Thursday, June 6, 2019

First We Cry (or Laugh), Then We Eat: How to Funeral in the South

I'm not quite sure how funerals are done in other parts of the country, but here in the South, we've taken the art of burying to the next level. Granted, we aren't all as bold and dramatic as, say, the funeral planners in New Orleans, where they have jazz bands and professional mourners accompanying the dearly departed to their final resting place. But we, as in the rest of the South, still put on a pretty darn good departuring. We are serious about sending souls to the afterlife. And if we can't be serious DURING the funeral, we are at least serious about ATTENDING the funeral and EATING afterwards.

My earliest funeral memory was that of my Uncle Oscar. I didn't really know Uncle Oscar. He was my great grandmother's brother, so he wasn't someone I saw very often, if at all. Also, I was young, perhaps 7 or 8 when he died. What I do remember was going to his house where the body was on display in the parlor. My younger sister, Vicki, and I were very curious because we had never seen a dead body. We were also aware of the seriousness of the situation, because our mom had threatened us within an inch of our lives if we acted up. Plus, we were dressed up in our best dresses, with stiff and crunchy crinolines. A sure sign we were expected to act like little ladies.

So, with all the solemnity we could muster, we marched our patent leather shoes through the gauntlet of bear hugs from people we barely knew, up to the end of the parlor where the coffin stood, like an altar in the Chamber of Secrets. We were too small to see into the coffin without standing on our toes and we were too scared to look by ourselves, so we grabbed onto one another and peered in. As we stood there looking at the vessel that once housed Uncle Oscar, an amazing thing happened. Uncle Oscar's lips began to part. We both noticed it at the same time and looked at each other in horror. Nobody told us that the dead would try to speak to us and no amount of threats from our parents could have prevented what happened next. Vicki lost it. She started screaming, "He's alive, he's alive!" and made a beeline to get out of the house, as far away from Uncle Oscar as possible.  What could I do? I wasn't going to be left behind to have a conversation with a corpse, so I took off after her. I think it was a while before we were invited to attend another funeral.

I learned all about the importance of funeral attendance from my Aunt Minnie. She scoured the obituary columns in the newspapers with all the zeal of a teacher taking roll call. She took names and made plans. If things were timed just right, she could make the rounds of all the churches and funeral homes to pay her respects to the daily dead without having to leave anyone out. She was so efficient that she kept a set of index cards near the table on the back porch. Each index card had a different destination on it, such as 'gone to grocery', 'gone to Papa's', 'gone to church'. I'm fairly certain there was a card for every funeral home within a fifty mile radius of her house. When she was headed out to celebrate the life of a family member, friend or someone who just happened to shop at the same Piggly Wiggly, all she had to do was pull out the appropriate card and throw it on the table to let her family know where she had gone. Efficient.

Aunt Minnie would often attend funerals with her two younger sisters. Sometimes, something would happen during the funeral, some comment or event, that would dredge up an amusing memory or strike her, and her youngest sister, my grandmother, Rosella, as funny. The two of them suffered from the inability to control their laughter at such times. Just the fact that they HAD to be quiet and serious made being quiet and serious almost impossible. Their middle sister, my Aunt Lois, whom we only referred to as Lois, did not have such an affliction and she did not abide it in her sisters. She was stern and serious and expected them to be as well. She took her funeral duties with all the stoicism and gravity of General George S. Patton inspecting his troops. So, she would glare at them, threatening them with pain of death if they did not straighten up. But that just made it worse. The more she glared, the more they lost it. Shoulder shaking and snickers would subside into tears and snorts. By the time the funeral was over, she was so furious with them she was planning their funerals and they were ready to explode from trying to smother their hysteria.

This affliction was handed down to my sisters and me. We were at a funeral once where the departed and every single person in his family went by more than one name. I'm going to change the names here to protect the innocent, mainly myself, but the pastor's eulogy went something like this. "We are gathered together here to honor the memory of Jimmy James Smith, Sr. Some of you knew him as Jimmy. Some of you knew him as James. Some of you knew him as Jimmy James." My sister, Kerri, and I began to lose control. The preacher proceeded. "He is survived by his former wife, Eula May Smith. Some of you know her as Eula. Some of you know her as May. Some of you know her as Eula May." We began to snort out loud. Preacher continues. "He is also survived by his son, Jimmy James Smith, Jr. Some of you know him as Jimmy. Some of you know him as Leon." By this time, I'm pretty sure one of us was laid out on the pew and the other was rolled up in a fetal position. The struggle is real.

We learned early on that death in the family could curry favor with our elders. In other words, adults and friends were nicer to you if they thought you were suffering a loss. I'll never forget the time one of our neighbors who was my sister's friend took this to the extreme. For some reason, unbeknownst to the rest of us, six year old Terri Wingo (again changing the name) went to school and announced that her father had been killed in a plane crash. She cried all day while the teacher held her in her lap, trying to console her. My sister was jealous because she wanted to sit in the teacher's lap all day. Terri's mother was astounded when people began showing up at her house toting casseroles. Astounded because Mr. Wingo was alive and well and the plane crash simply a figment of his daughter's vivid imagination.

Speaking of casseroles, funeral food deserves an honorable mention here, because we are Southerners and we like good food. Food is comforting to us. And, no, we are not comforted by carrot sticks and kale. Comfort food is hearty and sticks to your ribs and other parts of your body. Comfort food is not fancy, it's familiar. Who needs more comfort than mourners at a funeral?  To that end, there are some things that are simply guaranteed to be served at any respectable Southern funeral. First of all, you can bet somebody is going to show up with a Poppyseed Chicken Casserole, made with chicken, poppyseeds and canned, condensed cream of mushroom soup. That will usually be followed by Funeral Potatoes which is some concoction of frozen hash browned potatoes and canned, condensed cream of mushroom soup, and green bean casserole made with canned green beans and, you guessed it, canned, condensed cream of mushroom soup. Apparently canned, condensed cream of mushroom soup is the cure to Southern sadness much like the hair of the dog is to alcoholic hangovers. I'm not sure how we mourned properly before Joseph A. Campbell began squeezing all the water out of his mom's mushroom soup and putting in a can.

Then there are the congealed salads. From Strawberry Pretzel Salad to Pistachio Fluff, rest assured that some jellied version of salad will make its way to the mourners' table. You can also have confidence that someone will show up with a bucket of the Colonel's best, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Macaroni and Cheese, Deviled Eggs, Pound Cake and Banana Pudding are other traditional comfort foods that almost always appear at Southern funeral feasts.

And that is how we funeral in the South.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Feeling a Little Wild? We've Got Two Suggestions for a Wild Dinner in North Alabama

Tired of regular old pork, chicken and beef? Looking for something a little more on the wild side. Well, listen up. We've got a couple of suggestions for you.  They are as different as night and day and right here in North Alabama.

The first one is called The Hunt Club Subs n Grill and it has been in operation for about three years. It is located in Madison and it is a laid back burger joint with a twist. The menu has all the usual suspects, burgers, dogs and wings, but you have choices. You can order a regular beef hamburger, but you can also choose to have your burger made with elk, venison, boar, bison, kangaroo or antelope. Those dogs?  Well, you can choose the all beef variety or you can go a little crazy and get reindeer, elk, rattlesnake or rabbit. Are nachos your jam? You can have those with beef or any of the wild game options. You can begin your meal with an appetizer of fried gator bites or a bowl of bison chili. They also have a sub sandwich made with buffalo.

We had no idea what to expect when we went for dinner one Friday night. We got there right at 6 and were immediately seated, but the place filled up pretty quickly after that. After studying the menu and quizzing our server, we finally made our selections.

I opted for the Alaskan reindeer brat with Coca Cola onions, spicy relish, creole mustard and a side of redneck fries, which are just regular fries with a spicy Cajun seasoning. I loved my reindeer sausage, it had the snap you get in a good sausage or wiener. I especially liked the Coca Cola grilled onions. They were delicious on my brat. I am really glad they served the relish and mustard on the side, because that relish was TART! A little too much for me. And the mustard? Wow! Let me just say a little goes a long way. Use sparingly!

Scott decided on the elk burger, but not their most famous one called the Bama Buck which comes topped with quail eggs, sautéed mushrooms and onions, pepperjack cheese and cherrywood bacon. None of those were on Scott's burger, just catsup, mustard, onion, lettuce and tomato, thank you very much. He also got regular fries instead of the spicier fries. The man is afraid to venture too far out of his comfort zone. Heads up on the elk. It is delicious, but very lean. If you like fattier burgers, elk might not be the best choice for you.

The total cost of our meal was around $38 including tax and tip, which we thought was very reasonable. Hunt Club is a great choice if you are curious about wild game, but aren't too sure how much you will like it. You can taste some different things without breaking the bank.

The next North Alabama option for wild game has only been opened for four weeks. It is called Bama Bucks, located on a farm in Sardis, is more upscale, but in a rustic, not fancy way and only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Heads up. Fridays and Saturdays have been covered up, so expect a wait if you show up right at dinner time. They are also open at lunch and if you go then, you will have an opportunity to see more of the live animals on the farm. No, these are not the animals you eat. The kangaroos, reindeer, camels and other live animals are there for your enjoyment and education.

My friend, Tina and I went on a Thursday night right at 5:00 and we were seated right away in what I thought was the best seat in the house, right at the back of the restaurant near the bank of windows overlooking the farm. Even though it was dark outside, we still got a bird's eye view of some of the reindeer and fallow deer behind the restaurant.

Our server was super helpful and full of information about the food, the animals and the farm. The owner, Terry Turk, also stopped by our table and we got to ask him some questions about the whole operation. We really liked him and decided he reminded us of our favorite principal, Steve Green. You remember him from Three Friends and a Faculty. Terry obviously is a real outdoorsman, just like Steve. He was even dressed like Steve, jeans and a cowboy hat, although Terry's hat was more like the Crocodile Dundee version. I am suspecting the major difference is that Terry will eat a greater variety of things than our friend Steve will. If Steve came to eat at Bama Buck's, I suspect he would be ordering something from the less adventurous side of the menu, possible the chicken fingers from the Fawn's (little kids) menu. Just kidding, Steve! You know we love that about you!

Anyway, we started our meal with the corn fritters served with spicy slaw and a creole ranch drizzle. We really, really wanted to try the wild game sausage trio or the duck blinds, but since there were only two of us, we figured we wouldn't want anything else to eat if we started with one of those. The fritters were very good, not greasy or dense at all. I would have liked the slaw better if it hadn't been warm, but that's just me.

Tina had already studied the menu and had settled on some root beer glazed short ribs. I'm not a root beer fan, but I would not have known root beer was the ingredient giving them the slightly sweet, very good flavor. Our server, gosh I wish I could remember his name, told us the short ribs were one of the items they were considering taking off the menu. They are still tweaking the menu as they learn what people like. Tina told them they should reconsider that. She loved the ribs. They also told us they were thinking of exchanging their delicious, crusty bread for a softer roll. They said people actually think the bread is stale because it isn't soft. Too many folks growing up on brown and serve rolls from the Piggly Wiggly! I hope they don't replace that bread!

For my entree, I decided on the roasted pheasant breast. The best meal I have ever had in my life was an African pheasant from Bones in Atlanta. It has been so long ago, I can't remember how it was prepared, only that I loved it. I don't know what kind of pheasant I had at Bama Bucks, but I can tell you I ate every bite. It was tender, not gamey or dry at all. The pheasant was served on a wild rice pancake and topped with berry ( I can't remember if it was blackberry or raspberry) brown sauce. It was served with steamed asparagus and everything was delicious.

Our server should be given a raise, because he sweet talked us into ordering not one, but two desserts! First he told us how good the key lime pie was and then he blindsided us by telling us we had to order the berry chimichanga! He knew a couple of dessert suckers when he saw them. He was right on both counts. The key lime pie was not too sweet, not too tart, just right, Goldilocks. The deep fried chimichanga came with ice cream and whipping cream and was delicious as well.

We both thought our bills were extremely reasonable. With an appetizer, entree and dessert plus tax and tip, each of our totals were under $45. I really hope people around the state will continue to support this restaurant. It is an incredible addition to dining in Alabama. It's kind of off the beaten path, but not far off highway 431 in Boaz, and Google Maps takes you there with no problem. We will definitely be back!

One other thing. we learned lots about the animals while we were eating at Bama Bucks. Our server told us all of the servers were required to be knowledgable about the animals. He told us that the mother kangaroo at the farm was ready for her little joey to get out of the pouch. Apparently the little buggers don't see any reason to vacate the premises on their own, so Terry and his farmhands have to pull the little guy out. He invited us back to see the whole operation, but since he didn't know for sure when the event would take place, it was hard to plan a trip back. I know Rob would love to help with that experience! He also told us at any given time, a mother kangaroo has four little joeys ready to be born, one in the pouch and three,  like little larvae waiting their turn to crawl into the pouch.

Don't tell me Alabama doesn't have variety when it comes to dining. Alabama is climbing to the top of the foodie ladder. We have always known how to prepare food so it tastes good. Now we have first class chefs bringing farm to table dining and all types of cuisines to restaurants across the state.

Three Friends and a Fork give Hunt Club and Bama Bucks 3 Wild Yums UP! Check 'em out!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Dressing for Thanksgiving and I'm Not Talking About the New Outfit You Got at JC Penny's

Every family has their Thanksgiving traditions and, if your family is like mine, you better not mess with them. Oh, it's ok to bring a brand new recipe to the Thanksgiving dinner, but you better be sure you have all the family favorites, too. You know the ones I'm talking about...the sweet potatoes with the crunchy brown sugar and pecan topping, the green beans with the horseradish sauce and the homemade rolls made with All Bran. Or, probably, your family favorites are something else altogether.

And then, there's the dressing. Notice I did not say stuffing. This is Alabama. We don't stuff, except ourselves. There is no stuffing of the bird. Dressing is a dish unto itself and it is sacrosanct and shall not be dilly dallied with. To that end, here are our, as in my family's, do's and don't's for perfect Thanksgiving dressing.

1. Don't stuff. I know I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Just don't. Dressing is too important not to have its own serving dish.

2. Do not, I repeat, do not put boiled eggs in the dressing. This is not negotiable. It is a texture that does not need to be there. Pieces of egg white trapped inside the dressing do not even look appetizing. I might also add, for much the same reason, I do not like marshmallows lurking in my salads. Again, just don't. Save those things for the hot chocolate, if you must.

3. Do not chop up chicken and distribute it throughout the dressing. This is turkey day, not chicken day. If you must have chicken in your dressing, that is for another day. On Thanksgiving, the turkey takes center stage and has it's own special platter, but the real star is the dressing that is served in a separate casserole dish without chicken.

4. If you can slice your dressing, it is dry. Dressing is not meant to be cut into wedges. It is meant to  be lovingly spooned, moist and wonderful, onto the dinner plates.

5. Do not overdo the sage. Sage should be added sparingly to enhance the flavor of the dressing, not overpower it.

6. Fruit does not belong in dressing. Take my word for this. Leave that to the stuffing people.

7. Start with good cornbread. By that, I mean homemade cornbread, not from a Jiffy mix, and no sugar. We are not making cake dressing, but that is a whole 'nother discussion. And buttermilk! Make your cornbread with buttermilk, not sweet milk. Did I even need to say that?

7.Use stale cornbread. Even though your cornbread was wonderful when you took it out of the oven, you are still going to have to let it dry out before making your dressing. So, crumble it up and let it set out on the counter for several hours before using.

8. Cut your celery and onions into small pieces before adding to your dressing. Nobody wants to bite into a giant hunk of onion or celery. And don't add them raw. Cook them in some butter and a little water before adding to the dressing.

9. You better be adding some other kind of bread to your cornbread to help keep the dressing from being too dry. My friend, Mary, adds biscuits. (She also adds boiled eggs, but we've already covered that topic.) We add an entire loaf of toasted white (not brown) bread and we mix it in so that you would never know it is there. It does not retain its cubeness like the bread in stuffing.

Notice the color of this broth. That deep brown color is FLAVOR.

10. Make homemade broth with chicken to add to your dressing. Save the pan drippings from cooking the turkey and add them to your broth. Deglaze the pan with a little chicken broth to scrape up all the tasty bits. I like to make a small turkey ahead of time for this purpose.  Don't throw out the neck and gizzard, as unappetizing as they look.  Cover them with chicken broth, simmer, strain and add that liquid to the rest of the broth for extra flavor. You can also supplement with boxed broth, but the boxed stuff should not be in place of the homemade broth. When I cook chicken for broth, I use the boxed broth in place of water in which to cook the chicken. Save some of your broth for gravy. (We also have a set of rules for Thanksgiving day gravy, but that is for another discussion.)

11. Use good butter when making dressing. Kerrygold is my favorite. This is not the time to skimp on quality ingredients. And don't even mention the word margarine.

12. Do not overcook! If you do, you will have to break rule number 4.

Those are my family's rules for dressing. I understand different families have different rules. What are your rules?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Out of the Ordinary Dining in Huntsville

Do you ever find yourself looking for someplace different to eat in the Rocket City? Something other than your usual places? Well, I have a couple of ideas and they are about as different from one another as they can be, but they are both delicious in their own way. One has been around for twenty years, the other for only two. And while both serve fresh seafood, one has Cajun roots, but the other is Japanese. 

The Po'boy Factory, on Andrew Jackson Way, opened in 1998. The menu at this laid back eatery is full of Cajun and New Orleans favorites. Jambalaya, ettouffee, po'boys and muffalettas are all popular. The seafood is fresh and expertly prepared. And the bread is the real deal!

On a recent trip, we had a shrimp po'boy with new potatoes and soft shell crab with French fries. It was all delicious. For a sauce aficionado like myself, the Po'boy Factory is particularly tasty. The cocktail sauce, tartar sauce and remoulade are wonderful and plentiful. You don't have to ask for sauces, only to be given tiny plastic cups with only enough sauce for two shrimp. No, the tables at Po'boy Factory are set with large condiment squeeze bottles of all three sauces, so you can dip to your heart's content. It is a condiment lover's dream. If you are hankering to laissez les bon temps rouler, point your pirogue in the direction of the Po'Boy Factory. Oooo oui, you'll be glad you did!  

Yoshi Sushi Fusion opened in Hampton Cove in 2016. Situated in a little strip mall, the outside of the building does not hint at the deliciousness of the food prepared within. This is no ordinary Japanese hibachi or steakhouse. The food is inventive and unique. 


Wagyu Beef
You can order whole sushi rolls or small bites of sushi, sashimi, small plates, appetizers and desserts. There is always a list of specials that are worth checking out. 

Spanish Octopus

Bacon Steakie Bun

Udon Noodles

Pecan Ebi

The creative dishes we sampled on our last visit included Spanish octopus, a bacon steakie bun, udon noodles with chicken and vegetables and our longtime favorite, pecan ebi. The octopus was cooked sous vide and topped with strawberry salsa and fresh cherries. The bacon steakie bun was tender Wagyu pork belly with lemongrass caramel sauce and creme fraiche, daikon radish, carrots and topped with crispy, finely shredded fried fish skin. The pecan ebi is fried shrimp sitting on a bed of crispy rice noodles accompanied by candied pecans and topped with a delectable and creamy sweetened condensed milk sauce. It was all divine.

Coconut Custard

We finished up with a light and creamy dessert of coconut custard which reminded me of the haupia I enjoyed on our last trip to Hawaii. Hey, if you are craving a taste of the islands and you can't quite make it to Maui, try this custard at Yoshi. Or try one of their homemade gelatos. Those are delicious, too.

Key Lime and Coconut Gelato

Caramel Bourbon Gelato 

If you are tired of the same old steak, burger and barbecue restaurants, check out Po'boy Factory or Yoshi Sushi Fusion for something a little different. I think your tastebuds will approve.

Three Friends and a Fork give 
2 Golden Chopsticks and a big fat Gumbo Pot to Yoshi Sushi Fusion and Po'Boy Factory
Oishii!! Ca c'est Bon!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Look at You, Scottsboro! You're a Main Street Community!

Wow! What a journey! We've been working for four years to revitalize and regrow our downtown district. Sometimes it has been frustrating, disheartening and exhausting. Other times, it has been rewarding, exhilarating, and exhausting. But yesterday, it was WORTH it! That is because, yesterday, Scottsboro officially kicked off our acceptance as a Main Street Alabama designated community.

You can read about how we got started and what we started with just four years ago by clicking on the links below:
Scottsboro is a Hidden Gem, Y'all
Scottsboro, Poised for a Brighter Future
Scottsboro's First Monday and Art Sunday
Scottsboro Jingles with Christmas Spirit
Downtown Scottsboro's Market on the Square
Scottsboro, The Time is Now
Dear Scottsboro
Scottsboro, It's Not for You

We began to see a light at the end of the tunnel last fall, when our new mayor, Robin Shelton, indicated his interest in helping Downtown Scottsboro with our Christmas event, Jingle Bell Square, which had been growing every year. With his blessing, encouragement and ideas we were able to turn last year's Jingle Bell Square into our biggest and best yet. He formed a Christmas Committee to bring his idea of holding our event on the same day as the city's Christmas Parade to fruition. The committee took it a step further and also planned a 5K race and a Jingle Bell Trail of decorated Christmas trees all around our square. We learned a lot (trees planted in newly turned dirt from sidewalk construction will tilt) but we were thrilled with the overall outcome.

The real ray of hope, however, was when the mayor told us he wanted to hire an events and marketing coordinator. We could not have been more excited. We were still in the planning stages of our Christmas events when Meg Nippers was hired. To say that she hit the ground running would not be an understatement. Right away, we began to lobby for Scottsboro to apply for acceptance into the Main Street Alabama program.

We learned a lot on the fly. I felt a bit like I did when my boys first started running cross country. I would hear parents talking about shoes and spikes, times and splits. None of it made any sense at first, but gradually I began to understand and pretty soon, I was one of those parents throwing out the same terms so cavalierly. So it was with Main Street. One of the first decisions we had to make was whether to apply for full Main Street designation or just to become a networked community with some of the perks but not all. My first thought was that the time for Scottsboro would never be more right than it was right then. We had the momentum, the leadership and the foundation. I was afraid if we didn't jump in full force, we might never dive all the way in, so I pushed hard for us to shoot for the stars. Main Street Designated City or Bust! Meg agreed, so we began to press forward with that outcome in mind. Meg was a fast learner and she quickly began to compile the steps we would need to take to be successful.

The first and most important step was getting the backing of the community. How many great plans have failed because the people most affected were not involved from the beginning? We decided to hold some town forums so people could hear about Main Street and ask questions. We had two meetings. One was with one of the Main Street directors and the other involved the directors of some of the towns already designated. We invited the public to both meetings so people could get their questions answered directly. I secretly prayed that people would be as interested in this program as those of us who had been learning about it for the last four years.

One other hurdle we had to jump was to get approval to proceed with the application process from our City Council. If your city council won't support the effort, you are dead in the water. The council has to commit to the process from the beginning and they can't just give a verbal nod. They have to commit to fund the program. While the Main Street fees are nominal, especially compared to the services you receive, talking about money always makes people nervous. Scottsboro was lucky that our City Council President, Tony Wallingsford saw the value of being a Main Street community. He put the vote to apply for  Main Street status on the City Council's agenda. Had he not done that, we could never have been selected. When I tell you the support of our leaders has been tremendous, I mean it sincerely. Our council voted unanimously to allow us to proceed with the application.

There were tons of forms and paperwork to be completed. Application to the Main Street program is not for the faint of heart. Meg was a trooper! She compiled all the data, crunched numbers and filled out every form. Once all of the paperwork was finished, we had to create binders for each member of the selection committee. We also had to map out the downtown area we wanted to include in our district. Only commercial areas could be included and it had to include the Square. We decided the Willow Street corridor from the Square to Unclaimed Baggage was vital since it gets so much traffic, so that plus a few more streets around the Square were incorporated into our map. Main Street limits how much area you can incorporate. In addition to the maps and all the forms Meg filled out, the binders had to include letters of support from the community. Main Street wants to come to communities where they can effect change. If the community is resistant, there is not much Main Street can do, so we needed to show that we had community support. We begged and pleaded on social media and in person for the citizens of Scottsboro to send in letters for us to include. We had no idea what a good number of letters would be, but we ended up with 75 and hoped it was enough. We were impressed with the quality of the letters we received. They were heartfelt and eloquent. I hoped the committee would see the passion the people of Scottsboro have for their town.

We needed a presentation committee. Meg, of course, was our leader and she had all the facts and figures. I was on the committee simply by virtue of still being around. Downtown Scottsboro had gone through several different incarnations by this time and I was the only founding member left. My greatest asset was that I knew the timeline of how Downtown Scottsboro came to be and the steps that had gotten us to this point. We asked Brenda Cantrell of Unclaimed Baggage to join us. We knew her ability to speak before cameras would be of great benefit to us. As the brand ambassador of Unclaimed Baggage, she has been the face of the store and its biggest champion. Her passion and enthusiasm would be a fine addition to our committee.  Finally we asked Nat Cisco to to round out our committee. As the founder of Revive, a Facebook group that got the topic of downtown revitalization buzzing, Nat has a lot of love for his hometown. He also has a tremendous mind for the history of Scottsboro. Since history was a big component of the presentation, we knew he would be vital to our committee. I can't tell you how many times he had to correct our erroneous ideas of Scottsboro's history.

Next we started a social media blitz to get the attention of Main Street. Working on the theory that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we started putting pictures on our social media pages and we tagged Main Street Alabama in each one. They were a little bit silly, a lot fun and we hoped Main Street would see how much we wanted to be part of their program. I felt things might be going in the right direction when Main Street shared one of our pictures and the directive, "This is awesome-Keep showing the love!" They didn't have to tell me twice!

Our next task was coming up with a presentation that would wow the selection committee. Since we didn't know who our competitors were (I tried my best to get Main Street Director, Mary Helmer, to tell me and she wouldn't budge!) and we had no idea what a good presentation would entail, we decided we would start with Main Street's own four-point framework of organization, promotion, design and economic vitality. The plan was to hit those four points as we told the history of Scottsboro from beginning to present day. We especially wanted to show the committee how the last four years had brought us to this point in time and why we were uniquely ready for Main Street designation right now. Brenda thought we should use the blog post, Scottsboro, It's Not For You, so we put pictures of Scottsboro (many people generously shared their pictures with us) in a video presentation and read the blog as the pictures ran. We also had pictures in the presentation to go with each period of the town's history and we narrated as the pictures played across the screen. Finally, we used #putaringonit on one of our social media pictures where we had Brenda in a bridal veil (Unclaimed Baggage has EVERYTHING!) as the City of Scottsboro accepting a ring from Main Street Alabama, portrayed by her colleague, Matt Pittman. I don't know how enthused Matt was at being drafted for our photo opportunity, but Brenda told him, "Just go along with it. Some of Richi's ideas are hokey, but they work." I'm not sure if I was being complimented or insulted. Regardless, we decided to carry on with that theme and made a video where we conned different citizens around town into either humming "All the Single Ladies" or simply saying, "If you like it then you oughta put a ring on it." That video made up the final portion of our presentation.

We gave each member of the selection committee a little suitcase, complements of Unclaimed Baggage. As we carried the selection team members through eight different periods of Scottsboro's history, from statehood through the present, we presented them with items to go in their suitcases. They got eight items including Coke and peanuts to represent the time in which Payne's Drug Store was built on the Square, an old newspaper from the Scottsboro Boys' Trial and magnets Meg made out of the old cobblestone that had just been removed from the square to represent the current changes being made to our downtown, among other things. We told them their bags would be packed and they would be ready to come to Scottsboro by the time we concluded our presentation. At the end, the committee members had time to ask us questions. Since the Mayor and Unclaimed Baggage president, Mike Elkins, had traveled with us, they got to join us for this part of the presentation. I can't even begin to tell you how invaluable their input was. They added so much depth and insight to the discussion and we were beyond grateful for their support and involvement.

I'd travel anywhere with this group!

By the time we finished, I think we all felt pretty good about our efforts. I knew we had done the best job we could have done. Now we just had to wait to see if it was good enough. When Main Street finally called to tell us we were one of the chosen three, we were ecstatic! The Mayor had said all along we would be chosen, but I had a lot less confidence. It was such a relief to get that call.

Making it official!

But...all of this is just the beginning. Now the real work starts. People keep asking, "now what?" Actually, we don't know. You see, the next part depends on us. As the Main Street directors told us, every city's story is different. But Main Street will be with us to teach, guide, hold our hands and push us. That is a big advantage! We will document the progress here as we go along. We can't wait to see what the future holds for our town. Stay tuned. In the meantime, thank you to every single person who has helped or encouraged us in any way. None of this would have been possible without you and nothing that happens from here on out will be possible without you. Together we can do great things!

Main Street Alabama #putaringonit !
Sharing breakfast to celebrate our victory!

We're on the map!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Fine Dining in the Smokies:Buckhorn Inn

A few trips to Gatlinburg ago, we were prowling around on the Craft Trail and I found a cute little olive oil store called, Zi Olive. While I was sampling every tasty olive oil and vinegar in the store, I was also chatting with the owner. During our conversation, I asked the owner what were her favorite restaurants in the area. She mentioned a few that I was familiar with and then she asked if I had ever been to Buckhorn Inn. Not only had I not been, I had never heard of it. She explained that dinner is one seating, one price, only at 7:00 pm and $40.00 per person. Also, the meal, consisting of four courses, is pre-set. You choose what you want to eat, by choosing the night you want to go. Reservations are mandatory and they stay filled up. You know I was intrigued, so I did a little research.


Buckhorn Inn was built in 1938. What? I have been coming to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains my whole life. How did I never hear about this place? Apparently Buckhorn Inn doesn't advertise. Word of mouth is the only way you will hear about this beautiful place. Rooms are available and the Inn serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. 



I made reservations for dinner. The menu for the night I chose consisted of a roasted garlic and brie soup, green salad with cucumber dill dressing, pork tenderloin with soy citrus mayonnaise, rice pilaf with asparagus and a chocolate hazelnut torte. It all sounded wonderful and it was. 

We arrived a little after 6:30 and got to hang out in the dining room until serving began, promptly at 7:00. First a basket of bread was brought to our table. Homemade and delicious, it was perfect with the roasted garlic and brie soup that came out next.

Then we got a fresh and crispy green salad with cucumber dill dressing. 

Our entree consisted of pork tenderloin with a creamy soy citrus dressing. It was totally unexpected and scrumptious. The pork was accompanied by rice pilaf, asparagus, grilled peppers and onions and a tasty little cheese toast.

We ended our dinner on a sweet note with a chocolate nut torte. It was so good, crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Every single course was well thought out and mouthwatering. So much so, that I asked if the inn had a cookbook for sale. Lucky me. They were selling their third volume of the Buckhorn Inn Cookbook. I was happy it included the recipes for the meal we had just enjoyed.

Buckhorn Inn would be a wonderful place to come unwind. It reminds me of some of the horsey taverns and inns in Middleburg, Virginia. Genteel and elegant, the beautiful inn sits in some of the most lush and peaceful surroundings possible. The food is wonderful, too. If you want to get out of the rat race and slow down, I can't think of a more perfect place. 


Three Friends and a Fork gives 3 Elegant and Delicious Yums UP to Buckhorn Inn. 
The Inn doesn't advertise, so y'all can thank me later.