November 22, 2013

Social Graces: How to Get Along with Your Family at Thanksgiving

I've seen a couple of posts on getting along with your family at Thanksgiving and I decided since southern families are known to put the fun is dysfunctional, I should probably weigh in on the subject. Every family has its challenges. Some are more obvious than others, but no matter what you're dealing with...the holidays just seem to have a way of bringing them to their boiling point. 

My family is not perfect, although some of us claim to come pretty darn close (bless their hearts). Our Thanksgiving celebrations are usually less prone to drama since we drive to my aunt and uncle's house in Nashville and most of us put on our big city manners. 

I'm not picking on anyone because I love them all...and I'm positive I have been surly and difficult at times myself. 

So here are some tips that I recommend for getting along with your family this Thanksgiving (and beyond). 

1. Manage your own expectations. 

I'm making this number one because I think it just might be the most important of the list. What I mean by this is don't show up at Thanksgiving expecting your family to behave differently than they usually do. Just because it's a holiday doesn't mean anything magical has happened to their personalities. Even on their best behavior, they are still the same people. 

The worst feeling is when you expect someone to act differently than they usually do and then feel disappointed when they don't. Prepare yourself for the reality and then you won't be let down when Uncle Johnny gets mad that nobody laughs at the same joke he's told for 14 years. 

2. Keep it light. 

Unless Southern Living Magazine is coming to your Thanksgiving meal to shoot a story for next year's issue, it doesn't matter if your holiday celebration is perfect. Nobody cares if the plates are chipped (or even plastic). Nobody cares if the napkins are paper or cloth. Nobody cares if your table looks like something Martha Stewart would have whipped up. Don't put so much pressure on yourself and it will be much easier to avoid family won't be nearly as tense. 

3. Stay in the present. 

The past is over. It cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or much as we'd like for it to be. Don't harbor past grudges and don't air past grievances at the holiday table. If something happened in the past, try to let it go. That doesn't mean it didn't hurt you or that you shouldn't feel what you feel. But hashing out he said/she did, you vs. us, etc. won't really make you feel better.

4. Give 'em some grace. 

Nobody is perfect. Everybody brings his or her own baggage to the Thanksgiving table. What comes across as snarky from one person might be his attempt to avoid talking about what's really bothering him. Apply grace liberally...that is, show kindness and mercy to folks even when you want to pinch their little nu-nus off. 

5. Gratitude. 

It's hard to be petty about family squabbles when we stop to think about the folks all around the world who don't feel loved or valued and never get enough food to eat, let alone on Thanksgiving. Let's be grateful for the ones we call family, whether tied to us by blood or choice. Even when they drive us crazy...we're lucky to have the chance to gather with them for a meal. 

6. Drink. 

Wine is good. Lots of wine. One year, I accidentally took a prescription painkiller on Thanksgiving and then had some wine. I don't necessarily recommend it, but it was my least stressful holiday, to date. Something to think about. 

Seriously though...most of these things are just as much for me as they are for anybody else. We need our families...they are our ties to who we came from and the ones who will live on long after we are gone. Let's look at them with eyes of love this year. And hope they can find it in their hearts to do us the same favor. 

November 21, 2013

Southern Storytellers

Earlier today I was typing an email and spelled the word possible "possobile" before catching my mistake. This might not seem like big of a deal and it isn't so much...but in another way it is because I'm not a careless speller. I think the problem is that I'm always rushing, always multi-tasking, always thinking of the next thing.

And there's a time and a place for that, but there's also a time and place to slow down and enjoy the moment. I took a few minutes for a break and instead of vegging out in front of 10 minutes of mindless Netflix, I picked up a book I've been meaning to read. Stories of the Modern South: A Rich Collection of Southern Fiction by Some of the Great Storytellers of Our Time. 

The first story I flipped to was "Pantaloon in Black" by William Faulkner.

This is the first sentence:

He stood in the worn, faded clean overalls which Mannie herself had washed only a week ago, and heard the first clod strike the pine box. 

I had to stop after that one because I'm just in awe of Mr. Faulkner's ability to tell an entire story in so few words. This is the kind of writer I want to be. I know it's kind of a long-shot, but I'm not giving up. Read his sentence again if you need to.

Whenever I think about Faulkner, I always think about Mr. Shelby Foote. Another incredible southern wordsmith who had a way of telling stories unlike anyone else.

Speaking of southern storytellers, we lost a great one today with the passing of Mr. John Egerton. I was fortunate to meet him at Knoxville's Southern Food Writing Conference and I was also able to witness his beaten biscuit demonstration.

I'm grateful for these and all the other writers and storytellers who've help shape our region's narrative. Now, it's up to us to keep the stories coming. I'll leave you with these words, more from Mr. Faulkner, about gratitude.

"Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: It must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all." 

November 20, 2013

Glory Day: Memories of Football and Family

Growing up in the south, especially in Tennessee, it's sacrilege if you don't like football. I'm just not much for sports of any kind...even though I've always sort of tried to be excited. Tailgating I like...the eating and socializing part. It's just the game watching I don't feel as strongly about.

If this means we can't be friends anymore, I understand.

But what small connection I do have to football has less to do with any particular team and more to do with my grandpa. That's him up there in the photo, second row from the bottom, fourth from the right. This was his high school team in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

I'm sure my grandpa always wanted a grandson he could play football with and teach the rules of the game. Since I came along instead, we made do. I'd humor him by listening to stories of his glory days and help him cheer on his favorite teams (University of Tennessee, Auburn, and whoever happened to be playing Georgia). Then he'd play Barbies with me (sometimes).

Football was a big part of my grandpa's identity. It shaped his youth and then his college experience. And while he went on to become a father and a grandfather and have a successful career, I believe it all goes back to football for him.

When he talks about those days, his eyes light up in a way that is hard to explain. He can still remember so many details about his experiences. I used to sit and listen to those stories as a child to humor I ask him to tell me and I hang on every word.

Today, he turned 78. I count him as one of the biggest blessings of my life. All my grandparents have been. I know we shouldn't spend too much time looking back, but I really like to know about the people I come from...their stories, their hopes and dreams, their silly antics and their cherished memories. One day, when he is no longer around to tell me these things, I hope I've heard his stories enough times that they are always with me.

November 16, 2013

The History of Pie: A Special Guest Post

Today's post is brought to you by my southern beau. I asked him to write an article about the history of pie and he has outdone himself. I hope you enjoy! 

Here’s something you never hear anyone say: “Man, I hate pie.” That’s because we all love pie. Every human being from the dawn of time has loved pie. Anyone who says they don’t like pie is either a liar or some kind of monster in human form.

That being said, have you ever thought about your pie? I mean really thought about it. Where does this wonderful pie come from? Who was the genius who first gave us pie? That knowledge is lost to time. We will never know. If we did, there would no doubt be statues of this most magnificent human specimen on every corner, in every town square, and most certainly every pie shop and bakery the world over.

But what we can do is pull back the veil of history and get some clue as to when and where this wonderful food group was born. Most historians agree that the mighty Greeks were the first to make a pastry shell by mixing flour with water. Then the Romans caught on by stuffing pastry with meat and mussels. They are also thought to be the originators of the sweet pie by making something like a cheesecake called Placenta as described by Cato the Younger in his treatise De Agricultura. God bless him. Or, since he was Roman, gods bless him. Ha.

You might think there was pie at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. You’d be wrong. No apple pie. No pecan pie. No pumpkin pie. Can you imagine that? The very first Thanksgiving without pie? Well, it's true. Sad but true. What they did have were English style pies brought over with them from Europe. So they did have pie, but it was meat pie. The record is foggy but it's clear that the first thanksgiving centered around fowl and venison, and it's not hard to imagine the pilgrims had meat pies. They often made pies because the pastry helped preserve the meat.  

The first pumpkin pie was recorded in the Americas in 1675. It was made of spiced and boiled squash. No thanks. Pumpkin pie as we know it today wasn’t popularized until the 1800’s in America. And boy has it caught on since then. The largest pumpkin pie ever recorded was in New Bremen, Ohio. It was twenty feet in diameter and weighed in at 3,699 pounds. It beat out the town's previous effort from 2005. That pie was a paltry 2,000 pounds. And only twelve feet in diameter. What a joke.

Remember, people. Pie is serious. It's come a long way to get here. Remember the legacy of your pie. The pies that came before it. The pies yet to come. Pie is a sacred trust. A privilege, not a right. This season, let’s all love our pie and remember what it took to make it.

Hope y'all enjoyed this little history go eat some pie! xoxo-SBS 

November 14, 2013

Simple Thanksgiving Table Decorations

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents or grandparents complained how time went by so fast? I finally understand what they were talking about. Another year has nearly gone by, but there's still plenty of time to really enjoy the season. I hope you'll be able to be with the ones you love and make some good memories.


There's something about the Thanksgiving meal that feels so special and an occasion like this deserves some special decorations. This morning, I'm making an appearance on WTNZ Fox43 to share simple Thanksgiving table decorations that you can create on a budget. 

It's easy to have stylish, beautiful things when money is no object. But when you are pinching pennies, or just can't really justify spending money on unnecessary things, it's great to have options. I believe that everyone deserves to have beauty in his or her life. 

For a unique Thanksgiving table centerpiece, I decided to take my inspiration (and my supplies) from nature. First, I started with a small squash from which I removed the top and seeds. I think this cost approximately $3 at my local grocery store. The filler is all greenery, leaves and other natural elements I clipped from some bushes around my house (i.e. free). You could also use fall leaves or even buy cut flowers. I wanted to go for that sprawling, natural look and I think I achieved it with ferns, magnolia leaves, rosemary, and a few other twiggy bits. 

Next, I set out to create some simple Thanksgiving place cards with a twist. A small potted plant at each place is a creative way to illustrate your seating arrangement. This method also has the added bonus of providing guests a small memento or favor from the event. I found this pin-cushion plant on sale at my local florist (less than $5) and added a name tag with a piece of brown paper and a skewer. 

Another simple place card idea involves oranges and cloves. Using whole cloves, create a name or initial in a large orange. Not only is this something of a conversation starter, but the citrus and clove scents mingled together smell wonderful too. 

There are so many other creative Thanksgiving ideas out there floating around. Do you have anything special planned for your holiday meal? 

Thanksgiving doesn't have to be fancy and it doesn't have to be stressful. For years, my family got all worked up over the holidays and I don't think we truly enjoyed them as much as we could have because of all that anxiety and tension. Just do what makes you happy. And love the ones you're with!

November 10, 2013

Veteran's Day: My Favorite Veteran

It's Veterans Day and I thought it fitting that I should take a moment to honor my favorite veteran, my southern beau.

My beau served in the United States Marine Corps and truly embodies the Marine motto of always faithful. 

We've been dating (or as my great-grandpa liked to say "courting heavy") for nearly a decade. People think it's weird, but you just can't worry about what people think. We love each other and what we have works. Marriage is definitely something we both want, but for now we're just going to continue our courtship. 

Life brings different challenges and our relationship hasn't always been easy...we even parted ways for a while. But somehow we found our way back together and I just can't imagine my life without him in it. 

In no particular order, here are some of the reasons I love him BTE (better than enything...not a typo...just our little inside joke): 
  • He writes me love letters
  • When it's that time of the month, he goes to Dollar General to get supplies. Last time, he called me from the feminine hygiene aisle to ask "Do you want the ones with wings?" 
  • He takes me to S&S Cafeteria for date night, even though we're the youngest people there by about 20 years 
  • If I'm feeling less than confident, he tells me I'm a powerful lioness 
  • He took me dancing and made it fun, even though we were terrible
  • He finds awesome baby animal videos on YouTube and we watch 
These are just a few, but you get the picture. I appreciate his service and wanted to honor him on this Veteran's Day.

Quick & Easy Low Calorie Snack

I'm a foodie from way back. I was a foodie before the term even came to be. I've always loved food; talking about it, reading about it, making it, eating it. In college, my good friend Stephanie used to joke that two of her favorite things were eating and snacking, and I wholeheartedly agree with her.

I think snacking is great because sometimes I'm just not hungry enough to eat an entire meal. However, it can be challenging to come up with healthy snacks that aren't boring. During a recent trip to Trader Joe's, I stumbled on a product that I've decided is my new favorite snack. 

Trader Joe's British Style Crumpets, in the cinnamon variety. I always had a general idea of what a crumpet was, based on watching British movies or television. But I'm certain I've never had anything like this. 

The only product I can really compare it to is an English muffin, but crumpets are so much better! When toasted, crumpets are spongy and soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. 

At only 110 calories each, crumpets are delicious and filling. I've been enjoying them with Eden Organic Apple Butter, which adds about 40 calories for a perfect quick and easy 150 calorie snack option. 

All this talk of crumpets has me thinking about jolly England. I traveled there for the first time after graduating from high school and have been fortunate to visit a couple times since. Here is goofy, 18-year old me with one of the Buckingham Palace how we color coordinated our outfits? 

If you love snacking on apples, check out this post with a few great healthy apple products and recipes. Another healthy snack choice is oatmeal. I have a few suggestions for making oatmeal taste better, if you're so inclined. And if a sweet, not-so healthy snack is what you're craving, I insist you try my Ritz Cracker Candy...but trust me, you'll want to make a double batch. 

Do you have a favorite Trader Joe's product you'd like to share? I apologize to folks who don't have a Trader Joe's nearby...but maybe your local grocery store or bakery has a crumpet equivalent. If you have other ideas for how to enjoy these delicious items, please let me know! 

November 2, 2013

Traveling Eats: Atlanta's South City Kitchen

While attending a professional conference in Atlanta recently, I had one night free and met up with a dear friend for dinner. My friend, a long-time Atlanta resident, chose the spot: South City Kitchen.

If you haven't eaten at this lovely establishment, I highly recommend it! In operation for more than 20 years, South City Kitchen specializes in "contemporary southern cuisine with a sophisticated twist."

My friend arranged for us to have a most memorable experience...soon after we were seated, our dashing server brought out a sample of a few different appetizers. Then, after main courses complete with perfectly paired wine, we were treated to a similar sample of every dessert!

{buttermilk fried chicken + garlic collards + smashed potatoes}

{chicken livers + benton's ham}

{desserts, clockwise from top L: pineapple upside down cake; pecan pie; mississippi mud; banana pudding} 

To say we left the restaurant feeling a wee bit stuffed is an understatement...but it was a special occasion. South City Kitchen has a wonderful atmosphere and the staff were gracious and hospitable. If I lived in Atlanta, I'd eat there often!