September 30, 2011

Friday Flashback: Hoskins Drug Store

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One of my favorite spots to visit when I have a little time and want to get away for the day is nearby Clinton, Tennessee. I’ve already shared some of our previous adventures there.

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Our most recent trip was this past weekend and we ended up eating at the lunch counter inside the quaint Hoskins Drug Store. This image was taken at Hoskins in 1947 and it still looks very much the same today. I ordered a pimento cheese sandwich and it was oh so yum!

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https://dalemackey.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/go-to-hodskins-drug-store/

Now I’m kicking myself for not having soup…if only to see this soup-o-matic contraption put to use. Wonder how much the price has gone up from 15 cents.

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Yes, I know another picture of my sandwich probably isn’t necessary, but it may have been one of the best pimento cheeses I’ve ever had.

My hometown is seriously lacking a spot like Hoskins, but I’m glad there are still a few holdouts scattered around the area where foodies and nostalgia-types like me can enjoy the view. Do you have a spot like this in your town?

September 27, 2011

Last Hurrah…at the Fair

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When I was growing up, the county fair always fell around the time school started back, even though it was still technically summer. I guess this is what makes me think of the fair as summer’s last hurrah. This year I visited the Tennessee Valley Fair, in my adopted hometown as opposed to the smaller county fair where I grew up. Thankfully, this bigger fair still had the same staples I was expecting, and even a bit of small town whimsy.

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Upon entering the gate, I ran smack dab into this fellow and he was gracious enough to pose for a photo.

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From old time beverages to prize winning vegetables, the fair was a feast for the senses as well as the palate.

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I’m so ready for fall and Halloween so seeing these beautiful pumpkins definitely got me excited!

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Most of the watermelons we enjoyed this summer were the smaller round variety, but this gigantic beauty is deserving of its blue ribbon.

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Fried goodness tempted me at every turn, but I was able to snap this picture without compromising my diet. I don’t know who invented funnel cake, but I’d like to thank him (or her).

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The last adventure of the day was a stroll through the goat barn where much cuteness ensued.

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If you got a chance to visit the fair this year, what was your favorite part?

September 22, 2011

An Impromptu Interview with Allan Benton

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So yesterday I promised to share a little bit more about Mr. Allan Benton, proprietor of Benton’s Smoky Mt. Country Hams. Maybe you haven’t heard of him, but if this is the case you might be in the ever-decreasing minority. Several years ago, Gourmet Magazine’s John T. Edge wrote a feature on Mr. Benton and spent some time with him in New York visiting with chefs who were using his products. At that time the concept of scallops in a Benton’s ham consomm√© might have been a novel one, but now you’d be hard-pressed to find a chef who isn’t familiar with Benton’s cured offerings and/or using them in his or her creations.

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Events like Bacon Fest probably wouldn’t even take place if it weren’t for him. But you won’t be able to convince him of this. Alright, I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. While the southern beau and I were stuffing our faces Saturday evening, I noticed someone had taken the seat beside me. Imagine my shock to turn around and see Mr. Allan Benton. I’m sure my eyes were as big as saucers as I turned back to the beau and mouthed (as inconspicuously as I could muster) “OH MY GOSH…THAT’S HIM.” Subtle, huh?

Over the next hour or so, Mr. Benton chatted with us and graciously answered my questions. He told me about how he had started out to be a school teacher, quitting when he realized he would have been teaching in the 2nd-lowest paid county in the lowest paid state. He said he starting curing meat as something to do in the meantime “until he figured out what he wanted to be.” He said he still hasn’t figured this out. We talked about how pork, which once was simply a sustenance food, is now considered such a delicacy and how he owes his success to the creativity of others…like the chefs who fed us at Bacon Fest, folks who are always coming up with new ways to enjoy pork.

He spoke of how people today don’t really know how to butcher, a complaint I heard my grandfather, a long-time Kroger butcher, make in the years before he retired. When I asked Mr. Benton if he ate bacon every day, he said that while he could eat some variation of pork every day, he mainly lived on cheddar cheese and peanut butter (a man after my own heart). He (wisely) told us his wife is the world’s best bacon cook and that the secret to good bacon isn’t really in the kind of skillet you use, but instead that you “play with it a little bit” while cooking. We conversed about gravy (red eye vs. sausage), kill’t lettuce (something we both love), and his facility in Madisonville, Tennessee (a place he assured us we’d find underwhelming).

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The whole experience was such a treat and I left the event on cloud nine. Some people might feel this way after meeting a movie star or television personality…I guess that’s how I’m different from some people. I’m making plans to visit Benton’s, hopefully during a time when Mr. Benton will be around. He said he only spends about 75 hours a week there. But they say if you choose a career you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Maybe that’s why Allan Benton doesn’t think he’s found his career path yet…making bacon just comes so naturally for him it doesn’t feel like a job.

When I first visited Europe about 10 years ago, I would try to tell the people I met where I was from. Only when I’d say “Jack Daniels” would Tennessee have a sticking point with them. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before saying “Benton’s bacon” will put me on the map.

{Image 1 & 2 via flickr}

September 21, 2011

Highlights of #KnoxBaconFest

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This past weekend was one for the books, including an event on my calendar I had been eagerly awaiting for a quite a while…Baconfest! Taking place in my fair city for the 3rd year in a row, this was the first time the southern beau and I were in attendance. Hosted by Mockingbird Events, Baconfest is a celebration of all things pork, made up of different festive happenings throughout the weekend.

While all the components sounded fun, we decided to attend the Bar Food & Cocktail party, which was Saturday night at Knoxville’s Public House. We ate, we drank, we conquered. {WARNING: gratuitous bacon pics to follow}

DSC03127BLT  Stacks…Bacon, chicken livers, & heirloom tomatoes on rye

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Those first three dishes were created by Ben and Amy Willis-Becker, owners of Harry’s Delicatessen. All their offerings were delish, but the chocolate caramel tarts were absolutely to-die-for.

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Next were the creations of Stanton Webster, local chef and advocate of Tennessee Agricultural products. They included a southern style crostini with spicy eggplant & Benton’s bacon relish, Murray’s goat cheese & Benton’s country ham salad on a buttermilk biscuit, and my favorite, confit trout with sweet onion mayo on blue corn chips. You’d have been embarrassed for us if you could have seen the stack of empty cornhusk serving plates on our table at the end of the night! …but when it comes to bacon, we have no shame.

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One final treat from Mr. Webster was the cheese straws (a southern staple) made with Murray’s extra sharp cheddar and candied Benton’s bacon, served in those adorable paper cones.

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The next chef who treated us with delicacies was Matt Gallaher. He not only cooks for our state’s fine governor, but also tours with/cooks for the band Kings of Leon. His appetizer of Muddy Pond sorghum & Benton’s bacon cracker jacks was the perfect mix of salty and sweet.

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Those pictures don’t do justice to his fried green tomato pintxo with Benton’s bacon & cheese (left) and Wedge Oak Farm chicken liver pate with pickled watermelon rind on grilled toast (right).

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Last, but certainly not least, we enjoyed small bites from Holly Hambright, chef extraordinaire. Once I realized her pig-shaped shortbread cookies weren’t just for decoration, I made one of them feel right at home on my plate. Other yumminess from Holly included Benton’s ham hock tamales with red eye tomato gravy, a tart with fennel, Vidalia onions, sauerkraut, tomatoes and bacon and s’mores sticks.

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You might be wondering how our pants fit after this evening of pigging out, but somehow we managed. If you’ve noticed the common ingredient in many of the dishes I mentioned being from Benton’s, well that’s true too. And if you’re not all baconed out from today’s post, tune in tomorrow for the inside scoop on Mr. Alan Benton…who happened to dine right next to yours truly (my little foodie heart skipped a beat!).

Happy Wednesday pals!

September 20, 2011

What’s your accent…a video blog

You may have seen the list of words (see below) going around among bloggers and the accompanying video-blogs they have created pronouncing them. The list includes words that can sound vastly different when said with different accents.

I thought about doing an accent vlog of my own, and I still might, but what’s more interesting to me is hearing the accents of the folks who taught me to speak. Since I spent a great deal of time with her when I was little, my grandmother (Me-me) seemed a logical choice. She was a good sport about it all, plus today is her birthday so send her some love if you get a chance!

Here’s the list of words: aunt, route, wash, oil, theatre, iron, salmon, caramel, fire, water, sure, data, ruin, crayon, toilet, New Orleans, pecans, both, again, probably, spitting image, Alabama, lawyers, coupon, mayonnaise, syrup, pajamas, caught, furniture, daughter, dig

In case you’re curious, she’s a Sparta Belle (from White County, Tennessee). And according to my southern beau, both my Mom and I have her exact same laugh.

Happy Birthday Me-me! Thanks for teaching me how to speak southern, as well as many other valuable lessons.

{If you’ve done an accent video blog, share the link with us!}

September 19, 2011

Rollin’ down a backwoods Tennessee byway

Our nation’s first highway (Lincoln) may have come to be in the 1920s, but it’s our second stretch of transcontinental road that means the most to me. U.S. Route 70 (named Lee Hwy in honor of Robert E.) runs from eastern North Carolina to east-central Arizona. Pre-dating the interstate system, Highway 70 was once called the Broadway of America and even reached downtown Los Angeles in its early days.

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It might seem strange to have a soft spot for a road, but I do. My great-grandfather worked on the construction of Hwy 70 between his home of Monterey, Tennessee and Nashville. Just a young teenager at the time, but the eldest of several siblings with a widowed mother, my grandpa hauled concrete and rocks to earn a man’s wage to support his family.

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He later walked this road many times over from Monterey to Baxter, Tennessee, where he met and married my great-grandmother.

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I don’t always take time to stop and enjoy the view, but yesterday I had a few minutes so we got off I-40 at Monterey and continued the last 17.5 miles to my hometown on the back roads (aka Hwy 70). It was a gorgeous day and a memory I’ll definitely tuck away for safe-keeping.

I hope you had a lovely weekend friends! Happy Monday!

September 16, 2011

Stage & Screen, #GWTW75 via @clarencebrown

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This week has definitely been a busy one, but Wednesday the southern beau and I managed to make it to the theatre, which for me is a rare treat. The show we saw, Moonlight and Magnolias, was delightful and I encourage anyone, especially fans of “Gone with the Wind” to see it if you have a chance.

The play tells the true story of the 5 chaotic days in which David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, and Ben Hecht (producer, director and writer, respectively) turn Margaret Mitchell’s classic book into a screenplay fit for film.

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The catch is that Ben Hecht, the so-called writer, hasn’t read the book. The only logical solution is for Selznick and Fleming to act it out for him, chapter by chapter as Hecht types furiously to capture the action. At one point, the actor playing Fleming simultaneously portrays Melanie giving birth AND Prissy coming back without Dr. Meade, high-pitched southern accents and all. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.

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We even got discounted tickets by volunteering to usher. If going to the theatre isn’t in your budget right now, I definitely advise checking on opportunities such as this (as well as free final dress rehearsals and discounted previews) that your local theatre might offer.

Have you seen Moonlight & Magnolias? I’d love to know what you thought! If not, what was the last stage production you saw and how’d you like it?

{program & production still via Clarence Brown Theatre}

September 14, 2011

A Night on the Town with @moderninkmag

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This past Saturday, I attended a launch party for the second issue of Modern Ink Magazine, a fabulous new digital mag whose founders happen to call my my sweet southern city home. The magazine is published quarterly and both the premiere issue and the most recent one have been a real feast for the eyes.

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The party was held at the Public House, a cheeky little establishment on the edge of Knoxville’s ‘Old City.’ The menu includes more than your typical bar fare, and we especially enjoyed the popcorn in truffle oil and the charcuterie board with offerings from the famous Benton’s Hams.

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I was excited to meet the lovely founders, Rachel Wood Turner (left, and also pictured below at right with her fabulous sis-in-law Claire Balest, who contributes as the magazine’s beauty editor) and Allison Sprouse (right).

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The ladies were so gracious to invite the public out for this fun event and my southern beau and I enjoyed it very much. We had another special connection with this particular issue of the magazine because a quote of mine about my sweetie was published in it. {pg. 143 of the Fall issue if you’re curious}

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Other gorgeousness from the issue includes sneak peeks into the homes of some very creative folks and a photo shoot of Nebraska that left me longing to visit the Cornhusker state.

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If you’re a fan of Modern Ink Mag, what was your favorite part of the latest issue? If you aren’t a fan, what are you waiting for? Hop over and check it out!

September 12, 2011

Shopping at Thorn & Thistle

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This weekend I visited the newly opened Turkey Creek Public Market, a huge indoor flea market-ish shopping destination in Knoxville, Tennessee. As with anything where there are many different booths, only some of them really caught my eye. My favorite vendor shop was ‘Thorn & Thistle’ where the delightful BB was selling her wares.

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From the first glimpse of this fabulous booth, I knew it wasn’t like the others. First of all, it contained items that appeared very thoughtfully chosen. Also, it was curated in a way that really showcased everything.

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I knew I’d like it there when I mentioned I was a collector of ironstone and BB rounded up several pieces for me to look at.

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She said her dream was to have a store with beautiful items in a price range she and her friends could afford. Done and done! I got 2 small ironstone pieces (a creamer and a fruit bowl) for less than $20!

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I could have spent all day looking at every item, but it was almost closing time so we moved along. I will definitely be returning to the Thorn and Thistle booth as the inventory is always changing, so you just never know what you’ll happen upon.

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By the way, here’s a creamer just like the one I got (for $8!). My collection is growing, Lord help us.

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Have you been to the Public Market and if so, what did you think?

September 8, 2011

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

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All the seersucker and linen might be packed away and summer gone with it, but there’s still a tiny part of me holding out. Noticeably absent from my summer this year was an official vacation…so, when given the opportunity to spend a few days in Florida next month, I jumped at the chance.

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Until I can get to the Sunshine State, I’m feasting my eyes on some vintage vacation photos I found on Flickr.

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There’s no combination like water skis and tutus! I just hope I can find a suitcase large enough to hold my hoopskirt!

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What magical place are you dreaming about on this regular Thursday?

{image credits 1, 2, 3, 4}