving and can do anything they put their minds to: start a business, be an astronaut, be president of the United States, be happy and fulfilled.

8895_10151224165697561_1369087551_nMy Daddy didn’t raise me to believe that my goals in life were defined by my gender.  He taught me to be smart and quick and strong and give my best.  And if I worked hard and believed in myself and what I was doing, I could have or be anything I wanted.

He taught me integrity by daily example.

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He taught me to win without vanquishing others.

He taught me a love of learning.

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He taught me that if I ever borrowed anything, I should give it back better than I got it.  Don’t just fill up the gas tank, wash and wax the car.

He taught me to be a good friend and told me that was the most important thing I could be in life.

My Daddy is my hero. Now and always.

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One of the (few) benefits of being older is that my father is now my friend.  My husband and I not only vacation with my parents, but we have dinner parties with them. We go to the beach together.  We enjoy their company.  We hang out.

We are good friends.

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I am eternally grateful for the strengths he gave me.  He not only taught me to believe in myself, but gave me a port in the storm and a shoulder to cry on for those times I didn’t.  He has always been there for me.

Me and my awesome Dad.

Me and my awesome Daddy.

I am proud to be a Daddy’s girl.  My Daddy’s girl.

We pick our battles and fight with the heart of a pit bull while still maintaining grace and elegance. Our mystique is that of a soft-spoken, mild-mannered southern belle who could direct an army, loves her mama and will always be daddy’s little girl.”

– Cameran Eubanks

I Carry Your Heart with Me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go)
– E.E. Cummings

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March 3, 2009: my friend Nykoyen Ekpoudom passed away from a venous thromboembolism, a blood clot in major vein in her leg that broke loose and traveled to her lungs.  It was unheralded and lightning fast – she lost consciousness and fell walking out of her office building in Manhattan. She never woke up.
I never got to say goodbye.

2758_81508697560_3302354_n I can’t believe it’s been six years.

I think about her a lot.

It stuns me that she never got to meet one of the other most important people in my life; my husband, David. She would have approved and having her approval was a big deal.

She would have a lot to say about my current career ambiguity (probably unsolicited.)  She would want to know about the plan I should be working on.

Were she here, she would read every single blog that I write.  She would give thoughtful feedback.

She would covet my new black boots.

She was the kind of friend you just talked to.  About anything.  Goofy or funny or crazy or scary or serious. Good or bad.  And yeah, if you were being an idiot, you could count on Nyk to gently bring that to your attention, but in a “get your *#%^ together – you’re better than that” kind of way. 10400076_68006197560_4408826_n copy Friends serve so many roles in your life – each one is unique and has a different place in your heart.

Nyk was unabashedly my Partner-in-Crime.  We were “sisters from another mister” – almost always up to something. Flirting with some hot boy, crashing a happenin’ party and commanding the room; shopping for completely unnecessary footwear, tossing down a Cosmopolitan or two three.

Off on some crazy adventure in Texas or California or New York.

Sometimes, there was karaoke. 2758_81508712560_1429340_n She was an brilliant business woman, strategically on-point for a stellar international career. Her goal was to always honor her family and her heritage.  She wanted to bring change to her corner of the world.

She would have.

She liked to grab all her girls, weave through the crowds in whatever bar and dance like a dervish in front of the band. She had a thing for drummers.

She had a razor sharp brain, an appreciation for happiness and a deeply kind and generous nature.  She saw the best in people – their true potential. She possessed a rich and rare sense of humor.

2758_81518087560_4352294_n When she traveled, she always packed too many shoes.

She dazzled like a diamond in a sun beam, illuminating every room she walked into.

She would order the craziest combinations of food.  Baked plantains, pickles, french fries and sweet and sour meatballs.  Chili-covered “death” dogs, topped with peppers and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, drowned with diet coke.

She always had my back.

She was my friend.

My life moves on, skirting a Nkoyen-shaped hole in the world.

I miss her. nyk I carry her in my heart.

Oh, Go Fly a Kite! (Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge)

Scrambling a little this week to get my entry into Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which comes from the song, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite!”

Every spring we vacation in Rosemary Beach, Florida with the whole family. Racing around on the beach,  dragging a kite through the sky is a big part of our fun!

With tuppence for paper and strings, You can have your own set of wings,

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With your feet on the ground, You’re a bird in a flight, With your fist holding tight, To the string of your kite

High as a Kite

Oh, oh, oh! Let’s go fly a kite, Up to the highest height!

Flying DuoLet’s go fly a kite and send it soaring,

IMG_2854Up through the atmosphere, Up where the air is clear, Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

Toast Masters

Last Sunday would have been my father-in-law’s Dave’s 81st birthday. He was a wickedly funny, mischievous, brilliant, vibrant, joyous, jovial gentleman and his loss has left a huge hole in our lives.

While it can’t make up for him not being here with us, each year we’ve tried to come up with a special way to celebrate his day and his memory.

For this February, we decided on a nationwide international coffee (or beverage of your choice) toast with friends and family.

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David and I were in Augusta, visiting his mom, Linda, so we started the morning with our java tribute to Dave with special mugs depicting the logo from one of his favorite submarines, the Haddock. We all have official Bechtel mugs from the company where he worked, but we forgot to bring them, so we printed out submarine logos and taped them to plain white mugs.

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Over in Birmingham, my sister, her husband and my niece Livvy, made a toast with slushies!

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Over in Chelsea, my parents chimed in with a jug of vino!
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In California, my husband’s sister, Debbie and her husband Joe raised a coffee salute:

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along with Debbie’s son (Dave’s grandson) Joey and his wife Jessica!
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And across the pond in England, Debbie’s daughter Alison hoisted a cuppa!

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Sister-cousin Patti proffered the coff in Huntsville, Alabama.

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And in Michigan, sister-cousin Christa re-branded Dave’s favorite beverage, in a toast that was a tonic to her feelings.

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So here’s to Dave: best husband, Dad, G’Pa, uncle, father-in-law and friend:  We miss you but you are always part of us. And there is no whining.  We promise.

We love you.

Salute!

Six Things Thursday: February 5, 2015

I’ve got a ton of happy moments to be grateful for and share in Nerd in the Brain’s Three Things Thursday this week.  I’ll throw in a few extra to (hopefully) make up for being MIA last week.

Basically, two very fun weekends! Both wildly different but lots of wonderful memories.

Not a lot of time to blog. (Working on this.)

Reunited with my very dear friends, Sharona and Mike!

Reunited with my very dear friends, Sharona and Mike!

Friday the 23rd, we enjoyed some talented local art at my friend Denise’ opening at the Movement Gallery, and afterwards, visited Sharona and Michael, friends from my “glamorous” bartending past, running the bar at the quite excellent restaurant, Valenza. (Food and drinks were stellar!)

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Gracie: a lot of cat to love. And brush.

Saturday, we met up with my parents, who were in town visiting with some good friends of theirs in North Georgia. Besides great company and a wonderful dinner, we  were able to hang out with their really fabulous cat, Gracie, who used her advanced powers of feline mind control to bend me to her will.

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On Sunday, we helped out with Atlanta Lab Rescue’s Adoption Day.  One of my very favorites, the incredibly precious and beautiful Jake, found his forever home with a really sweet young couple.  Yay, Jake!  That’s a whole bunch of happy right there.

{Insert a manic work week}

Continuing the awesome on Friday the 31st, we gathered at the mountain house for our yearly celebration of Burn’s Supper.

Patti, my sister-cousin

Patti, my sister-cousin

This is David’s and my fifth year to host (our slightly warped version of) the traditional Scottish dinner and it gets bigger (and a little rowdier) each year.

Patti, my little Mommy and me

Patti, my little Mommy and me.  Oh, and a photo bomb from Dana.

We had a happily overflowing house with my parents, their friends Mike and Derenda (Gracie-the-cat’s folks), my sister-cousin Patti and her friend David, good friends, Heidi, Hil and Dana, and our bagpiper friend, Sam and his wife, for a soul-restoring weekend of beyond stellar views, company, food, wine and festivity.

The motley "MacCrew."

The motley “MacCrew.”

So, there you have it! My 6 things Thursday, or 3 Things Thursday², as it were.  Thank you, Nerd in the Brain, for the chance to remember (and share) my big ol’ bunch of happy!

(Soon to come, Tales from Burn’s Supper. Many, many stories in itself.)

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Three Things Thursday January 8, 2015

The lovely Nerd in the Brain offers a Thursday writing (or photo) challenge called Three Things Thursday:

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

I think it’s a wonderful idea and had all kinds of fun and happy photos planned for my first attempt, but my day went and changed a little on me in a way I wasn’t so happy about.  Therefore, I have decided I’m going to change a little on it, and find some things to be grateful for.

My husband brought me lemon chamomile tea with honey

My husband brought me lemon chamomile tea with honey.  And a little friend.

Yes, I am thick ::sniffles::  Most likely, I’m having a reaction to the tetanus (t-dap) booster I had at the doctor today – some of the side effects are fever, nausea, dizziness and headaches.  I seem to have found them all.

David was very sweet and rushed me into jammies and bed.

He also brought me chicken and stars soups in bed!

He also brought me chicken and stars soups in bed!

Most importantly, he brought me the mandatory “sickie” blankie:

It was a Christmas present - a giant fake fur red tipped Siberian Zombie Fox, or some such silliness - lined with microsuede.

It was a Christmas present – a giant fake fur red tipped Siberian Zombie Mastodon Fox, or some such silliness – lined with microsuede.

It’s actually pretty huge, and fairly hairy. We named it “Game of Thrones.”

Yay!  I have a blanket named "Game of Thrones!"

Yay! I have a blanket named “Game of Thrones!”

I’m very thankful this Thursday for hot tea, tasty soup and a warm snuggly blanket. And a thoughtful husband who takes care of me.

Feeling better already!

December: A Recap

Ta dah!  Now that I have successfully disappeared for a month, I’ll move on to my next trick, which may or may not involve more consistent blogging.

The doctor’s note I’m submitting for my absence will remind the reader that December is the third circle of (work) Hell for me. No surprises there, it has been for the last twenty years or so, since I stumbled into the hospitality industry back in college.  My job has always been to create and insure other people’s holiday memories, not so much my own.

For years I didn’t really care,  but getting married (and older) has made it increasingly important to carve out time for special celebrations with family and friends.

Detective Inspector Ferguson approves the Christmas tree

Detective Inspector Ferguson approves the Christmas tree

So nowadays, about the time the T-day leftovers are packed up, I’m scrambling to plan as many snippets of holiday fun as possible around my chaotic schedule.  While highly valued, they do end up absorbing the wee segments of time I can normally devote to leisure activities like blogging, working out and laundry.

I think I was pretty successful this year in creating some Christmas “me” time; so here, in vague order, is a recap of my holiday season.

The Christmas Tree

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Nothing says, “Whoo-hoo, it’s Christmas!” like a Christmas tree.  A tree is mandatory for me since a long ago Christmas when I was so broke (mentally and financially) that I couldn’t manage one.  My friends chipped in and got me a tiny Charlie Brown tree, which was very sweet, but kinda sad.  Afterwards, much like Scarlett O’Hara, I swore dramatically to “never be Christmas tree-less again!”

Getting that Tannenbaum up and bedazzled is the first thing on the holiday agenda.

Now that I split my time between my loft and the home I share with my husband, I have reluctantly sacrificed real Christmas trees for a faux fir.  Real trees are truly the best, but with a work schedule skewing towards 12-15 hour days and 6-day workweeks, I would only get to enjoy about five minutes of twinkly wonderment each night after work before passing out from exhaustion.  I would then spend the entire next day, trapped at the restaurant, fretting that the loft was erupting in flames since I’d forgotten to unplug the tree lights.

Fake trees don’t smell as nice, but they are slightly less incendiary and don’t turn into a projectile weapon when you finally take them down mid-January.

Christmas Parties

Party group shot!

Party group shot!

Years of serving hors d’oeuvres at other people’s events has left me with a perpetual jones for Christmas soirees where I get to be a guest and dress up in holiday finery to revel with friends.

This year David and I not only hosted our own Christmas party, but we finally made it to our friends Anne and Randall’s Annual Grown Up Cookie Swap with Booze, (which to our shame and regret, we have missed the last three years.) An added bonus: our white chocolate, ancho-chili gingersnaps won “Best Cookie,” garnering us the first prize of a spendy bottle of champagne and the warm fuzzies of success.

Ice Skating

Toepick!

Toe pick!

What’s merrier than a little Holiday on Ice?

Unfortunately, ice skating in Atlanta is pretty much limited to pop-up rinks during the holidays, but I try to squeeze in at least one seasonal ‘Scapade, since I own my own skates and by December, have typically paid down my insurance deductible.

My BFF and I have a running “Toe Pick!” joke that never fails to convulse me in laughter, especially as I’m inevitably the one to take the first colossal wipe-out of the season.  David and I also went ice skating on our first date; which, especially now knowing my husband’s distaste for ice skating, never fails to remind me of the power of love.

Annual 3-D Flicks and Friends Outing

Or not.

Or not.

Every December, I meet up with a couple of fellow geek buddies the Wednesday the week before Christmas to catch whatever gi-normous sci-fi/fantasy 3-D blockbuster the studios are tossing out for the hols.  We started in 2010 with Avatar, moved on to Tron, and have been surfing the Hobbit death-spiral since 2012.

It’s been ages since we all worked together, but we have somehow survived changes in jobs, marital statuses and progressively offensive movie interpretations of beloved books to keep our yearly appointment of film and friendship for these past five years. Wow.

Which only goes to show you that “nerd” is thicker than water.

David’s and my Wedding Anniversary

Celebrating two whole years!

Our Alligator Butler, Jeeves, offers celebratory bubbles.

David and I have two anniversaries, as we had two weddings (the secret helicopter one and the include-the-whole-family one.)  December 22nd marked two years for the family festivity, and January 26 will be 3 years since we said “I do” while choppering about the Atlanta sky.

This year, David surprised me with a starry stroll on the Beltline to Inman Park for a lovely dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.  It was magical to have some “us” time and definitely one of my favorite moments of the season.

Christmas with my family in Alabama

I feel truly lucky that my parents and David’s mom, Linda have become wonderful friends and we are able to spend Christmas together.  It’s just plain awesome to have a jolly hol-i with all the family I love so much – including my sister, her husband, my niece Olivia, and “adopted” sibs Wendy and Alexis.

Playing Santa at the family tree

Playing Santa at the family tree

This year I was able to finagle almost a whole week off work to spend in Birmingham.  Score! Lots of fabulous food and drinks, talking and reminiscing and watching Christmas Vacation for the gazillionth time.  Oh, and lots of love.  That’s the best.

Overall, I think this is one of my favorite Decembers ever.  Hopefully, next year will be just as memorable and if I’m lucky, might actually include in a post or two, the odd sit-up and a little Woolite hand-washing.

Wishing you all a very wonderful 2015!

Oh, Fudge!

I decided to jump feet first into some holiday spirit last night and make chocolate pecan fudge.

My grandmother made it every year for Christmas and the thought of it always brings back wonderful memories of childhood holidays with my family. I don’t think fudge is a uniquely Southern thing, but anything that bad for you has to have some kind of Southern connection. Don’t get me wrong – I love it, but it’s sugar and more sugar fluffed with high fructose corn syrup, plus some sugary chocolate.

Oh and pecans. There you go – protein.

Hahahahahahahahaha.

Anyhow, I more or less follow her recipe, which as mentioned, includes something called Marshmallow Fluff. Marshmallow Fluff is widely used to insulate houses in third world countries and contains absolutely nothing of any nutritive value to the human body.

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You melt the Fluff (oh, why is the word, “nuclear” coming to mind?) in a big pot on the stovetop with a ton of sugar and a dash of salt. Then you “Paula Deen” it by drowning it in a bunch of butter. You boil the concoction for about 5 minutes, stirring until you think your arm will fall off.

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Then you add in vanilla, a gross ton of semi-sweet chocolate chips and pecans.

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I actually found (and used) the nut chopper my Granny gave me about 20 years ago. I didn’t even realize what it was at first, but I finally figured out it must be a manual food processor.

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Pour it into some buttered baking dishes (just in case your cholesterol level thought it still had a fighting chance) and let it set – Voila! Dixie Heart Attack!

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The only way it could be any less healthy is if you could figure out a way to fry it. And I’m sure some Southerner, somewhere, is doing just that.

Most likely with a hearty “Hey y’all, watch this!*”

*Typical “last words” of a Southerner.