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St. Patrick’s Day with Mike Meyers, Judy Garland, Hal, Mal, Jill, Lance Romance, a Whole Lot of Tammies and One Single Barbie.

(…even though I’m not sure any of them are/were Irish…)

I feel like I’ve been in such a rut lately…and, like Austin Powers, my mojo is gone. But…to carry the analogy a bit further, I’ve been unable to find my Dr. Evil and somehow learn a powerful Dorothy-esque lesson that I never really lost it at all.

I still haven’t been baking much…even though a friend recently took me to Costco and I got 72 ounces of chocolate chips and could theoretically bake cookies for every last one of the 2,556,598 people who live in Brooklyn. And, sure, *that* would be one heck of a post…but…let’s be realistic.

Today is March 14…or 3.14…or Pi…which I suppose means I should be making pies. But I’m not. Cat-sitting, yes. Old-bill-shredding, yes. Laundry-doing, yes. Book-draft-tweaking, yes. Golden-Girls-watching, yes. But…pie-baking, no.

I just sort of accepted that maybe I’m not going to have anything to write about for awhile. And…I’ve been pitching stories — a girl’s gotta eat — and I was trying to think of some good ideas for St. Patrick’s Day and *that* got me thinking about the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi and their yearly parade (or, rather, the yearly parade they march in…) and I realized the timing is perfect and I *do* actually have something to write about now.

For the uninitiated, the Sweet Potato Queens are a group of women in Jackson who dress up in spangly green outfits with pink fur and fringe and big red wigs with sparkly crowns and accentuated body parts. They march in Hal and Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year and are led by Jill Conner Browne, who calls herself the “Boss Queen,” and has written numerous books on being a Queen that are both amusing and empowering…even though I sort of feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. She’s a good writer — and has definitely found her niche — but I think (and I mean this in the nicest way possible as I really do think it’s a good example of someone who found a way to make a living doing something she loves…) it’s the same brand of fiery Southernisms packaged under different themes, like Love or Money or Divorce or Getting Older. Nothing wrong with it. Just…like I said, if you’ve read one, you pretty much know the gist. (Although…to be fair, I don’t think I’ve read anything after the Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner).

And yet…despite the repetition or whatever, I really like those ladies and part of me wishes I was en route to Jackson for next weekend’s parade.

I went to the parade one year while I was living there…but I only vaguely remember the very end in which Tiny Tim — the Grand Marshal that year — passed by on the back of a convertible with his ukulele. And…it sort of begs the question how I could possibly miss and/or not remember a brassy gang of Southern women in sequined outfits and giant boobs who go by “Tammy” while Lance Romance tickles the ivory and they dance on a float…but I have absolutely no recollection of them. It’s kind of sad. I guess I had different priorities circa 1994…

A few things I *do* remember about the Magnolia State:

  • The boiled (pronounced “bald”) peanuts sold on the side of the road by an old guy with a crusty nose. When my mother first saw his sign, she said, “P-Nuts? What’s that? Pine nuts?” and our real estate agent furrowed her brow and said, “No. Peanuts.”
  • The prisoners wore pants with big green and white stripes and served lunch at a barbecue festival called Red Hot in July…which was a little weird. I’ve never had a felon serve me food before. (I don’t think.)
  • I had my first pulled pork sandwich at Red Hot and Blue (which my parents tried to find again when passing through Jackson last year but it maybe doesn’t exist anymore?).
  • My dad’s coworkers called him, “Mr. Brian,” because they wanted to be respectful, but also friendly…
  • I was on the yearbook staff with the mayor’s son and I played basketball with the Secretary of Agriculture’s daughter…and we had a dress code that said we could only wear t-shirts from the school itself or from colleges…and every time someone walked into the gym in a Yale shirt, my basketball coach would scream and when that person looked around, confused, he’d say, “Well it said, ‘Yale,'” but he pronounced “yell,” and “Yale,” just about exactly the same…or if anyone walked in with a shirt from say, Brown, that wasn’t Brown, he LOVED saying, “That ain’t brown, that’s blue!” (or gray or white or whatever). He was born in California, but only lived there for a few months when he was an infant…and yet still felt we had some sort of bond because of it. “My mama said you could get green beans real cheap there,” he’d say. He was the first person I ever met who actually chewed tobacco and he would spit it into the back of his truck. And, for whatever reason, I can remember him talking about getting fire ants in the innards of his truck and watching them spit out at him when he turned on the AC.
  • Mississippi also introduced me to king cake and beignets (I’m not a big fan of either)…fried pickles (which I like better), a grocery store chain called Jitney Jungle…and the sweetest little four-year-old boy named Connor who used to live next door to me and who I used to babysit every Saturday night. He saw Free Willy and fell in love with orcas…and, 15 years later, I still have a drawing on my refrigerator that he made for me with the Ross Barnett Reservoir and his house and some boats and the warning, “No Killing Orcas.” It’s really scary to think that he’s 19 now…and the same age as Levi Johnston. He was just such a sweet little boy…and — spoiler alert — I’ve often thought that if I ever have a son, the name Connor will be at the top of my list.

These are just random memories from Mississippi…and don’t likely paint a very good picture. I haven’t been back since…1996? 1997? I imagine a lot has changed. But it’s what I remember. (And I say this even after catching a little bit of Wanda Sykes last night in which she interviewed Constance McMillen and said that Mississippi always has a knack for being on the wrong side of history…and…gotta admit she sorta had a point…)

Back to the Queens: I’m not really sure how Jill Conner Browne became the Boss Queen…but I’m glad she did. She’s definitely on the list of people I admire (…and whose career paths I wouldn’t mind following…) From what I’ve gathered in her books, it sounds like things haven’t always been easy for her — she’s divorced and was a single mother and it took her a long time to find the Cutest Boy in the World…so, I mean, I guess I see her as another example of how important it is to be tenacious and that things work out when they’re meant to be…even if it doesn’t always make sense when you’re in the thick of it. (Amen? [Seemed the appropriate way to end that paragraph…])

And, heck, I think this whole thing got started when she decided to declare herself a queen one day. Which sort of begs the question why I don’t just call myself the Queen of Something and get the ball rolling. But I can’t really think of anything that I’d like to be the Queen of — Artichokes? Endives? Soybeans? — nor do I really have a place to march…or anyone to play the piano for me as I do it. Although — one thing’s for sure: I’m pretty sure the Sweet Potato Queens got the boob thing right. I have a friend who went as Doralee from 9 to 5 for Halloween…and she told me that she learned that men do not care what your boobs are made of as long as they are huge. So…perhaps the lesson here is that I should get a boob job if I want a successful media career?

Or…I could always marry a pop star from the 70s?

Frank Bruni wrote a story recently about Katie Lee (formerly Joel)…and, gotta say, I envy this chick’s life. Basically everything I want to do (with the exception of my own cooking show and marrying Billy Joel), she’s either done or has in the works: the Chelsea-Handler-esque collection of short stories; the monthly entertaining column in Cosmo; the Good Morning America appearances…if I had accomplished any one of those things, I might be happy to rest on my laurels for all eternity. (It also sort of reminds me of those bumper stickers that say, “I want to be just like Barbie — that bitch has everything!” Except my bumper sticker would say, “I want to be just like Katie Lee…”? No. That can’t be right either…)

Or, you know, maybe I can just print my resume on a shirt…?

I’m not sure how we ended up here. It’s a long way from existential crises to Happy St. Patrick’s Day…but, believe it or not, that was my point. So. I’ll slam the brakes and throw this post in reverse and wrap things up with, “Don’t forget to wear green on Wednesday! And have a happy St. Patty’s Day…!”

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, chocolate, cookies, feminism, Halloween, holidays, Mississippi, pickles, pie, St. Patrick's Day

An Old Bar, A Misinterpreted Sign & Food That Makes Me Verklempt

I met The Bartender at the beginning of the year. And he was funny. And sweet. And he worked around the corner from my apartment — at the oldest bar in Brooklyn! — and so I started spending a lot of time there. And soon I found that he was also incredibly smart…and completely genuine. And before long, I adored him.

Thus began months of what was sometimes great and sometimes terrible…and always uncertain. No one believed it would work out — we had nothing in common…except maybe our childhoods. But I continued to believe that maybe he was the Steve to my Miranda (and I sort of cringe at applying a S&tC analogy, but it’s really the most apt comparison…)…because we were so good together…(when, you know, we actually were together). (And, hey — Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat sang about basically the same thing.)

But then he’d disappear on me…and I’d be sad…and I’d call virtually everyone I know and sniffle about how I’d never love again or I’d send marathon emails that generated standard girl responses like, “He doesn’t deserve you!” and I’d try to start to figure out how I was going to get all of this out of my system. And then he’d pop up again and I’d be so, so happy…because, despite all the loosey-goosiness, I was happier with him than I’ve been in a long time…and I honestly thought we had something — *especially* when it turned out that one my best friends was the reporter for the Spanish language newspaper who interviewed him for a story about a crime in his neighborhood on her first day on the beat. The odds were infinitesimal! It *had* to be a sign! (Not unlike my very first date with the Englishman I almost married…when he was trying to come up with conversation and mentioned that he’d seen a movie  on TV over the weekend that was set in America. As he described it, I said, “Oh my gosh! A Time to Kill? They filmed that when I lived in Mississippi!” Of all the movies in the world, it was *that* one. I felt like it couldn’t *not* be the universe telling me to pay attention. And pay attention I did…and, two years later, I almost married the guy.)

But, in the end, I guess it wasn’t a sign with The Bartender. He made one final, brief return…only to disappear for good.  And now it’s hard to walk by the oldest bar in Brooklyn and know he’s right there…and it doesn’t matter.

I can’t not think about him every time I hear something about the Jets. (Lord, give me strength as football season starts…) And, whoa-ho, I will associate him with the Rangers for the rest of my life — there’s just no way around that. And I don’t really care about hockey all that much (which maybe is a sign that we *weren’t* meant to be…), so part of me was tempted to become a huge Giants fan (a giant Giants fan?) out of football spite, but…1) I don’t feel all that spiteful about The Bartender; and 2) Mark Sanchez is such a cutie! (Even though he went to USC…)

There are a lot of things I miss about The Bartender. (I actually had a dream last night that he came back…so I woke up this morning more wistful than usual…) And, yes, this is supposed to be a food-ish blog…so, dear reader, I give you some of the more culinary things I miss about him:

I can’t start with anything other than the lemon sorbet…which still sits in my freezer…and makes me think about him every time I open the door. The man actually loves his sherbet…but I couldn’t remember which one was his favorite when I popped into the bodega after a long day of playing baccarat…and the only sherbet available there had some sort of ripple in it…which seemed weird…so I opted for zesty lemon sorbet instead. And he was such a good sport about eating the sorbet even though it was the wrong one. (And…a bright side, I guess: I was actually able to eat some of it the other night without becoming a huge, sloppy mess…so maybe I’ll finally be rid of it before too long.)

That same night, I also got carded when I tried to buy him Coors Light — his beer of choice when he was poor. (When he had a little extra money to throw around, he liked Harpoon IPA or Brooklyn Lager. And…the only beer I really liked at *his* bar was Blue Moon. I can’t even tell you how many Blue Moons I had on his dime.)

I think of him whenever I order food from SeamlessWeb. We ordered food from there so many times — especially when he was hurt and wasn’t super-mobile. Plus, he was SO excited when he realized he could order food from there when he was at home, too, and his takeout options expanded exponentially.

There’s also the Thai place on Smith Street where we had our first official date…after hanging out at the oldest bar in Brooklyn for SO LONG. And he really surprised me — he was a pretty adventurous eater…which I wasn’t expecting as he was SO, SO conservative in real life that I assumed, like my father, he’d be all about meat and potatoes. Yet the man loved Thai food. And sushi. And was willing to try almost anything.

But…don’t get me wrong — he still liked meat. He was preparing to leave my apartment one Sunday afternoon to get home in time to hit up the grocery store when he said, “Boy am I tired of rice and beans. That’s all I can really afford now…so that’s all I’ve been eating for weeks.” So…I said, “You know I can cook, right?” and he said, “You’d cook for me?” to which I enthusiastically replied, “Of course I’d cook for you!”

What did he want? Meat. So…since he had just recently told me how much he liked lamb chops, I said, “Do you want me to make you lamb chops?” but he wouldn’t let me do that because he said they were too expensive…and then he remembered the Conan O’Brien Irish Beef Stew Recipe Scandal and said, “Maybe stew?”

I agreed…but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed weird to make stew in the spring — it’s a fall/winter comfort food! I wanted something more appropriate for a season of sunshine and rebirth…so I asked around. Flank steak seemed to be a big favorite…and then a friend told me that she had been at a dinner party recently with an Asian-style flank steak…and I recalled that my mother used to make an Asian-style flank steak that I liked a lot. My mom served it with rice though…and I couldn’t serve the poor man rice again, so I had to find a different side dish…and I was throwing around ideas like cucumbers with wasabi and rice vinegar

All week, I was sending him messages that went unresponded…but it wasn’t unusual for him not to write me back right away. “How do you feel about Asian-style flank steak? Will you eat that? Or is it too weird?” “If I marinate it, will you BBQ it? I am scared of BBQing.” Etc. And…as I was filling in for my old job that week, I had tentatively planned my grocery runs in between filing stories. I knew wasabi powder was going to be a long-shot at my everyday grocery store…but I figured I’d give Trader Joe’s a shot. And, bar that, I was pretty sure there was a spot on Atlantic Avenue with spices that would do the trick. And…as I planned out all of these intricate details and got more and more excited about Saturday night, I got a single message from him: “I think I’m going down to the Shore this weekend. Sorry.”

And then he disappeared for awhile. Not such a happy memory of him.

I *do* have a happy memory of his 30th birthday…which is one of the times he reappeared again. We’d gotten into a big fight about a week before…and then he hurt his foot at work…and I got a message saying he was in the emergency room…and that was it. All of my Mother Hen instincts kicked in, but there was nothing I could do. And I love birthdays! And this was such a big one! I wanted to do all sorts of crazy big things to celebrate and show him how much I cared about him. But, since he was gone, I figured I had to make plans to get far away from my apartment, or I’d spend the whole day holed up and sad about it. One of my classmates was having an annual bonanza at a farm upstate, so I decided to rent a car and make a key lime cheesecake to escape the city for a bit (with the very same Spanish language newspaper reporter who would later interview the Birthday Boy). But, alas, there was a snafu at the rental car place and the alternate route was too complicated…so I ended up staying home with the cheesecake. And then — lo and behold — he showed up on my doorstep. And I got to celebrate his 30th birthday with him after all…and I was so happy to see him again…although it was kind of morbidly ironic because he had been freaked out about turning 30 and getting old…and he needed a cane to walk with his busted foot. And then I offered to turn the Farm Cheesecake into Birthday Cheesecake…and he confessed the only cheesecake he ever liked is the one his mom makes…and I got really nervous…but, as luck would have it, he freaked out about mine. And I think he had a really good birthday.

I also think of him when I think of $2 kids’ hot dogs at Citizens Bank Park and my “Keep Drinking Until You Look Like John McCain Or Feel Like Cindy”-cup…and, of course, Coffee Talk. He did a Linda Richman impression that slayed me.

So…Mike Myers is no Bartender, but…indulge me in one last nod: Coffee Talk with Linda Richman.

Now talk amongst yourselves.

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Filed under baseball, birthdays, Brooklyn, cheesecake, football, hot dogs, ice cream, Mississippi, Palin, UCLA

July’s Most Memorable Food…

Well, here we are: August and I haven’t posted nothin’ in a real long time.

I have another good excuse though!

I mean, partially it’s because I feel no one in the universe reads this except for my mother (which is a scene right out of Julie & Julia! Except that in the Nora Ephron/Julie Powell version, people actually *do* start reading eventually)…

But it’s also because I’ve been on the road. With my mother. In a giant trailer. (You know, like you do…)

And I certainly can’t sum up the whole trip in a measly blog post…but I can hit some highlights.

First? Nick’s Bar-B-Q & Catfish in Carlisle, Arkansas. Whoa. SO good. I felt like I was back at Penn’s in Brandon, Miss. A welcome change from all the McDonald’s (remember, kiddos, we were 52 feet long and needed big parking lots that were easy-on, easy-off…), but also one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Everything was fried though — fried catfish, fried pickles, fried okra and fried pies. Well worth the splurge…though it’s probably a good thing I don’t actually live there. It was so memorable, in fact, that I brought my catsitter a bottle of Nick’s barbecue sauce. (Even though I didn’t try the barbecue…)

Next? Chocolate-covered bacon at the Wisconsin State Fair. They also had TONS of fried goodies…from s’mores to cheese to green beans. In fact, I tried my first fried Snickers bar at this fair (which my mother kept calling “frickers” and “frandy bars”)…and I had part of the traditional cream puff. I was really excited about the chocolate-covered bacon though — totally intrigued. It seemed like one of those things I had to try so I could report back to everyone who was sending me links to news stories about it…but, alas, the chocolate-covered bacon stand did not immediately make itself known to us…and after a long day at the fair, most people in my party were ready to head home. And since, like Nick’s, I’d probably already consumed well over my standard daily caloric intake, I opted to head home without complaint, too. Maybe next year.

And…finally, there’s boeuf bourguignon, which I feel I have to make after seeing the aforementioned film. (Although I’m not totally a fair-weather Julia fan! I’ve read both of the books and liked them a lot!) I’m a little nervous about it — the first step, for instance, is to cut bacon into lardons. Yikes! And I’m not sure I have a 9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole dish that is 3 inches deep. But I think I can handle drying 3 pounds of lean stewing beef. And, you know, perhaps this act will help me commune with Julia and Julie and find some sort of meaning and purpose in my life, too. (For the record, I’m still searching. And, to that end, it’s been a little tough being back in NYC…)

(Ooh — I also really enjoyed it when we were at a restaurant in Norton, Virginia and the waiter described a salmon special with haricot vert…but I’d need sound effects to truly make you appreciate it…)

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Filed under Brooklyn, candy, cheese, chocolate, fish, food on a stick, frying, Mississippi, pickles, pie, weight loss, wine