#1 Dinner at Besh’s

If you have even just glanced through this blog, you know that I love great food. It’s not just that I love to eat, it’s that I love to appreciate food.  Perhaps you could say that I love to appreciate saporific beauty.

I heard of John Besh several years ago, but since I still haven’t made it to New Orleans, I just assumed I probably would never get to enjoy his food.  After marking eating at a Bobby Flay restaurant off my bucket list three years ago, I thought I had pretty much emptied that bucket (that’s in the running for the name of this project… #emptythebucket). But there’s something alluring about John Besh, and suddenly he showed up on this not-bucket-list-but-something-list.  Perhaps it’s because he’s not your typical “celebrity” chef.

Or perhaps it’s because he’s Catholic.

Yes, I admit it. I wanted to eat at a John Besh restaurant because he’s Catholic. Because he’s on the board of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. Because he likes St. Josemaria Escriva.

Come on. If I can enjoy incredible food and also support a Catholic, I’m in.

So when he opened a new restaurant in Nashville, Marsh House, despite the fact that I had heard nothing about it, good or bad… I knew I needed to convince Manda to go there for our annual joint-birthday dinner.  Lucky for me, she wasn’t hard to convince.

The restaurant is attached to a hotel, which for some reason normally would kind of turn me off. But I was pretty set on liking this place, so I pushed that aside. The two hostesses were wearing adorable blue wrap dresses, and a nice man in a suit showed me to my table. He later stopped by to chat while I waited for Manda, just to make sure I didn’t need a drink while I waited.  I appreciated how down-to-earth the wait staff seemed, while also remaining completely professional.  (Like the wonderfully perfect gesture of folding your napkin for you if you left to use the restroom. Always a nice touch.)  We later found out that the nice man in a suit was the sommelier.

The menu is seafood-based, and the majority of it consists of small plates meant for sharing. There are also several meat and seafood entrees, and a raw bar menu that features a selection of oysters.

We both ordered cocktails – mine was whiskey-based and Manda’s had prosecco.  Both, while very different, were nicely suited for the cold weather.

img_7189

The one article I read about Marsh House was an interview with Besh where he spoke highly of the gumbo, stressing that he had worked with the chefs to make sure they got his recipe – or rather, his mother’s recipe – just right.  So Manda and I split the gumbo (which they dished up beautifully in separate bowls for us).  Manda also ordered oysters, and loved them. I passed.

img_7190

For dinner, I was excited to see swordfish on the menu, so I couldn’t pass that up.  Swordfish isn’t a fish I generally see at the places I frequent. I distinctly remember the first time I had swordfish – it was in 2001 at a restaurant in Rome in a neighborhood near the Aventine Hill. I was told that it had a more meat-like texture than most fish, and I ordered it on a whim… and loved it. Since then, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve had it, and I was anxious to try it again.

This didn’t disappoint. There was a nice light breading on it – more of a slight crust than anything – and it was served with winter greens and a tomato jam. Manda ordered the stuffed flounder, and it looked pretty incredible- almost a work of art, and probably more worthy of a picture than my dish. Oh well.

img_7192

We both saved room for dessert, of course… and when we couldn’t decide between the opera cake – a buttermilk chocolate cake with ganache and espresso – and the pumpkin cheesecake with cranberries and brittle… we ordered both.

img_7194

Good night. They were both incredible, but the pumpkin cheesecake was simply out of this world. I was afraid it would be a bit cliche- a concession to every PSL lover and a throwaway tribute to fall. I was wrong. Manda hit the nail on the head when she said it was more of a mousse than a cheesecake.  It was exactly what you wanted out of a pumpkin dessert – enough spice to bring home the pumpkin (since pumpkin doesn’t actually have much a flavor by itself) but a lightness that left you completely content and not overwhelmed.  The brittle and toasted marshmallow on the top were the companions you would expect – but surpassed expectations – and then the cranberry drizzled around the plate was a completely unexpected guest but rounded out the dessert without being a strange forced reference to Thanksgiving dinner.

IMG_7197 (1).jpg

The atmosphere of the restaurant gave me the same feeling I had at Bar Americain – it was more relaxed than I expected, and there were people in jeans — but it was just the right mix of classy and casual – definitely an elevated feel that was comfortable without being ostentatious.  Our waitress mentioned that the decor was supposed to evoke a train station (which it did, without being over the top) because of back in the day, that’s what used to be in the neighborhood.  Any indication that a place recognizes the history of Nashville gets props from me, especially in a neighborhood like the Gulch that is congested with brand new restaurants, condos, and bars that are trendy today and will probably be closed tomorrow. So many of the places – and people – that have come to Nashville seem ignorant of the true charm of the city, which is quickly disappearing as it grows faster than is probably healthy.

How many of these new places are worth the hype?  Probably very few. But, while I admit I went in tonight pretty biased … I’d like to see John Besh’s place stay. The menu was elevated without elevating anything just for the heck of it.  Most of the ingredients were recognizable, and while brussels sprouts and beets made an appearance, the menu was largely devoid of the trendy ingredients that people probably only eat because the person next to them told them they should.

First item of the list complete.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Chef Besh had come out and talked with us about Josemaria Escriva. Maybe next time.

Advertisements

Biscuits and Bikes

Saturday was a gorgeous day – one of those Nashville February days that make you forget there has to be a March before April.  It was 65 degrees and sunny, and luckily I filled the day with fun to take full advantage of the beauty.

Manda and I had decided to celebrate Saturdays being work-free (a relatively new concept for me, and a brand-new one for her) by hitting up a new brunch place for breakfast. Biscuit Love began as a food truck and now has a brick and motor location.   We got there in the nick of time – not ten minutes after we ordered, the line was out the door.

IMG_0750I couldn’t resist the basic biscuits and gravy, which is not the most photographic food.  It was great, and my only complaint was that the gravy cooled off too quickly, which is always a danger with biscuits and gravy.  IMG_0749Manda had the Lily- biscuit french toast with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote.  I’m definitely getting that next time.  And there will be a next time. To seal the deal, they had good coffee and absolutely delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice.

After hitting up the sales at the Ann Taylor Loft next door, I dropped Manda off back at her house… but quickly called her while I was still in her driveway.  It was a beautiful day… why not go bike riding?

Nashville has a bike rental program that features stations of bikes throughout the city – rent a bike, ride it around, and return it at the same station or a station across the city.  There is a station right on a greenway, so it’s the perfect opportunity to rent a cute red bike and jump on the greenway. We rode to the grocery store, visited a friend at work, and ended up riding to another park a few miles away.

I’ve missed riding, so it definitely inspired me to get my bike down here and ride more often.  It was the perfect Saturday adventure!  And maybe I began to burn off that gravy. At least began.

Here’s to 65 degree days in February.

comfort food to comfort

Today was a rather blah day. The kind of day you’d rather me not blog about.  If I was poetic, I would come here and blog about my problems in such a beautiful way you’d be moved to tears and find answers to unasked questions in your own lives through my metaphors.  But I’m not a poet.

Instead, I came home and decided I wasn’t going to dwell on my problems.  I was going to do what JoaninOrdinaryTime does best.

I was going to go out to dinner.

Okay, so I had already decided to go out to dinner, but if I hadn’t, I would have.  Or should have.

Good thing it’s everyone’s favorite week of the year… restaurant week!

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t as excited at the offerings as I have been in the past, but Manda and I knew one restaurant had never disappointed. Flyte.  Even their menu didn’t look very exotic this time around, but we knew that they delivered quality no matter what.

So I put on some makeup, threw on a cute pair of crazy pants, and went out for a single gal’s night on the town.

Course 1: Caesar. grilled anchovies / local romaine / black garlic

IMG_0632

Verdict: It was better than this picture.  I was initially going to pick the turnip soup option, because Caesar salad seemed a little boring to me. But our waiter (who was great) sold me on it — and not in a used-car-salesman type of way.  I decided the black garlic (that’s what you see smeared on the side) and the white anchovies were daring enough to merit trying the “boring old Caesar salad” option.  And I was glad I did – it was delicious.  It was just elevated enough — not too crazy so as to cease being Caesar salad or look like they were trying to hard, but raised to the next level so that I didn’t feel boring eating Caesar salad during restaurant week.  The white anchovies definitely tasted like anchovies, but not in an oily, I-feel-like-I’m-licking-the-bottom-of-a-boat type of way.  They had been in vinegar rather than oil, and their distinct anchovy taste was far more gentle than what you’d expect.

Course 2:  Bear Creek Bourguignon. cippolini / root vegetables

IMG_0633

Verdict: Again, not too adventurous, but again, delicious.  The meat was so very tender and the root vegetables were soft inside with a seasoned almost-crust on the outside.  Everything was on top of a whipped potato puree that I wish I would have had more of.  This was comfort food at its best.

Course 3: “Creamcicle” Parfait. blood orange / vanilla cream/ orange lace

IMG_0639

Verdict: It tasted like a orange pushup from the Schwan’s man, topped with a little whipped cream.  Only a million times better.  It’s only now that I’m blogging about this meal that I realize the unwritten theme of it all was “traditional favorites, elevated.”  The blood orange dots on top were incredible.  I probably would have licked my plate if I could have.  The orange lace was a little disappointing… sure, it’s elegant and fun, but I didn’t taste any orange. Just some caramelized sugar.  But it didn’t matter. This thing was good.

IMG_0638

We didn’t get a little “taste” at the beginning of our meal, but instead these little treats came with the bill.  (always helps with sticker shock).  Passion fruit tarts and Italian wedding cookies.  Let’s just say you can tell Flyte has a pastry chef.  Good night.

Of course, all of this was accompanied by a flight of three red wines from Europe.  Go big or go home, right?

So while I don’t have any grand life lessons at the end of this day, I do have a full stomach and a grateful heart. Thanks to Flyte, for turning this day around with your attention to detail, wonderful service, and delicious food.  And thanks to Manda, who is always willing to wine and dine with me.

IMG_0630

Culinary Adventures

Food is not a new topic for this blog – just check out the category cloud at the bottom of the page. But I’m usually just eating other people’s creations.  Last week I had the most tender chicken I think I’ve ever tasted at Josephine’s- a relatively-new-ish restaurant, although they come so quickly around here it’s hard to keep up.

But this blog post is different.  Rather than talking about other people’s creations and adventures, I’m here to talk about my own.

Let’s start with beverages.

Everyone knows that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are the fad drink.  If Starbucks and their incorrect Italian lingo didn’t already bother me, they started calling an incorrectly-named drink (it should be caffe latte, if you want more than milk in the drink) by an acronym.  PSL?  Brother.

But more than just annoying, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes don’t contain any pumpkin. And that’s slightly alarming.  I love me some pumpkin, though, so when Bobby Flay tweeted a recipe for making your own pumpkin spice syrup, I thought it would be worth a try.

It was.

I don’t have any pictures, but you can find the recipe here.  So far I’ve only had it in coffee, but once I finish this post I intend to put it in ice cream and celebrate the first Sunday of Advent with a pumpkin shake.

The second adventure was making cranberry simple sauce for a thanksgiving cocktail.  It was delightful – cranberry simple syrup, rye whiskey, and bitters.  You can find the cocktail (and the simple syrup) recipe here. I think it was a hit.

IMG_0226

Which brings me to my final and greatest culinary adventure of the week. Thanksgiving.  I didn’t get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, so it was going to be hard to go to Virginia like usual.  I think this was the first time in five or six years I didn’t spend the holiday with my sister and her family, and I definitely missed them all weekend.  But when I realized I was going to be staying here, I decided to host dinner for any of my friends staying in town.

I offered to make the turkey, and everyone graciously chipped in the side dishes.  We tried to make sure everyone’s traditions were covered, and even though it was a pretty laid-back day, it was a lot of fun.  The added treat for me was that I went over to the Motherhouse for morning Mass and I got to sit with Sr. Mary Grace at Mass!  So that was an unexpected gift.

I was worried about the turkey … mostly just because it’s a lot of pressure.  The main dish is something you only make once a year (or… have never made…) and it’s not just the main dish, it’s sort of the center of the entire holiday. I suppose some people have Thanksgiving without turkey, but I can’t imagine it.  So there’s just a lot of pressure around a single dish.  But I figured if people do it every year, it couldn’t be that hard… right?

I read a lot of food blogs and tweets from Alton Brown and gathered tips and tricks … so by Thursday, I was feeling pretty good.  I combined two tactics — this recipe for apple-bourbon gravy and then Alton Brown’s advice from his Good Eats episode.  It ended up turning out pretty well!

IMG_0253

 

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  Happy Advent!

 

Back Home Again

Some things are worth sacrifices.  But when the sacrifice is over, you don’t sit around thinking, “Gee, I wish I was still sacrificing.”  It doesn’t mean that you would change anything about the past, or even that you hated every minute of the sacrifice.  It was worth it, but now there’s a new phase of life and you’re okay with that.

For the past six years, I had the joy and honor to teach almost every Saturday from mid-February to mid-May and mid-August to mid-November.  It was worth sacrificing my Saturdays (and about half of my Fridays) to have the opportunity to preach the Gospel and share the joy of Jesus Christ with over a thousand people.

It was a joy, but it’s also a joy to have my Saturdays back.  One of the first things I planned?  A road trip to Notre Dame.

Two weeks ago, three guys and I piled in my friend Matt’s Jeep early Friday morning to make the trip to the beautiful state of Indiana.  It was harvest time, the trees were changing, and I was goin’ back to Indiana.

It was fun to show Mario and Father my old stomping grounds —  our first stop was my home parish, St. Boniface.  The church was unlocked and it was just good to be home again. As we were leaving, my pastor was driving into the parking lot– such a gift! So we got to chat with him and then I had the guts to ask him a question about the church that I had wondered since middle school… and he must be turning soft, because he showed me the answer – a secret I didn’t think I would ever be told.  I would be more transparent about it if I didn’t think my middle school classmates would hunt me down and make me tell them, too.  Suffice to say, it was pretty awesome.

Then we went over to the perpetual adoration chapel, which I saw with new eyes, taking guests there.  I had always known it was beautiful, but I think walking into it realizing that most people probably expect a little room tucked in the corner of the hospital… and then you walk into a gorgeous Gothic chapel with incredible statues and beautiful stained glass windows — well, we’re pretty blessed in Lafayette.

steI stole this picture off the internet.  And it doesn’t do the chapel justice.

We didn’t have much time before dinner, so we finished the tour of Lafayette with a stop at the taproom at People’s Brewery.  People’s is an addition to Lafayette after I left home, but I had enjoyed their beer when Mom and Dad bought it, and they usually bring me a six-pack when they visit. So I was looking forward to checking out the taproom.   So that we didn’t have to make decisions, we decided to get two flights, which would include samples of everything they had on tap, and split them.

IMG_9887

The nice guy bringing us our flights described them all, then recommended drinking them from low IBUs to high, so that the hops wouldn’t wreck our palate.  I think my favorite was Belgian Stout, which we couldn’t take home because it’s made with nitrogen and they can’t bottle it.  But we ended up bringing  home the regular IPA and the Red Ale (which I liked because it was named for our local Irish pub).  I was hoping to like their Oktoberfest, because it’s brewed especially for my home parish’s Germanfest, but it just wasn’t my favorite.

IMG_9885Twelve beers.  Enjoy them, but make sure you’re home in time for dinner.

We returned to the homestead for a delicious dinner (thanks, Mom!), and another good friend of mine, Father David, joined us because he knew Father Kevin from seminary.  My nieces were staying with my parents, so it was an extra treat to get to spend time with them, too.  I feel like the guys got a little taste of the family craziness, which is always good.  After dinner we played a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit.  (Dad and the priests won.)

The next morning we woke up bright and early to continue our grand adventure. Father celebrated Mass, Mom made breakfast, and then we hit the Hoosier Heartland to trek up to Notre Dame.  My awesome brother not only got us tickets but also a parking pass, so we parked south of campus and headed to the bookstore.  Since we were parked so close to campus, we could even take our loot back to the car before exploring the rest of campus. It’s the little things that count, you know?

It was fun to show the guys the way my family always celebrated game days.  Steak sandwiches from the Knights of Columbus, prayers at the Basilica and the Grotto, and a fairly new tradition, the trumpets under the Dome.  But it was my first game back on campus since my sister-in-law’s father had passed away, and it was sad not to see him at his tailgate.  I’m sure St. Peter frequents his Notre Dame tailgates these days.

The game was a too much a nail-biter — it made it fun, but I would rather have been bored. : )  But we pulled it off in the end.

IMG_9927

We celebrated the win with another Watson tradition … Bruno’s for dinner after the game!   We didn’t have to wait as long as I thought we would (and I even saw one of my brother’s old friends at the bar).  Then we hit the road to head back to Lafayette, and we all fell asleep in the car. Except Matt. I’m so grateful to Matt and Mario for for driving all weekend.

Sunday we headed back to Tennessee.  A short trip, but packed with old memories and new inside jokes.  So many of my childhood Saturdays were spent on that campus, and it was good to return – and actually witness an Irish win.  (the last game I went to, we lost to Air Force… and the two people I took to the game ended up breaking up a few days later…Eek.  Needless to say, better memories this time around…)

IMG_9902

Bourbon Retreat

IMG_8464

It all started with five of us talking after our Derby party, sipping mint juleps and dreaming big.  Let’s go to Paris.  To Rome.

How about the Bourbon Trail?

The details came together easily, and before we knew it, we were headed up I-65 to Louisville, KY on a Friday morning, ready to make memories.

I won’t bore you with all the details, the inside jokes, the quotes and stories that only the five of us will ever think are funny.  I will tell you that it was one of the best (and most affordable) mini adventures I’ve ever had.

Our time in Louisville included wandering around Louisville Slugger Field even though it was closed and we weren’t supposed to be inside and our first distillery stop (the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience).

IMG_8438

At the gift shop, the woman working saw that we were Catholic (my Miraculous Medal) and told us about the “prettiest church in Louisville,” which just happened to have perpetual adoration, confession for first Friday, and the full skeletons of two Roman martyrs.  Not bad for an unexpected side trip.  Did I mention her kids went to Christendom?  #smallCatholicworld

IMG_8397

Bourbon and Jesus.  It was the theme of the weekend.

Yes, we were on a Bourbon Retreat.  Every day included bourbon, Jesus, and plenty of unexpected gifts.  He made it pretty clear from the very beginning that He had hilarious things in store for us:

IMG_8908We just needed to be open to the Spirit.  It was Pentecost weekend, after all.  So there was a lot of quoting Acts 2:15.

IMG_8434

That night we stayed in a funny apartment (bed and breakfast… minus the breakfast) which was full of character but not so full of air-conditioning.

IMG_8435Aways a bad sign when your candles are melting without being lit.  Oh well… it gave us something to laugh about now.  “Remember when Mario slept on the kitchen floor in front of the window a/c unit?”

Saturday we got an early start, and after Mass (remember — Jesus and bourbon) we headed to Jim Beam.

IMG_8474

Then Heaven Hill,

2014-06-07 13.58.06and Maker’s Mark.

IMG_8555We were quickly becoming experts on the distilling process, so we weren’t too keen on our Maker’s Mark tour guide, who treated us like frat boys.  But again, at least it gave us something to laugh about now.

After Maker’s, (where the lady who ran the “dip your own bottle in red wax” station redeemed the place for us by being awesome) we headed to Gethsemani for Evening Prayer and a holy hour.  Gethsemani is a Trappist Monastery, probably best known for being the home of Thomas Merton.  (remember, this ain’t no normal Bourbon Trail weekend.  This is a bourbon retreat.)

IMG_8991

We headed to Bardstown to satisfy our very rumbly tummys, and ate at Talbott Tavern, which dates from the 1700s and has seen the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and Jesse James.  I embraced the Kentucky experience with burgoo and a hot brown, washing it down with an Old Fashioned.  It was there I began to worry about myself… after sipping the drink (and I’m usually a cocktail girl), I thought, “Why did they put all this stuff in my bourbon?”

There’s no going back now.  My palate has acquired a taste.

We headed to Frankfort, where we welcomed the air conditioned hotel with open arms.  The next morning, we went to Mass, had a holy hour (remember… bourbon retreat…) and then hit the road.  We had four more distilleries if we were going to complete our Bourbon Trail passports and get our free t-shirt. We had started the weekend with, “Well, if it happens, that’s nice…” but now it was no laughing matter.  We were going to do this.

Wild Turkey opened first, so they were our first stop.

Spirits for the Spirit!IMG_8542

Then it was off to Four Roses

2014-06-08 13.28.57

and Woodford Reserve.

IMG_8581Then we booked it to Lexington, where the last stop was Town Branch, a new distillery that also brews beer. We missed the beer part of the tour, but made it in time for the distillery part.  Oh, and the tasting.

2014-06-08 17.05.38Whew.  Two and a half days. Eight distilleries.

That’s a lot of bourbon.  Well, not really.  Not as much as what fills this:

IMG_9006We celebrated with dinner at The Village Idiot and congratulated ourselves on one heck of a weekend.

I’d highly recommend making the trip, even if you don’t do all eight on the “trail.”  In fact, I’d love to go back and hit some of the ones we skipped — Buffalo Trace and a few of the smaller distilleries.  There are so many, we had to draw the line somewhere — so we stuck to the ones in the passport.

I thought that eight would be a bit much — that the tours would be repetitive, that I would get bored, that I would want to stop after Saturday.  But each tour was unique and emphasized something different.  There were steps we didn’t see at every tour, there were elements to the process that were explained differently, and in the end, all eight complemented each other well.

Favorite tour: Heaven Hill

Most Disney-like tour: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Most surprising: Wild Turkey

Most beautiful grounds: Woodford Reserve

Best “branding” (for good or ill): Maker’s Mark

We learned how to smell with our mouths open, we now know the legal requirements for bourbon to be bourbon, and we’ve acquired a taste for the magic that happens when corn and sweet Kentucky water meet charred oak barrels in a hot Kentucky summer.

Good times.

IMG_9080

(Thanks to Mario and Ian for several of these pictures!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

here’s to the fun stuff

When it comes to personal blogs, it seems that there are two types of blog posts.

A) The ones when people’s lives look incredible

B) The ones when you feel sorry for them.

Example A:  The SAHM posts a recipe for the incredible dinner she made last night that just happened to be gluten-free, nut-free, and organic, alongside pictures of her adorable children wearing clothes she made by hand while homeschooling them, with a Downton Abbey reference thrown in and a final picture of the flowers her gorgeous husband bought her “just because.”

Example B: The SAHM writes about the fact that she hasn’t slept in five weeks and has gained eight pounds just by looking at a Snickers bar and has to take a break from this blog post because her youngest child just pooped on the floor and where did Johnny go? but hopes to finish the eightieth load of laundry before lunch because she knows the child she just finished potty-training will probably wet the bed during her nap and why is the fire alarm going off? but maybe tomorrow she will get to take a shower if …

As a single gal, I fully recognize that I too can write either of those posts.  I can either tell you about my fun social life or I can bemoan my singleness, the state of the world today, or the various chores, errands, and to-do list tasks that haven’t gotten finished because I work all day and come home to other things that need priority- and therefore am probably just eating cheese for dinner because that’s what in my refrigerator.

Let’s go with the first, shall we?

The Derby party that almost wasn’t

The Saturday of the Derby, I went to a lovely baby shower for my friend Lori and then headed back to town for the first Musician’s Corner of the summer.  Musicians’ Corner is a fun free concert series in the shadow of the Parthenon.  A group of us met up there in the afternoon and enjoyed the beautiful (very warm) spring day.  It was a really fun, low-key afternoon with people coming and going, eating at food trucks, sweating, and listening to good music.   Holly Williams was one of the artists — she turned my head when she announced, “My granddaddy wrote this song…” and then launched into a Hank Williams song.  One of my friends wryly commented, “I think she’s going to make it in the business.”

IMG_7938

Jars of Clay

We were planning on heading back to my friend Manda’s house to watch the Derby — we had the makings for mint juleps, Kentucky browns, and two Derby pies waiting for us. The last band to play was Jars of Clay, and we were enjoying their concert and I was losing track of time when I saw Manda packing up at the corner of my eye.  I glanced at my watch.  5:20.  Holy cow, we were going to miss the Derby.

We went into action, throwing all our stuff into bags and scattering our different ways towards our cars.  My friend Matt called back, “Do you need anything!?” as he headed to his car.  “Ice!” Manda called back, and we ran for mine.

I laughed the whole way to her house.  We were throwing a Derby party and we were going to miss the Derby.  Who does that!?

We ran into her house, I turned on the TV, we all put our hats on, KY Browns went into the oven, Matt arrived with the ice, and the Derby began.  A few people did end up missing it, but they arrived in time for mint juleps, so it was all okay.

IMG_7927

We just threw this together.

 

Birds and Brandy

That next Monday, Manda and I headed south of Nashville to hit up Hobby Lobby for our Steeplechase crafting.  She needed a ribbon for her big hat and I needed some props to build my fascinator.

I love Hobby Lobby.  It’s a good thing there isn’t one near my house.

IMG_7951

I was persuaded not to get this for my head.  Maybe next year.
(I hope you all are thinking what I’m thinking right now)

After shopping, we treated ourselves to a fantastic dinner at Gray’s on Main, the former-pharmacy turned brandy bar in downtown Franklin.  Their menu is delightfully southern, while their cocktail menu honors the drink culture of the late 19th century, when the building was constructed.

IMG_7962

fried green tomatoes with roasted creamy corn and goat cheese,
fried pimento cheese with moonshine pepper jelly, shrimp and grits on collards, and bacon-wrapped figs with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction

The cocktail menu features brandy, the drink of the late 19th century, and so we let our waiter choose the drink he thought we would like.  After hearing what we usually drank, he advised us to try the White Mule, a play on the Moscow Mule. I loved it.  I would drive to Franklin for it.  It featured Delord Blanche Armagnac, a cognac that is sold nowhere else in the United States.  Looks like I am going to have to drive to Franklin for it.

IMG_7964

complete with a copper mug.

 

It’s all in the family

I hope I don’t sound like an alcoholic, but one of the other highlights of last week was a random Thursday afternoon bourbon tasting at one of the wine stores near my house. My friend Liza had seen on Twitter that Belle Meade Bourbon was doing a free tasting and featuring mint juleps. I convinced Manda to meet me there.  We were going to pick up some things for Steeplechase, taste the Belle Meade Bourbon, and go on our merry way.  I didn’t expect that the person giving the tastes would actually be one of the owners of the distillery, nor did I expect his story to be so fascinating.  You can read more here, but basically two brothers discovered that their great-great-great grandfather had owned one of the three most notable distilleries in Tennessee (the other two being George Dickel and Jack Daniels, and he was far out-selling Jack Daniels).  The distillery closed during Prohibition and had become family lore. The brothers decided to reopen the distillery a few years ago, a hundred years after it had closed.

I loved hearing his story and was fascinated by the history and the details of distilling.  Kind of a random Thursday afternoon, but I’ll take it.

IMG_7993

 

Am I in Italy?

My friend Mario turned the big 3-0 on Friday, so we all went out to DeSano’s, a local pizza place, to celebrate.  Father had told me that it was the closest I would come to Italian pizza, but I’m a bit of a snob and a skeptic, so I had to taste it to believe it.

IMG_7997

It was pretty darn delicious.  The atmosphere was amazing — big communal tables, lots of noise and laughter, and a full view of the pizza-making process, complete with dough-tossing and audience participation.  Father announced that it was Catholic, and it was true.

Mario even got to catch some dough… while wearing a birthday cake hat made of balloons.  (the perks of having a balloon artist as a friend.)IMG_0013

 

The Social Event of the Spring

Last but certainly not least… the social event of the spring… Steeplechase.  You can read all about the event in last year’s post, when I became enamored with how easy, fun, and classy the event was – for only $15.  Of course, you also have to factor in the expense of your picnic and your fascinator.  But who needs to buy a $80 fascinator from Macy’s when you can make your own!?

My friend Megan got a series of awesome texts like this a few nights before….

IMG_7976

but with her help and Manda’s shopping guidance, I managed to pull of a fascinator that didn’t not cost $80, did not feature a bird, and still made a statement.

The finished product:

IMG_8011

It even held up in the wind.  Well, most of it.  I had a bit of a casualty with the big feather in the back, but that just means it’ll be easier to change up and update for next year’s race!

Oh, Steeplechase, how I love you.  I love your bow ties and your seersucker and your picnics and your horses.  I love the thrill of the race and the laziness of the afternoon.

The rain even held off, which seems to be a theme when it comes to the second Saturday in May.

IMG_8031

I have the most beautiful friends.

Cheers!