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Sunday, February 28

My BBQ Blueberry Nights in Memphis

If you aren't from the North Mississippi-West Tennessee area, let me share something with you. Memphis doesn't top "Best/Favorite" lists for much of anything.

It's sad, but true. But despite its bad wrap of being "the dirty sister" to Nashville and its high crime rate, there are a few reasons I think you should make the trip to the Bluff City...
The obvious one, of course, is the Elvis connection. Millions of people flock to Graceland every year to pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll. Even if you aren't a fan of his music, Graceland's kitschy 1970s furniture and shag carpet make it worth the trip. Plus he had like a zillion gold records and some pretty cool cars. I love the pink Cadillac.
Number two? Memphis has a great zoo, which has actually topped the "Best Zoos" list! Yay to us for making a non-food-related "Best" list! As someone who's been to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, I'm not sure it totally deserves to be number one, but it definitely deserves to be in the top five. Psst....we have two pandas. Maybe that's why we're the best.
The third one is Memphis' history. Walk down South Main, and you'll see the Lorraine Motel on one side, and Ernestine and Hazel's on the other. Just off Beale, you'll find the beautiful Peabody Hotel and W.C. Handy Park. Drive up Union, and you'll pass Sun Studio, where Johnny Cash and many others (including the King himself) got their big breaks. Yes, the city has history - some good and some bad - but it's got soul.
Finally, here's the big one - possibly the main reason why we live in Memphis. It's all about the barbecue, people....Memphis' has the best barbecue in the entire world. Other cities try to say theirs is the best, but Memphis tops this "Best" list every time. Because of Memphis' love for barbecue, we have the world-famous BBQ Fest every spring during Memphis in May. I promise you haven't smelled anything as divine as Memphis barbecue. Even the vegans like it (although they prefer barbecued veggies and tofu). It's just that good. As you can probably imagine, everyone in this city thinks their "BBQ" is the best. I haven't sampled them all, but I have a few favorites:
5. Blues City Cafe - We had our wedding rehearsal dinner here, so it has special meaning for us. Plus, it's the only downtown BBQ joint to make my list. Blues City has good ribs, and its on Beale Street, so it's worth a visit.
4. Germantown Commissary - It's basically a shack in old Germantown, which happens to be one of the wealthiest parts of our county. It's so quaint, and the ribs are delish.
3. Corky's BBQ - Corky's will ship their barbecue anywhere, which is cool. Their ribs are cool too.
2.Bar-B-Q Shoppe - Located in Midtown in a historic building, the Bar-B-Q Shoppe is your typical Midtown restaurant - one-of-a-kind and done right (FYI - #1 is also a Midtowner). I really like their spicy fries with my BBQ plate....
1. Central BBQ - Their BBQ nachos are out of this world (see photo above for proof). When I say out of this world, I mean it. Seriously, folks, this is why we live here. They are that good. After a long day at the build site (I work for Habitat for Humanity and during build season, we work 11-hour days), I always ask Jonathan to order nachos from Central. They have two locations - one in Midtown and another on Summer Avenue, not far from our house. Another cool fact? Central has gone green, and they use eco-friendly packaging, they compost and they recycle. Yay!
If you're a Memphian and you're reading this, you may be wondering why the world-famous Rendezvous isn't on this list. In my experience (note that I said "my"), they have terrible service - We've been there three times (!), and we've never been served. If you can't eat your BBQ, then life is not too good, right?
So, anyway, it was Saturday night, we had barbecue (Central), and we settled in to watch My Blueberry Nights. Good little indie flick, and guess what? Memphis (Read: Ernestine and Hazel's and The Arcade) is in it! Hollywood loves Memphis! Hurray for the "dirty sister!"
If you're wondering about the movie's title, they eat a lot of blueberry pie in this flick. The pie eating (of course) made us want something with blueberries in it, so we made these:
Adapted from Bottletree Bakery's Whole Wheat Muffins With Fruit from The Square Table Cookbook.
For the Muffins:
- 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour - 3/4 cup sugar - 1 tsp. baking powder - 3/4 tsp. baking soda -1/2 tsp. salt -3/4 cup vegetable oil - 1 1/2 cups milk 1 tsp. lemon juice A pinch of lemon zest 2 cup diced fresh fruit or berries (we used frozen blueberries)
For the Streusel Topping
1 cup sugar 1 cup flour 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine oil, milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Gently stir fruit into the flour mixture. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until just blended. Spoon into muffin cups, and set aside. Mix together streusel topping - combine sugar, flour and butter. Spoon over muffins, and then bake for 20 minutes.
Makes approximate 18-20 muffins.
The best part about them? The streusel (and yes, it's spelled correctly. I had to double-check it :). It's pretty darn delicious, and it would be good on top of other baked goods as well. I'm thinking baked apples. Mmmm.
I'm sorry if your mouth is watering after reading this....now you know why I go to the gym and eat healthy during the week. :)

Our Love Affair with Southern California

The Manhattan Beach Pier and one of our feathered friends.
A view from Palos Verdes.
Every year when we discuss vacation possibilities, there's always one definite on our list:
Southern California.
It's like home to us, which is funny because neither of us has ever lived there.
Manhattan Beach Boulevard - the center of my universe.
But our hearts are there. When the plane touches down in L.A., I know I'm home. Luckily for me, Jonathan has grown to love it just as much as I do. We love the warm weather, the pedestrian-friendly streets, the ecletic shopping, the food, the mid-century buildings, and the laid-back lifestyle.
Most of all, we love the ocean. If we could, we'd live in a tiny cottage by the ocean and never leave. Since we can't do that, we make the four hour trip by plane to the Pacific Ocean once a year, and we walk along the beach between Manhattan and Redondo, inching closer to the Palos Verdes pennisula.
This place is in my blood. My great-grandmother lived in Palos Verdes until her death, and at her request, her ashes were scattered in the ocean. My mother went to high school here. My grandmother lived in nearby Cerritos until her death in 2003.
Me and Jonathan in PV in Summer 2005. That's my great-grandmother's house at the bottom right. I never met her. She passed away the summer before my mother started her senior year in high school. Beautiful La Venta Inn with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
I first visited California when I was three months old. I love my grandmother's house more than my own home. It's just a simple house on a simple street about 20 minutes from the ocean, but she lived there for 30 years. Her garden is filled with her roses, some of which she brought from my great-grandmother's garden in Palos Verdes. My great-grandmother's fabulous 1960s coffee table and lamps are in her living room. There is an orange tree and a palm tree in the backyard.
Jonathan and I come here every year. We cook in her kitchen, and we take her towels when we go to the beach.
At the end of each trip, we don't really want to leave, but we always know we're coming back.
In the meantime, we dream of the ocean and enjoy our memories from our special place.
Where is your special place?

Thursday, February 25

Happy Me, Happy World

It's hard to believe March is almost here. Since 2010 started, we've made some changes in our lives that have made life sweeter for us:
Exercise!
We started going to a new gym late last year, and we've made a conscious effort to continue to go in 2010 - even though it's been cold and I've had quite a few night-time work commitments. As a result, we're both feeling better, and I was able to run my first mile (in three years!) last night. I've never been a runner, and even when I finally managed to finish that mile three years ago, I felt like I was about to have a heart attack. For some odd reason, running is much easier for me now. I started out by running half a mile, and then I increased it to .60 of a mile, .85 of a mile, and then one mile...literally in two weeks! I'm pretty proud of myself, and I'm suddenly thinking that a 5K might be possible. It's really good for me to have this exciting fitness goal.
Being Green!
We started composting, recycling and using Kleen Kanteens last spring, and we felt so good about our efforts to be green. Now that it's almost spring again, we're getting ready to fire up the old composter. We save our veggie and fruit peelings in lidded container under our sink, and then we throw them in the composter every few days, along with leaves, grass clippings and my dead flowers. It's a simple way to help the Earth and our mulch budget. Ours came from Costco, and it was definitely cheaper in the store!
Being Thrifty!
Instead of spending money here, there and everywhere, we've set some financial goals for ourselves this year. We're putting money towards a new deck, windows and a fun trip, and we created a budget to reach those goals. Being on a budget means we've had to cut back on shopping trips, and it has forced me to focus on the things I really want. Here are a few things on my wardrobe wishlist:
Cute Wedge Sandals. These are "Mallorie" from Coach - so not on my budget!

Anthropologie "Just Add Water" Necklace - I have a major addiction to roses right now. It's even worse than usual.

Anthropologie Picture Show Dress - this isn't on my budget either, but it's so pretty and girly.
FYI - I'm saving my vintage budget for our trip although I see so many cute things online each and every day! :)
Healthy Eating and Lots of Home Cooking!
As part of our budget and exercise plan, we're also eating a bit better this year. Lately, our diet has consisted of lots of homemade soups and colorful salads. We "party" on the weekends by making yummy homemade dishes like pizza, pancakes and taquitos, but we haven't been going out to eat. It's amazing how much you save (money-wise and calorie-wise!) when you eat in. Plus, it's really fun to drink wine and cook with your sweetie. On next week's menu - baked egg rolls! They are divine. I promise to share this recipe! :) I included this photo of a Bento Lunch Box, which you can find here, because it's such a cute idea. I haven't bought one for Jonathan yet (I get to eat at home for lunch - lucky me!), but if I see one at Target, it's got his name on it! How are your 2010 goals coming along? :)

Sunday, February 21

Inspiration Pages: Home and Life

Like my fashion inspirations, my home and life inspirations lean towards classic, vintagey looks. I live in a cottage that was built in 1950, so that style suits our home very well. Most of these looks are cozy and perfect for cold February, but they also work well for spring and summer too.
By the way, I love, love, love the yellow chair painted with flowers. I clipped it out of a magazine in 2006. It was from Anthropologie, one of my all-time favorite stores. I'm hoping to paint some lawn furniture with flowers this year.
See? I'm already getting inspired...

Inspiration Pages: Fashion

Ever since I started reading fashion magazines at age 12, I've been cutting them up for inspiration. In middle school, high school and college, I created collages for the front of my binders so I'd have something nice to look at when I was in class. I also decoupaged journals, bulletin boards, picture frames, a lamp shade, a waste paper basket and furniture. Yes, I was slightly obsessed. After college, I got away from decoupaging, mainly because of the lack of time and a smaller budget for things like magazines. Recently, a blog friend, Alli from One Pearl Button, inspired me to change my ways with her lovely inspiration pages. She keeps hers in a pretty binder. Mine are currently in a folder - the binder may have to wait a few weeks....it has taken me a month to clip and glue enough stuff for six inspiration pages... Here are my three fashion inspiration pages. The best thing about them? I now know where I need to spend my money this spring - on mini skirts, ruffles, rose-adorned clothes, neutrals (of course!), pretty jewelry, and blush pinks! :) What spring style is inspiring you right now?

Thursday, February 18

Fashion Inspiration: Jackie

She is one of the biggest American fashion icons of all-time. She gave us....

those famous pearls...

the big sunglasses and the little sheath dress...
a look at far-off countries...
that hair... a black and white wardrobe...
the classic trench...
color...
and the ability to change with the decade while staying true to herself.
She gave us a look which stands the test of time.
Decades later, these looks are relevant.
I don't remember when I discovered the style of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Like Audrey, her look has inspired me for as long as I've followed fashion.
Both of their classic favorites have become my classic favorites.
It's funny to imagine Jackie following trends, but in the early 1950s, she actually copied Audrey's hair and clothes. Audrey was JFK's favorite actress at the time, so it makes sense. Jackie didn't copy for long - once married, she quickly became a fashion icon for generations of women all over the world.
As if being the fashion queen of the universe wasn't enough, she was a champion for the arts throughout her life. She led the restoration of the White House, and she helped to save Grand Central Station from demolition. She was also an accomplished book editor.
If Jackie's style inspires you, I recommend reading Jackie Style by Pamela Clarke Keogh and What Would Jackie Do? by Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway (this was actually a Valentine's Day gift from Jonathan a few years ago). Not only do these books give you the little details of Jackie's look, but they also give you a glimpse into the personality of a true American icon.

Monday, February 15

Things I Love - Post Valentine's Day

Lovely Hair. Lovely Makeup.
Lovely Weather.
My Love!
January 2004 - A few weeks before our first Valentine's Day. Ignore the bad hair - we were in college and didn't get home for haircuts every often... :)
I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's weekend. Mine was a weekend filled with love and some lovely things. Here are a few of those...
1. Jazz - In my opinion, this is the best music for a date-night-at-home or a evening of relaxation with a book and a bottle of wine. Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk are the masters. A few of my absolute favorites? John Coltrane's Ballads and Blue Train. My husband discovered jazz music during our last year in college, and I bought him several jazz CDs for Valentine's Day that year. For that reason, we especially like listening to jazz on date nights. We fell in love to this stuff...you will too, I promise! It's beautiful. :)
2. Chocolate Chip Cookies - Homemade, of course! Here's my recipe, which was adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. This is a great cookbook. If you don't have it, I highly recommend it!
-One cup of butter, softened -One cup of packed brown sugar
-Half cup of granulated sugar
-3/4 teaspoon of baking soda -1/2 teaspoon of salt -Two eggs
-Two and a half cups of all purpose flour (I used one and a half cups of white flour and one cup of wheat flour because I ran out. I couldn't tell the difference!)
-12 ounces of chocolate (I bought two blocks of chocolate - one white and one dark - and chopped them up myself - much better texture than morsels!)
1. Preheat oven to 375. Beat butter until smooth (you can use an electric mixer if you want. I used a whisk). Add brown and granulated sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of the bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in the flour, adding a little at a time. Stir in the chocolate.
2. Spoon dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. I always make my spoonfuls too big, and then my cookies grow into each other. They are softer that way, but they aren't pretty looking. If you want pretty cookies, make sure to use a teaspoon for your spoonfuls, and leave two inches around each cookie. Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until edges are light brown. Enjoy!
P.S. Chocolate chip cookies are even better when coupled with a glass of wine - I like Red Bicyclette. It has a really cute logo too.
3. Pink Cheeks - Perfect for date nights (and days!) and spring time. They make me think of angels and cherubs. I use Benefit's Dandelion and Smashbox's Prism, but there are so many great pink blushes available....
4. Things that make me think of spring - Open windows, a new deck, roses, daffodils....We had another snow day today (actually it was more like a snow afternoon). I love the snow, but I'll be excited when we can turn off the heat and open the windows. We're getting a new deck this spring, so we spent Saturday afternoon moving my beloved rose bushes to make room for it. I hope the poor roses survive this cold weather and their relocation... 5. The Long Bob - I've been wearing my hair long and wavy since last spring. It's an easy, good-for-my-hair look because I don't dry it all the way, and I rarely touch my straightening iron. Good for my hair, yes, but does it make me look good? Probably not so much, so I finally decided to get it cut. I really like Gwyneth's hair, so I thought why not? After all, a good cut is good for your hair, right? By the way, it's pretty versatile as well - I can wear it straight, wavy, and even in a very cute ponytail with only minor assistance from my hairclips. I plan to wear it straight one day and wavy the next... :)
What lovely things did you enjoy on Valentine's Day 2010?

Monday, February 8

Loss

Two of my friends lost their grandmothers last week. My heart goes out to them.
During the summer of 2003, I was finishing my first year of college (at our hometown community college), and I was getting ready to move to Oxford, Mississippi to attend the University of Mississippi. My mom had spent the summer at our new condo in Oxford dealing with painters and movers while I was taking Spanish III and IV back home. She was a yo-yo that summer, bless her heart.
My grandma, who had lived alone in California since the death of her husband in 1997, hadn't been feeling well, and she had gone to the doctor to have some tests done. The day before my mom flew out to spend some time with her, we received the news from the doctor. My grandma had terminal cancer.
I flew to California the day after my classes finished. I'll never forget the moment the plane touched down in Los Angeles. It was the only time in my nineteen years that I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to face the reality of what was happening. Thankfully, the end came quickly for my grandma. She passed away one week later, the day after I returned home to Mississippi. My dad had arrived only a few hours earlier. My grandma was comatose by that point, but I like to think she waited for him so that my mother wouldn't have to be alone.
Our family is a small one - my mom, dad, sister, my grandma and me. My mother was an only child, and my dad's family lives in Naples, Italy. The loss of my grandma was devastating. Although she lived on the other side of the country, we talked, emailed and instant messaged on a daily basis. We spent many summers and holidays together. She was a huge part of our lives, and then she was gone so suddenly, at only 69 years old. Until that point, she had never been sick a day of her life.
Less than one week after her death, I started school at the University of Mississippi. I don't remember much about those first few days. On Labor Day weekend, we flew back to California for her memorial service. That weekend was a tribute to her life. We filled the chapel with photos and flowers, and we played her favorite songs. The rest of the weekend was spent doing the things she enjoyed - riding the carousel at Disneyland, eating a Polly burger and pie at Polly's Restaurant, working in her garden.
The next week, a friend from home who lived in the condo next door invited me over to hang out with him and his roommate. I was living on my own for the first time, and I was struggling with my loss, so I was very grateful for the company. His roommate, whose room was on the other side of the wall from my bedroom, also played guitar. During those first few nights on my own, I found the muffled sound of his music very comforting. A month later, he invited me to dinner with some of his friends. We went to a German restaurant in an old gas station. It was possibly the most bizarre night of my life, but it was our first date. More dates followed - concerts, football games, movie nights, trips to the local bar. We went out as friends, but as time passed, it became clear that we were together. By Thanksgiving, we were a couple.
I know it probably sounds crazy, but I know my grandma brought Jonathan into my life. I see her in him almost every day. He even uses her favorite soap. He lifted me out of the darkness in the days and months following her death and made my college experience one I'll never forget. Along the way he became my best friend, and then my husband.
About two months before our wedding day in fall of 2007, I was driving around Memphis, listening to our wedding reception play list. One of the songs on the play list was Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. It was one of my grandma's favorite songs, and at her request, it was played at her memorial service. I've heard that song hundreds of times since her death, but for some reason, I hadn't really listened to the lyrics until that day. When I heard the lyrics, "I see leaves of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world," I knew she was involved in our wedding. We had picked out Christmas trees and red roses for our December wedding almost one year earlier. My mother and I cried and cried over this.
We still cry all the time. In the six years since her death, the pain of missing her hasn't gotten easier. We want to talk to her, and we want to see her at the top of stairs when we arrive at her house. We still think about her every single day. To keep focused on the positive things, we try to live our lives as she did. We plant flowers, we bake and cook, we love the things that were popular in her generation, and we enjoy the simple things in life. Most of all, we try to make her proud, and keep her memory alive so we can share it with her future great-grandchildren.
That's all we can do, but it doesn't stop us from missing her so very much.
Above: My grandma did the cross stitching years ago, and my mom gave it to me as a wedding present.

Monday, February 1

Feeling Poetic

I don't read enough poetry, but I can definitely appreciate the craft.
In college, one of my two minors was English. After finishing the required English Literature I and II, I signed up for a Beginning Poetry course on a whim. It was a little daunting because the syllabus stated we had to write poetry, read poetry, keep a journal and recite two poems from memory. We're not talking a few poems here. We're talking multiple poems a week, and they had to be good.
For someone who didn't even read much poetry, all of this was a challenge. My first few poems were awful, and to make matters worse, we had to distribute copies of them so the rest of the class could make comments and suggestions. Ugh.
At first, all of this stressed me out. But, by the end of the semester, the poetry class had become somewhat of an outlet for me. I really enjoyed reading the poetry books and the other students' work. Plus I could actually write a pretty decent poem, and I truly understood how much time goes into writing poetry.
Looking back on the experience four and a half years later, I realize how much beauty exists within poetry, if only we take the time to read...
Of all the poems I read that semester, these two are my favorites. Enjoy.
How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the wings. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breadth,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! And if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
She Walks in Beauty
George Gordon Byron
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and in her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Do you read poetry? What is your favorite poem?