Anytime I can rummage through a grocery store where the primary language is anything but English — not so common here in Alabama, let me tell you — I take it. And one of my favorites is Nabeel’s Cafe and Market, in Homewood, Alabama (right next to downtown Birmingham). I don’t even know what most of this is, but it’s fascinating to wander around the aisles and try to figure it out. Nabeel’s Cafe is a favorite place to eat, too — I’m especially in love with the hummus (accompanied by fried pita chips, of course), bruschetta and Greek-fried potatoes. And if you’ve got restless young ‘uns with you who are less not-so-much interested in sitting quietly and discussing the latest judging mistakes on So You Think You Can Dance and debating the merits of Survivor’s Evil Russell, there’s a nearby playground for quick energy releases. Plus, you can take home a bag of fried pita chips. What’s not to like? Check out Nabeel’s at http://www.nabeels.com.
Homewood, Alabama — a small town that’s virtually indistinguishable from adjacent Birmingham — is one of my favorite shopping destinations. Seems as if something new and different always is popping up there — such as the store White Flowers. Owner Diana Hansen recently relocated her gift and clothing boutique to Homewood from nearby Mountain Brook Village, and the all-white window displays immediately grabbed everybody’s attention — in a quiet and serene way, of course, because that’s how you feel as soon as you open the door and are surrounded by all things white. Hansen sells jewelry, candles, home decor and clothing as well as T-shirts, nightshirts and baby clothes that feature her own designs inspired by art and gardens — all in varying shades of white and natural neutrals. Be sure to visit the White Flowers Web site, http://www.whiteflowers.com — it’s as graceful and peaceful as the shop.
One of my family’s favorite stores in Birmingham, Alabama, actually is in Homewood. Red Rain is a sort of environmentally-aware general store with an emphasis on local and Alabama products. You can buy handmade soaps and candles in recycled containers, local honey, fresh produce, gently used books and glass ware, lotions and creams, handmade jewelry, stationery, Alabama Dirt shirts, yoga items and Alabama Chanin appliqued dish towels made from recycled T-shirts. Red Rain is a vibrant gathering place, too. Shopkeeper Sarah Gurganus believes in being an active member of the community and in environmental education and supporting local craftspeople and artisans as well as environmental causes. Red Rain is a go-to place for gifts in my family. Just walking in makes me smile — and it smells so good! Plus, it’s so inspiring to see what creative folks can do. Red Rain also has Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bronners products and some wonderfully whimsical pottery pieces. Check out the Web site at www.redrainstore.com.
One of the best things about fall here in Alabama is wearing jackets. I love jackets! I feel more pulled together when I’ve got one on, plus, it hides the dreaded middle-age pooch that persists in hanging around no matter how many crunches I do or chocolate-covered creme-filled Krispy Kremes I give up. Since my usual cold-weather outfit is a simple and lazy turtleneck with jeans, jackets jazz things up and help me look less basic. Shop for great jacket deals in the early spring as retailers get rid of their winter stock. That’s how I got these three great finds. One of my favorites is the orange embroidered wool. As soon as the temperature gets down to the 50s and 60s, I pull it out. I wear it so much I’m sure everybody gets sick of seeing it. But I don’t care! I feel happy as soon as I put it on. I got it on sale at Audie Mescal women’s boutique in Tuscumbia, Alabama, two or three years ago. The soft green quilted jacket is a velour-like brushed cotton in such a pretty shade. It’s from a clearance rack at specialty store Marigail Mathis in Florence, Alabama (http://www.marigailmathis.com/). I also lucked up on a near-matching long-sleeved green T-shirt. But the best buy is this fantastic gray jacket from Theodora women’s shop in Homewood (Birmingham), Alabama. I coveted it all season two years ago but could not pay the $300 or so price. I guess nobody else could, either, because I found it on the sale rack at such a discount that I bought it immediately before the store owner changed her mind. Score!