This is going to embarrass my friend so I won’t say her name – oh, let’s call her … let’s see … oh, let’s just randomly say her name is ”Cheryl” and she maybe lives in Florence, Alabama — but I loved this inviting basket of towels in her downstairs bathroom. Doesn’t it look like a basket of Easter eggs? So pretty! And this isn’t just for company — she always has her towels like this. It’s like the most pampering and luxurious spa ever. She picks up the cheerful riot of colors in other of her bathroom accessories, and I’m particularly impressed that she uses this small piece of free-standing furniture in her bathroom to block one of the two doors into the room — offering a little more privacy and a cozy storage place all at the same time. I love how this simple thing reminds us how easy it is to add a touch of personality to a room without going overboard — or over budget — and how those small little details can make friends and family feel so special. And how you can tap in to your hidden creativity just by looking at everyday items in new ways. She inspired me to go home and, well … at least clean my bathroom. That’s a start, right?
Did you ever think about all the things you know and take for granted that somebody else might think is the most incredible idea ever? For instance, a friend of mine and her husband are hydroponic farmers. Twice a week (soon to be three-times-a-week, by the way, for all local fans of Jack O’Lantern Farms in Florence, Alabama), they host a market to sell their produce and other fresh and yummy food items. Recently they started selling Higher Ground coffee, and they offer samples of a different flavor at every market. One day my friend said she had made too much coffee for the market and hated to dump it all out. I said, “Just make coffee ice cubes.” Turns out she’d never heard of that, but I do it whenever I have leftover coffee — and it does happen! Just pour the extra elixir of life coffee into ice cube trays and freeze. When the cubes are frozen, pop them into a freezer bag. You can use them to cool a too-hot cup without watering it down. Or put them in smoothies or cold and/or frozen coffee drinks. Anyway, my friend thought that was genius, and it got me wondering about all those little tips we have tucked away that we never think to share. Here are two more of mine that maybe you’ve never considered:
1) Keep a pair of inexpensive utility scissors (not your good sewing scissors) plus some airtight-sealable plastic sandwich and quart bags in your bathroom. When you think you’ve gotten everything out of your tubes of lotions and creams and gels, cut them open and you’ll be amazed at what’s left. You can get several days’ use out of something you thought was empty. Just be sure to keep the cut tube pieces in an airtight plastic bag so the product doesn’t go all yucky.
2) Before you put your boots away for spring – and I’m talking your good leather boots here — take them to a shoe-repair shop for thorough cleaning and any repairs. Don’t be shy. Load up your car with every pair of boots you’ve got and take them all over. It may take a while to get them back and you might think it’s a bit pricey (or maybe that’s just my local shoe shop), but I promise you the bill will be less than a pair of new boots and you’ll extend the life of your favorite pairs by several seasons. Besides, you need a shoe shop on your side for those footwear emergencies that always seem to happen at the worse possible time.
My third tip? Never put a roll of damp paper towels over a light bulb to dry out. But probably you already knew that.
Spring is peeking out here in Alabama — especially at my friend Cheryl’s apartment. She hosted our four-woman book club and, as always anytime we’re at her place, it’s a treat. We the other three book-club members cheerfully agree that Cheryl is the best hostess among us. No contest. She’s so creative and gracious and makes us feel special without that uncomfortable I-spent-three-days-getting-ready-for-y’all-so-you’d-better-appreciate-it sort of attitude. She makes it seem so easy! And joyful, like she’s so happy we came over. Her spring decor started at the front door, with planters of cheerful flowers and a welcoming doormat that set her springtime theme of birds’ nests with soft and pretty blue eggs. She continued her theme with her place settings, which I loved. The earth-toned dishes and linens featured birds’-nest details and the centerpiece was a pedestal of delicately colored eggs. Such a serene and grownup change from the usual pink and green Easter pastels that always are around this time of year. Cheryl bought most of her pieces at Pottery Barn — she knows that store like I know a Starbucks and keeps up with what’s new and cool. The birds’-nest napkins are sold out at http://www.potterybarn.com but some individual stores might still have them. And isn’t the hunt part of the fun?
In our house, we are Band Geeks. Both my two daughters were Band Geeks in high school, my younger daughter was a Band Geek in college and I was a supportive Band-Geek Parent for years. But you know you can hang up your “I’m a Proud Band Mom!” T-shirt and throw out recycle your calling lists but you can never entirely lose the Band Geekiness. It’s there, just waiting for a chance to resurface and turn you into someone who gives up free weekends for band competitions and says things such as, “I think I’ve got a spare vibraphone string in my purse.” It happened to me. It could happen to you. Read more at my weekly newspaper column, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100326/ARTICLES/3265000.
And while you’re clicking, check out Gwyneth Paltrow’s Part II of her trip to Nashville, Tennessee, at http://goop.com/newsletter/75/en/. GOOP is her newsletter/Web site and she usually writes from the I’m-a-famous-and-rich-movie-star-and-you’re-not-you-poor-things perspective. However, I was impressed with her Nashville Part I — she recommended several affordable and authentic Nashville spots for eating and drinking, whatever your beverage of choice. Part II looks at shopping and family activities and I’m on less solid ground here for seconding her suggestions. Except for Hatch Show Print, I’ve never been to any of the retailers she likes. But that’s not surprising since the clearance rack at Belk’s is about as upscale as I get. Her choices for family fun, though — the Cheekwood Botanical Garden, the Frist art museum and the Adventure Science Center — get my vote, too.
You — yes, you! — can bake bread at home, even if you suffer from yeast phobia and break down in tears at the thought of controlling water temperature and room temperature and oven drafts and all those other variables that affect bread quality. And I’m not talking about bread machines, either. I think we can all agree that those weirdly consistently rectangular loaves never can be confused with real homemade. But there’s a way to do produce yeast bread perfectly every single time. It’s called the no-knead method, and it involves a wet dough you stir up and then let rise for almost a whole day, resulting in a freeform artisan bread that needs to be eaten that day. But you’ll never have to worry about it going stale because I promise when you make bread with this method, you’ll gobble up every crumb within minutes. I’m speaking from personal experience here — well, the gobbling up part, anyway. My friend Sherry Campbell, director of the kitchen-incubator Shoals Culinary Complex in Florence, Alabama, gave a class on this method recently and everybody was impressed. It’s easy and simple and requires equipment you probably already have on hand — or can pick up inexpensively. There rarely is breaking news in cooking, but this method got lots of attention a couple years ago when cookbook author Mark Bittman, who writes The Minimalmist column in the New York Times food section, reported on his success with the no-knead techniques perfected by Jim Lahey, a New York restaurant owner and chef. Here’s Bittman’s original article, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html (which I was shocked to see actually came out almost four years ago instead of the two I was thinking in my head), and more photos and a story about Campbell’s class from the Florence newspaper, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100324/ARTICLES/3245001.
Tupelo, Mississippi, has everything you could want: Great food, great people and great shopping. And two of those three are at The Main Attraction, downtown at 214 West Main Street. An eclectic clothing and gift boutique, Main Attraction is a place to while away the afternoon and unearth some you-can-only-find-it-here treasures. Owner Barbara Fleishhacker is the genius behind the collection of flowy cottons, retro jewelry and fun and funky accessories. It’s Hippie Chick meets Southern Lady with a bit of Wouldn’t It Be Fun To Backpack Through India thrown in. Both Barbara and her store are warm, friendly, cool and hip all at the same time. In fact, she’s a vital voice for downtown Tupelo development and her store is a gathering spot for fellow Tupelo fans — and anybody who can’t resist the lure of a find. And, actually, there’s a coffee bar, too, so you can find all three of those things you want. The Main Attraction is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Phone number is (662) 842.9617. Visit http://themainattraction.biz for more.
Happy spring! Saturday, March 20 marked the arrival of this much-anticipated season. Most years by now in my northwest-Alabama northeast-Mississippi southern-middle-Tennessee corner of the South, we’ve already had several gorgeous spring days. But 2010? Not so much. That’s why everybody who saw it loved this spring-like tablescape at a recent book-signing with author and columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson. It was a typical gray and cool and wet day, but the folks at ColdWater Books in Tuscumbia, Alabama, outdid themselves with these sweet and delightful touches of spring. I love the gentle pop of colors in the blue-and-white print tablecloth, the pink punch and the yellow flowers. And aren’t you impressed with that huge pottery bowl holding ice and water bottles? When I first saw it, I was thinking $300 or more handmade one-of-a-kind creation. But no. It’s a $30 planter from Lowe’s. Sweet! Just make sure the one you buy doesn’t have a hole for water drainage, and you’re good. And here’s another good idea: Buy Johnson’s new book, Enchanted Evening Barbie & the Second Coming: A Memoir. It’s Johnson at her best — funny, smart, insightful and a tad wistful. The book-signing was the first time I’d met her, and if you ever get the chance to meet her, too, take it. She was so gracious and friendly — a real delight. And if you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy of Johnson’s previous book, Poor Man’s Provence. It’s about the second home she and her late husband, Don Grierson, created for themselves in Cajun Louisiana. But be warned: It will make you want to drive down there to see it for yourself. Spring-break road trip, anybody?
Oh, my cookies (as almost-2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable says with his precious little Capt. Adorable-grin) – I love Bracket Time!!! When NCAA men’s college hoops action starts, I am glued to the TV. I mean, I’m even okay with Survivor being preempted — and you know how sacred I hold my weekly Survivor-watching. Not jumping on the Bracket bandwagon? Not sure what all the fuss is about? I know — I sort of feel that way about all those football bowl games. But read this article by Sports Illustrated writer Michael Rosenberg and you might give it a try: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/michael_rosenberg/03/17/ncaa.tournament. And then click on over to my weekly newspaper column at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100319/ARTICLES/3195000 for why I choose basketball over football, every time. (And you know I have to say that very quietly since Alabama is pretty much totally football country and basketball is what you do to fill the time until spring practice starts.)
And while you’re clicking, I want you to go here — http://goop.com/newsletter/74/en/. But first let me explain, because you’re right that GOOP is the much-maligned newsletter sent out by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. As much as I loved her in one of my all-time favorite movies — The Royal Tenenbaums — her newsletter makes me cringe and laugh and spit out my coffee all at the same time. She writes — and I assume it’s actually her doing the writing — as if we all can hop jets and fly over to London for some bargain shopping or we all have famous friends who can give fashion and entertaining advice or as if we all have the time to Gaze Out At Nature and Contemplate Life. Sigh. Maybe I’m just jealous. Because, as Liz Lemon says, “I want to go there.” But this one time, GOOP gets it right. Apparently Gwyneth recently spent some time in Nashville, Tennessee, and the latest “Go” edition of the newsletter has some great food and music suggestions and some lovely things to say about my fellow Tennesseans. For the most part, she eschews the patently tacky tourist places and sends you to authentic Nashville — including the patently tacky tourist places that make Nashville what it is. Go to Nashville. Gwyneth and I both insist.