June 26, 2012

Anti-Recipe: St~Germain Cocktail

st. germain cocktail

My brother is working at a restaurant this summer and since he had to work on Father’s Day, my family ate at his eatery so he could serve us. He created the most refreshing concoction for me called a St~Germain cocktail (pictured above). St~Germain elderflower liqueur has gotten to be pretty popular so maybe I’m just late to hear about it, but I still wanted to share.



Supposedly, for only a few weeks each spring, wild elderflower blossoms are handpicked in the Alps and then collected in sacks and transported via bicycle to be processed. The whole procedure seems very mysterious and enchanted.

There are lots of recipes using St~Germain on the brand’s website (if you are over 21, of course). The drink bubba made for me was a mixture of dry champagne and St~Germain with a twist of lemon (he emphasized that I tell y’all the lemon was important). I have no idea the exact measurements, but I’m sure you can experiment. I plan to!

I love gin & tonics in the summer, but I think St~Germain is going to be my new go-to cocktail! Have you tried it? What’s your favorite way to imbibe?

June 25, 2012

I heart art: Folk Art Memory Box


I’ve always been intrigued by folk art. My aunt & uncle (some of the coolest folks I know) collect folk art and their home is carefully curated with face jugs, sculptures and paintings created by many different talented artists. While the southern beau and I were exploring Norris, Tennessee on Memorial Day, I stumbled upon this piece of folk art and had to resist a strong urge to purchase it.

Called a ‘memory box,’ every inch was covered with embellishments such as broken bits of tile, stones, beads and seashells. Part of why I liked it was because the tag listed its origin as Monterey, Tennessee, the small town where my great-grandfather is from. Maybe he (or someone in our family) even knew the artist who created this strangely beautiful object.

I’m sure this piece isn’t everyone’s style, but nobody can deny that a lot of work went into creating it. I wonder why the artist made it, what he or she was thinking about during the process and what he intended the purpose to be. I wonder if the artist would be happy with the asking price of $65 or disappointed it wasn’t more. I have to think the box’s creator must have been somewhat religious because of the prominent placement of the crucifix charm. My favorite part is the small lady figures on either side of crucifix…two southern belles, no doubt. I bet they have stories to tell.

In the south, every person and every thing has a story. I’ve said before that I think one of the greatest ways we can honor people is to let them tell their stories and just listen. You honor me every time you visit Southern Belle Simple, and for that I’m really grateful.

Any other folk art enthusiasts or collectors out there? I’d love to hear what you think about this interesting piece of art!

June 21, 2012

Anti-Recipe: Cucumber-Lime-Mint Water


Summer officially started yesterday and for anyone who has spent the season in the sweet south, you know how important it is to attempt to stay cool and hydrated. My first-choice cold beverage is un-sweet iced tea, preferably an entire pitcher that I can sip on throughout the day. However, I gave up caffeine a month or so ago and since then, haven’t had a drop of iced tea. I know I could drink decaf, but for now I’m on the wagon.

After my initial tea withdrawal symptoms (headaches, general fussiness, malaise…tee hee), I went through a major lemonade phase (which some might say is still going on….oh sugary lemonade, why must you taunt me so?). I’m trying to refrain from guzzling it daily, not wanting to replace one thing (caffeine) with another (sugar). Thanks to my mom, I think I’ve finally found my signature summer drink: cucumber water.

To make it, fill a large pitcher with water, add sliced cumbers, lime juice (or lemon juice) and a few sprigs of mint. Let this concoction sit in the fridge for maybe 24 hours and enjoy. It’s so refreshing and actually really good for you, as cucumber has some kind of detoxifying properties. Make sure you use organic cucumbers since most commercial varieties have that waxy coating on the outside. Feel free to go wild with herbs too, depending on what you like. I have a container herb garden stocked with a couple kinds of mint and lemon balm so I snipped a sprig of each and it tasted great.

I hope you are staying cool while the weather’s hot! What’s your favorite summertime drink?

June 19, 2012

Making Music


While organizing some collected family papers and artifacts, my mom ran across the book pictured above, a songbook called Liberty Bells. This battered paperback volume belonged to my great-great-grandfather, whose name you can barely see penciled in on the first page below (D.J. Maxwell). Apparently he often led the singing at church and this very book is the one he sang from.


I am proud to have quite a few musically-inclined folks in my lineage. My mom’s paternal great-great-grandfather, Snowden Oakley Whittaker, is said to have had perfect musical pitch and he traveled around Middle Tennessee teaching singing schools in the now famous ‘Sacred harp’ style.

In his late teens, my mom’s dad was part of the Southern Melody Boys, a barbershop quartet that performed all around the region, most notably at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

As a teenager I would often sing at church and even traveled around a bit with my great-grandfather, Rev. Carson Whiteaker, when he’d go visitin’ ill or elderly people. During a typical visit, my grandpa would speak to the folks, I’d sing a song or two (sometimes a cappella or with my battery-operated cassette player), my great-grandma would give them a fried pie, we’d have a prayer and be on our way…until the next house on our visitin’ route. As a teenager, I’m sure there were plenty of other things I’d rather have been doing, but these memories are so precious to me now.


My favorite part of this old songbook is the final two pages, where the above four songs are located. All popular tunes in the Baptist church, one or more of these four songs (Amazing Grace, Softly and Tenderly, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, and Just As I Am) pretty much applies no matter what the circumstances may be. I know from my experiences growing up Baptist, we sang them frequently.

This past Sunday (Father’s Day), I was able to visit with my parents and my mom’s mom and dad. We pulled the song book out and had an old fashioned singing right in the living room. It made my heart glad to sing these old songs, sung by so many other believers as well as beloved family members who came before us.

Does your family have any musical traditions that you hold near and dear?

June 18, 2012

Modern Ink Magazine Social Qs: Cleanup Conundrum

Modern Ink Cover june july 12

I’m a self-proclaimed etiquette junkie so when the fabulous folks over at Modern Ink Magazine asked me to do a regular column answering reader-submitted questions about social graces, I couldn’t have been more excited! My regular column is called Social Qs and the latest edition’s question was as follows:

“I really enjoy entertaining, but it seems as though I’m always the one who hosts (and therefore the one who is always left with an enormous mess). What’s a tactful way to ask my friends to pitch in without sounding whiney?”

Click here to read my response. I’m curious…how would YOU have answered this question? Do you agree with my answer or do you have a different take on things?

For more of my solutions to life’s most perplexing situations, hop over to the Modern Ink blog and check it out!

June 12, 2012

Anti-Recipe: Oven Roasted Potatoes with Pesto


Potatoes are one of my all-time favorite foods and when my local farmers’ market had a great looking supply this week, I snatched up a couple pounds of them (fingerling and new red varieties). This recipe is so easy I make it often, but this is the first time I added the pesto. It was a smash for dinner last night!


  • 1-2 lbs potatoes (any kind you wish)
  • Olive oil
  • Your favorite herbs & spices
  • Pesto

Roughly chop your potatoes and toss them in a large bowl with olive oil. Sprinkle herbs & spices liberally (I used dill, rosemary & Tex Blair’s Everything seasoning) and stir until the potato chunks are evenly coated.

Arrange on a baking sheet or roasting pan and roast at 350 degrees for 45 min to an hour. After the spuds are crispy, take them out of the oven and toss with a few tablespoons of pesto. I used some of my homemade (vegan) arugula pesto but cilantro pesto would probably be good or just your favorite store-bought brand.

This anti-recipe is the best kind… a cinch to make yet it tastes like a lot of effort went into it. Let me know if you try it! Happy Tuesday friends.

June 11, 2012

Measuring Up


We are taught from a young age to count and measure things. From our weight and length at birth to the number of years until we take our last breath, so much about our lives is charted, tracked, measured and evaluated. 

In school we are taught to identify different quantities and compare them through word problems.

“Timmy has 16 apples and George has 14 apples. Then Sam comes along with 17 apples. Who has the most apples?” Pretty harmless, right? Still I can’t help but wonder if having this concept of measuring and comparing ingrained in us throughout our lives doesn’t lead to some kind of long-term negative effects.

Measuring and evaluating isn’t inherently bad, but the problem it can cause usually has to do with the things we believe measurements are indicative of. Anyone will tell you that based on simple numbers, Sam has the most apples of the three boys (see above).

Fast forward to today… “Allison has 800 friends on Facebook, but Sarah has 1000 followers on Twitter. Kristen is connected to 2400 people on LinkedIn. Which girl is most popular?” See the problem here?

Measuring something that isn’t so concrete, such as popularity, is not as easy as counting or getting out a yardstick. Still we somehow try to measure and evaluate these things with the only tools we have…numbers.

I was chatting with a dear friend and fellow blogger yesterday about how we sometimes feel discouraged going to bookstores because it reminds us of all the books we wish we had written. More and more bloggers are getting book publishing deals and now this feels like one more way to measure success. Or really I should say to measure failure.

Why is it that someone else’s success feels like failure to us? Why do we get hung up in this idea that there is only so much success to go around and someone else experiencing it is taking away a piece of our pie? I am convinced we feel this way because of the way we are taught to measure and evaluate everything from such a young age. 

I heard these wise words recently about love: “You can’t measure love. And if you are constantly trying to measure it, you don’t really understand love at all.”

I think this is true about a great many things that, like love, just can’t be measured. Do you ever struggle with feeling like you need to measure and evaluate yourself? I’ve gotten better about giving myself a break in this area, but I still have a long ways to go…and there I go measuring again.

June 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Cynthia Rylant

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite southern writers, Cynthia Rylant. Her simple, yet magical stories are beloved by children and adults and they remain some of my favorites from childhood.


Rylant’s first book When I Was Young in the Mountains was inspired by her time spent growing up with her grandparents in West Virginia. Another favorite of mine is Missing May, a poignant story that made a great impact on me as a child (and began my fascination with whirligigs).


This wonderful book by the author is called Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds. It paints such a beautiful picture of our region and evokes feelings of longing for a simpler time when time moved (or pretended to move) a little slower.

There’s nothing like getting lost in a good book…having the story wash completely over you and feeling like the characters are really real, even if just for a few pages. I’ve been in a reading slump lately and sometimes it helps me to read something short to get back in the swing of things. Maybe I’ll dig out my childhood stash and reread some of Cynthia Rylant’s books. I’m pretty sure no matter how old I get, I’ll always find some new gem in these sweet stories.

Do you ever go back and read your favorite childhood books? How does it make you feel?

June 4, 2012

If Heaven Were a Fish Fry

Gibson USE - Still Cookin' - Boy Picnic American Memory Digital (1)

Yesterday was a gorgeous day. I was driving around, windows rolled down, feeling the breeze and out of nowhere, I got an awful feeling of homesickness for my granny, who passed away several years ago. When I start to feel this way, it always gets me thinking about heaven. Maybe this is because thinking about heaven helps me to picture the person I miss, up there having a grand ole time. And this is somehow comforting to me.

The problem is that we’ve all heard heaven described as a place with gold streets and mansions, but as long as I knew her, my granny never lived in a mansion so I found it hard to picture her in that setting.

Instead, I thought, what if heaven were like a fish fry? Based on the vivid stories I’ve been told over the years, that I can definitely visualize. A couple of sawhorses set up under the biggest shade tree, with planks or maybe a door laid across them as a makeshift table. Oilcloths over the table, or possibly newspaper. Huge platters of catfish (or whatever kind of fish they eat in heaven) and my granny, making hushpuppies like they’re going out of style. Maybe she fusses lovingly at my great pa. Maybe she tosses a lump of fried cornmeal to a dog sitting at her feet.

In truth, I don’t care what heaven is like because I’m sure once I get there, I’ll be thinking about other things. But for now, I’m going to keep my fish fry theory because it just blesses my heart to think of my loved ones in this way. Do you ever think about what heaven might be like?