Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hey, Sugar

 Pecan Pralines.  Say those two words along with me.  Pecan.  Pralines.
Congratulations!  You just gained five pounds.  And welcome to the Land of Buttery Sugar - better known as anywhere below the Mason Dixon line.

Since this blog is about life where I live, and since I live below the aforementioned line, it seemed like a pretty good idea to talk about our food and maybe show you that food and maybe tell a few of our food secrets and maybe entice you to try some of this stuff.  It's pretty good.

So we'll start with Pecan Pralines.  If you frequent the candy counter at Cracker Barrel, you're already acquainted with the fact that in the South we love our pecans.  And since no one has ever accused us of restraint, one of us many years ago decided to combine them with two more of our main food groups - sugar and butter.  The result was Pecan Pralines.  I've never heard who invented them, but my guess is they were a first cousin of The Angel Gabriel.

A few years ago, The Junior League of Savannah thoughtfully included the standard recipe in one of their cookbooks.  Those Junior League girls know how to cook.  Here is what you do, illustrated by my own batch of pralines courtesy of those girls in Savannah:
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of corn syrup, 3 tablespoons of butter, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup evaporated milk.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees (or forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water).  
Add 1/2 cup of chopped pecans and cook for another minute or so, then remove from heat.  Let candy cool for 2 minutes, then add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and beat with a spoon until creamy.
Quickly drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper or a Silpat and allow to cool.  I'm told it's possible to store these in an airtight container between layers of wax paper, but I wouldn't know.  They never last that long around here.  In fact, they never even get a chance to cool completely.
This batch barely made it past the photograph, and that was only because I stuffed my husband in the closet and locked the door.  

And there you have it.
Secret That Every Southern Cook Learned As A Child, Number 1:
"Butter and brown sugar will fix just about anything"

More than a few enterprising Southerners have figured out that these things will bring big bucks.  If you have some praline money burning a hole in your pocket, one of my favorite purveyors is River Street Sweets in Savannah.  I don't know if they're related to those Junior League girls or not, but they do make a decent praline.

Tell them Beth sent you! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Funky Fun

Now I ask you - does this look like a hotbed of funky outsider art?
 If asked where one might find an old ambulance converted into a cosmic Airbus complete with search lights made from repurposed Electrolux vaccuum cleaners, would you send them here?
Life is full of surprises.  North Carolina on a sunny February Saturday held one of them.  The Fearrington House, a Relais and Chateaux member since 1988, is one of the nation's premier destinations for innovative farm-to-fork cuisine and award-winning accomodations.
It is all that, of course.
  But yesterday they decided to throw some artistic red pepper into the stew, and they hit a home run.
Sam "The Dot Man" McMillan was just one of the featured artists at the Tenth Annual Fearrington Folk Art Show, held in the big barn adjacent to the inn in the heart of Fearrington Village, a beautiful community just south of Chapel Hill.
The show highlights Outsider Art.  Think of it as traditional folk art with a few extra missing teeth.  Orthodontic imperfection notwithstanding, this genre of artistic expression has always called my name, and, happily, I am not alone.
Inside the barn, dozens of artists from all over the region displayed their work for sale.  This is the beautiful work of artist Danny Doughty, below.

"Missionary Mary Proctor", one of the happiest souls in the place, shares a nice dose of The Good News as she talks about her work.
Her creations and her message are so infectious, I wanted to buy her whole booth!
Tim and Lisa Kluttz have long been favorites of my daughter, who has collected their work for years.  Their strong sense of color and their whimsical interpretation of animals is one of the hallmarks of their work, and I love everything that they do.

Artist Theresa Gloster included the words to an old gospel song into the image of the yellow house just to her left in the picture below.  I asked if she knew the tune, and she sang the song for me!  I jumped in on the chorus.  If my tambourine had been along, we could have "had church" right there on the spot.
 Fearrington House was beautiful - even in the midst of a Carolina winter afternoon.

Meanwhile, "The Dot Man" held court in the barn,
and outside, artist Robert Seven, aka The Great Archemephelon,
  had parked his car.
He travels the universe in this flying machine, which knew a former life as an ambulance.  He even pays homage to this fact in one of the labels on the side, which touts his work as "Emerge-N-See Art".
  I was especially drawn to the flame-shooting Electrolux "lights" on top.
  R7, as he sometimes signs his name, was probably one of the inspirations for the movie Men in Black.  I'm pretty sure he isn't "from around here", as we say.

He thoughtfully provides a dummy-board, hinged to the side of his airship for the creative fun of occasional passers-by.  That was my grandson, Miller, smiling for the camera!

Dinner would have been nice...

but we settled instead for a nice plate of North Carolina barbecue on the way home - which could hardly be called "settling" - since North Carolina barbecue is the stuff of legend all by itself.  At day's end, we drifted off to sleep smelling of hickory smoke and dreamed of sailing off to Venus in the fantastic flying machine of The Great Archemephelon. 

 All told, not a bad day to be us.

For more information on Fearrington, please visit them at

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chalkboard Chic

The recent winter trade shows produced a wonderful trend fully arrived - chalkboard chic.  Trends in the home decor industry don't just land full-blown.  They usually peek their heads for a couple of seasons until all of a sudden you see them everywhere.
 Such was the case with chalkboard chic.  Everywhere I turned last month at the trade shows, there were wonderful, inventive examples to choose from.
 With a simple and inexpensive can of chalkboard paint, you can have as much fun as you did in fingerpaint class in the first grade, all the while giving your home a little bit of artsy "oomph".  And, yes, I just coined that phrase.
Even the tiniest touch can carry a big punch.

This buffet station, above, becomes a work of art when backed with a simple chalkboard message.  Change the message to suit your mood, or the season - and change the look entirely.
Another great look, although I can't envision dashing off such a dandy rendition of the Eiffel Tower as this with simple chalk - but to each their own.  Here's hoping the kids don't accidently smudge the foundation and cause the whole thing to topple...
 The key is to have fun, let loose and laugh.
For more great examples of chalkboard chic (and credits on these great shots) visit my Pinterest page by clicking the button at the top right-hand corner of my blog.
Happy decorating, y'all!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pinned to the Wall

So it's official.  I'm ruined forever.  There is this thing called Pinterest.  It is an online bulletin board - a place where you can "pin" anything and everything that appeals to you.  And there it sits any time you want to click on and enjoy it.  And there it remains until you want to delete it.  Talk about heaven for an artist!  You can have as many bulletin boards as you like.  "You mean", I asked the cybergods, "I can have one board for everything green, and another board for nothing but cupcake recipes, and another board for things that make me laugh?" "Absolutely" they said with a smile.  One of them even winked at me.

 Well, sign me up!  Here are just a few of the selections from my "Colorboard Green".  If you go to my Pinterest page you will see the credits for all these wonderful images.  And just to demonstrate the depth of my addiction, on my page there is also a Colorboard Red, Colorboard Pink, Colorboard Orange - in other words, I've gone crazy...
flipped completely out...
over the edge...
lost my mind...
rounded the bend...
and landed at The Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
From an artistic standpoint (I'm telling myself) this is a great reference tool.  When I hit a creative brick wall, I log on to Pinterest.
 The whole magical world is there waiting for me .
Several of my artist friends are already talking about forming a Pinterest Recovery Program.
I'm not sure I want to join just yet.
If you haven't already, go to and see what I mean!  You can follow me - or any other nut you choose.  

 But whatever you do, have fun! 

Somebody HELP me!