Where has all the olive oil gone?

2014-09-17 16.13.45If you’re wondering where all those wonderful food items have disappeared to from your favorite T.J. Maxx, here’s the answer: They’re all at the Decatur, Alabama, store. I regularly (look away, husband John Pitts) check two T.J. stores with a couple of others on semi-regular rotation. And if you’re a Maxxinista (always wanted to have the chance to actually use that word), you know that the food aisle is one of the chain’s best-kept secrets: balsamic vinegars, olive oils, flavored salts, chocolates, dried fruits, healthy crunchy junk food, salsas, soft drinks — all with fancy gourmet-like labels not usually find on the Wal-Mart discount shelves but with Wal-Mart-discount-shelf prices. However, for the past year or so, seems as if the food selection at my T.J. Maxx stores has been shrinking. Used to be both overflowing sides of an aisle. Then, all of the food migrated to one side. Then it was just half of the side Now it’s even less than that. I couldn’t figure it out. Where are all the Stonewall Jackson jams? The Barefoot Contessa brownie mixes? The Turkish Delight from actual Turkey. What was going on? Turns out it’s an insidious plot to send all food items to the Decatur store. Or that’s what it looks like. More (shopping) research needed.

Also, dang you, Associated Press, for your switch to spelling out state names in text. Why did you mess with that? Just tell me why. But I NEVER will use “over” with numbers. NEVER. You can’t make me. So there.

My Dream Job

2014-04-26 12.30.18

This is the job I want — Vice President in Charge of Naming Stuff. You know these folks took their afternoon business meeting/strategy session to the open-air beach bar where pitchers of beer are $2 and the boss had told them “We need new names and logos for our soft drinks so DO NOT LEAVE THAT MEETING UNTIL YOU’VE COME UP WITH SOMETHING,” and they didn’t. I just hope that dr. perky and mountain lion (Capitalization, people. CAPITALIZATION.) never get together and have babies.

The Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything — Holiday Management

When it comes to navigating the yearly ready-to-trip-you-up-and-drag-you-down maze that is The Holidays, forget everything you’re read advising you to “eat right, sleep well and continue your exercise routine (even a brisk walk outside will help!).” I mean, you read the same article every year and has that advice ever worked? Of course not. And why? Because a) nobody has the time to be all healthy and pro-active, b) nobody has the energy to fix a salad when there are eight dozen Candy Cane White Chocolate Mini Cheesecakes to finish and c) anyway ARE YOU *** KIDDING ME? Look, all of the holiday stress is in your mind. You cannot change the chaos. You cannot change the tightly packed schedules that have you in 14 different spots in a mere 24-hour period. You cannot change the last-minute panic, the all-night wrapping marathons, the tree disasters. Those things are going to happen. Over and over again. So how to deal? Instead of fighting it and complaining and moaning, change your strategy: Instead of letting the holidays be in control of your emotional welfare, woman up and take control yourself. After all, the holidays are fun. Remember fun? For most of us, that’s what this mid-winter break is supposed to be. It’s when we impose expectations and standards and must-do’s and must-haves on our celebrations that we start to feel cranky. So relax. And enjoy. I don’t know about you, but this is about the only time of year people leave presents at our front door, everything smells good, sparkles and sequins are approved daytime wear and you can eat Bourbon Balls with impunity. What’s not to like? And just in case you need some actual helpful advice:

  • Never ever use the word “tacky” in conjunction with Christmas sweaters. For those of us in our 50s who were around for the original Christmas Sweater Boom, it’s much too soon to relegate this trend to the “tacky” category. We probably still have a few stashed away in the back of our closets. You can make fun of our mom jeans, our rhinestoned sweatshirts and our Madonna hair, but step away from the Christmas sweaters.
  • Besides, as soon as you post a photo of your winning entry in the office Tacky Christmas Sweater contest, your best client/customer/patron will walk in with the same sweater on. You have been warned.
  • Whether hours spent with a cozy fireplace and comfy blanket figure large in your holiday plans or you’re going to be grateful for a few squeezed-in minutes of free time, celebrate the season by adding wintry books to your to-read list. Consider “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg; Stieg Larsson‘s “The Girl Who …” books and any of the Inspector Wallender novels, by Henning Mankell. These Nordic mystery writers know how to create tight and compelling stories amid snow, ice and freezing temperatures — and when they’re not solving crimes, our detectives are pouring coffee and eating sandwiches. Doesn’t get much better.
  • In your holiday travels — even if it’s only to the neighbor’s house for a cookie swap — you may be faced with the Problem of Bad Coffee. It happens, even with people who listen to public radio and still have a Dennis Kucinich sticker on their Prius. Don’t compromise — you don’t have to drink Bad Coffee just because it’s the season of good tidings and joy. There is a solution. Eschew — politely, of course — the see-through beverage in the Mr. Coffee carafe. Then discretely remove the flask from your purse that’s full of your best cold brew, pour into one of your host’s coffee cups and proceed with add-in’s as you see fit. If you’re staying with someone (cough-cough my mother cough-cough) who is not a coffee drinker, then arrive prepared. A personal French press-tumbler is a good choice if you’re the only coffee fan, but consider bringing a more group-friendly method if others will be jealous.
  • Best present ever? A hot-lotion dispenser. Trust me.

Christmas Parties & the Coffee with Cathy ‘How To Do Everything’ Guide

 Or, how to be happy in your new house

Susan's coffee table is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. And see those papers? We actually read our assigned books and go over discussion questions and have some lively conversations. Over wine, of course. But still.

Susan’s coffee table is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. And see those papers? We actually read our assigned books and go over discussion questions and have some lively conversations. Over wine, of course. But still.

You know that friend you have who has been through so much yet still is a rock(ette) and everybody relies on her and she is cheerful and giving and loving despite every reason not to be and you want only good things for her always? My friend like that — let’s randomly call her ‘Susan’ for no reason whatsoever — is the DEAREST AND BEST person ever and I am so lucky she lets me be her friend. She recently bought and moved into her own house and because I am a bad friend who doesn’t deserve her, I hadn’t seen the new place until this week when she hosted a Christmas party for our four-woman book club. (We are small but extremely opinionated — or maybe that’s just me. The opinionated part, I mean.) She was beaming as she welcomed us in to her warm and cozy and festive oh-so-her home. Even if I didn’t know she lived there, I would have said she should — it fits her so well. She didn’t have to do a thing to it, paint-wise, and her furniture works perfectly, with plenty of space and traffic flow for family and friends as well as her own woman-cave for relaxing. She has such good taste in decorating — simple yet elegant with a big dash of creativity is the best way to describe her style. For instance, look at her china cabinet (below).

The clear glass centerpiece reflects the candlelight and the silver and white colors add to the festive wintry atmosphere.

The clear glass centerpiece reflects the candlelight and the silver and white colors add to the festive wintry atmosphere.

highboy

Susan adds personal touches to her china cabinet with a unique display of her Gail Pittman collection.

Love, love, love the way she propped up her square Gail Pittman plates in the back to look like inlaid tiles. Clever! (And remind me to tell you about some of our Gail Pittman adventures. You wouldn’t believe what folks will do for a matching dessert plate and espresso cup. And by “folks,” I mean me.) Anyway, for Christmas Susan used silver and pale blue and glittery white to create a magical wintry evening. She fed us yummy food and fun cranberry margaritas and we opened presents and talked about the book and laughed a whole big bunch. Doesn’t get much better than that, especially when you’ve got a hostess who is so happy to share her own home with her friends. Seems like that’s the way to do Christmas parties.

My Keen Observation Skills …

You know how you see something every day and really don’t pay attention? You drive blissfully by, say, a fast-food restaurant multiple times in the course of a week and it just sort of fades into the background andWendy's new look you couldn’t describe it to anybody beyond “It’s a building and it has a door and some windows and … ” That’s the relationship between me and the Wendy’s restaurant in Muscle Shoals, Ala. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in it (maybe a couple of times?) but it’s been a fixture on the daily commute and a navigational placeholder for years. You know — “Turn at the Wendy’s,” “go a couple of blocks pass the Wendy’s,” “it’s in that block behind the Wendy’s,” etc. And then the other day somebody said something about the new Wendy’s and I had no idea what she meant. “The new Wendy’s? In Muscle Shoals?? What are you talking about??? I pass by there every day and I haven’t noticed anything,” I (luckily) said silently in my head because I’ve learned through bitter experience to keep comments that make me look stupid to myself. Turns out that the old Wendy’s had been closed — which I vaguely was aware of — and then demolished and then this new Wendy’s rose from the ruins, in all its sleek and modern glory. Turns out it’s all part of a Pan to Modernize. Old-fashioned down-home folksy is out. (Tell that to the folks who gather around Jack’s fireplaces for their morning biscuits.) Minimal urban is in. Even Wendy herself got a style update. All I know is that this does NOT look like a Wendy’s to me. Sushi? Thai? Chinese? But not hamburgers. On the other hand, I obviously am not a reliable observer since I didn’t notice when it was nothing but an empty lot and some construction equipment, so what do I know?.

Lunch

DSCN2579No, this is not what I’m planning for lunch today. Because that would be silly. You don’t indulge in this much rich & yummy frosted baked goodness for your mid-day meal. These gems from Sweet Treats Bakery, in Tupelo, Miss., strictly are breakfast items. (Note No. 1: Actually, lunch today is a leftover half of the Mediterranean Veggie Flatbread Sandwich from City Hardware in downtown Florence, Ala., home of the only balcony dining on Court Street. Note No. 2: I wouldn’t actually eat ALL of this for breakfast. Some crumbs would remain. And Note No. 3: Both of these places are locally owned and locally managed eateries that serve fresh & flavorful food accompanied by friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes. Highly recommended — and that’s a completely unsolicited and un-paid-for recommendation.)

Friends (and Family) with Words

Here are some conversations I recently have heard, been part of, eavesdropped on and otherwise been amused/horrified/fascinated by:

1) I didn’t pay attention to the two sweet elderly white-haired women talking quietly in the local diner’s corner booth until one of them jabbed her fried-chicken leg in her companion’s face and said, loudly and emphatically, “Well, why should she even try when somebody’s always covering her butt?” She then took a bite out of the chicken leg and their conversation continued softly. Wish I could have heard the rest. I’m guessing the “she” in question is the two women’s baby sister who even years ago was everybody’s favorite … and still is.

2) A non-profit I work with hosts receptions for its corporate sponsors. One of my jobs is to liaison between the sponsors, who can invite whoever and how many ever folks they want, and the volunteers who cook and decorate for the party. The volunteer in charge of the food for this specific reception was in our office kitchen and asked me how many guests the sponsor was bringing.

“He told me it wouldn’t even be 100,” I said, proud I’d talked to the sponsor that morning and had a ready answer.

“Well, that doesn’t help us much,” the volunteer said, rolling her eyes at my incompetence. “‘Not 100′ could be 20 or 80.”

She was correct, of course. Anxious to redeem myself, I backtracked quickly. “I’ll check with him again. What’s the deadline for when you need an exact count?”

Busy counting napkins and cocktail plates, she shrugged. “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. We always cook for 50, no matter what.”

3) An Episcopal priest I know relayed the story of her 2-year-old daughter’s new book of Old Testament stories. My friend started out reading every word to her daughter but then, as bedtime got closer, began summarizing paragraphs with “And then God was sad because the people acted ugly.” (Just like putting grapes in your chicken salad and letting any part of your underwear show in public, “acting ugly” is something Southern children are taught not to do. Ever.) The little girl then got impatient with the reading pace and flipped through the rest of the book, turning pages and chanting, “They acted ugly. They acted ugly. They acted ugly.” Thousands of years and millions of words of Old Testament analysis boiled down to three words.

4) On a gorgeous spring day, I was playing Ninja-Turtle-Star-Wars-Pirates with our 5-year-old grandson in the backyard. I was the lookout on top of the slide in case Penguin attacked us (he does not like to mix up his food but gleefully combines his Super Hero fighters). However, lookouts need naps, too, so I sat on the bottom of the slide, leaned back and contemplated the perfectly blue spring sky. Breaking character for moment, he came up behind me. “Kacky. O, Kacky! I’ve got a dead slug I’m going to put in your hair,” he said, chuckling. “That is so cute,” I thought to myself. “How adorable that he’d pretend to do something so icky to tease me. What a sweetie.” That’s when I heard Older Daughter yelling, “STOP RIGHT THERE AND DO NOT PUT THAT DEAD SLUG IN KACKY’S HAIR!” He did warn me.