Connecting with my Grandmother through Two Beautiful Cookbooks

A few weeks ago, I drove to Nashville to attend the Southern Festival of Books. (If you've never been, you should definitely check it out. It's so close and such a great trip. There are all kinds of booksellers there, as well as panels of authors and other literary groups to get involved in. You don't need to be a writer to enjoy it!)

Typically, when I have the opportunity to buy books, I immediately go to the Young Adult section. But  fall always makes me miss my grandmother. As the temperature drops and the leaves start to turn, she never fails to enter my mind (as evidenced by this post I wrote around this time last year).

There are a million things that make me think of herthe scent of Estée Lauder's Beautiful, any well-dressed elderly woman with coordinating purse and shoes, prayer, loud talkers, mashed potatoes, decorating for the holidays, babies, hearing a great laugh, brightly-painted fingernailsthe list goes on and on.

So on this day, I headed for another thing that always makes me feel close to her: the cookbooks. And right there, on the very top of one of the stacks, sat At My Grandmother's Table by Faye Porter.

My favorite kind of cookbook is the kind with stories intertwined throughout beautifully-photographed food and well-written recipes. A quick flip through the pages of this book, and I knew it was a must-buy.

I have this highly technical formula I use when I'm deciding if I want to buy a cookbook. I open it to a random page, and if the recipe on the page is something I would actually cook, I buy it.

In this book, that recipe was Sweet Potato Biscuits on page 53. The photo on the opposite page looked so good it'd make a tomcat spit in a bulldog's eye. (Learned that saying from my Papaw. You're welcome, dear readers.)

Usually, one cookbook would be enough, but then I happened to spot one with a cover so cute I had to pick it up: Y'all Come Over by Patsy Caldwell and Amy Lyles Wilson.

Basically any cookbook that has "Y'all" in the title is probably one I need in my kitchen. And it's ANOTHER one with stories and traditions scattered throughout the recipes.

I did my really complicated random page test and landed on page 55's Puffed Up and Proud French Toast.


(A second random page had a recipe for Blackberry Wine Cake, which reminds me- have you tried Acres of Land's Blackberry Wine? I've never liked sweet wine but this one is incredibly tasty.)

My granny would've loved these cookbooks, even though she'd never have needed them. The woman simply worked magic in the kitchen. Her toast even tasted better than anyone else's. (You think I'm exaggerating here, but I'm not. Somehow she managed to completely drench it in butter but it still stayed crunchy. Magic, I tell you.)

And now, since I can't share these with her, I'm going to give one away to a lucky HerKentucky reader! Fill out the rafflecopter below, and if your name is drawn, you'll pick which cookbook you'd like to have and I'll send it to you! (You can't choose wrong. They're both so perfectly southern and beautiful.)

Do you have a favorite cookbook? I'd love to hear about it! Leave the title in the comments!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Southern Festival of Books: Sunday Recap

This weekend, I went down to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. I wrote about the Festival for Ace Weekly magazine, describing the sense of "place" that arose time and again during the festival's programs and events. I also wanted to share a more informal "travelogue" with y'all. We had such an amazing time taking in both the festival and one of my very favorite cities. Here's my recap of Saturday’s events. You also can read recaps of Friday and Saturday, if you'd like. – HCW 
I wasn't really feeling any of the Sunday sessions at the Southern Festival, so I opted instead for brunch at my very favorite spot in Nashville -- Provence. Oh, y'all. Their food. Their coffee. And Hillsboro Village -- just the cutest little neighborhood imaginable. It was among our very favorites when we lived in Nashville, and I love going back there!

Not sure what this means, but Lordy I've missed hipsters!
After we ate, we moved to the sidewalk to enjoy our coffee and dessert. I had a cinnamon macaron that was simply heavenly. We sipped our Dancing Goats coffee (our very favorite blend anywhere!), and took in the sights of our old 'hood. The people-watching in Nashville is fantastic; I've always said we play a game we call "Hipster or White Stripe?", and Sunday didn't fail us. In the most Nashville moment ever, a bespectacled hipster walked past our table. When he was safely out of earshot, I asked my beau "hey, was that Ben Folds?" We finally decided that the actual Ben Folds would probably have been dressed a little better.
Vandy Children's Hospital

We walked around our old 'hood a few more minutes, remembering funny stories of walking Max through the neighborhood, the hours of training I put in while training for the half-marathon, and the joy I got from volunteering at Vandy Children's Hospital. It was really wonderful to revisit so many fond memories.

Then we undertook the journey home. I was pointed toward the mountains to retrieve the dogs. My beau had to get back to work. I strongly wished that I'd planned to stay down another day; I'd seen on Facebook that they were looking for people to sit at the Bluebird all day Monday as extras for that Nashville TV show. 

On the way home, I was amazed by how much the fall foliage had popped out over the weekend. I stopped to photograph some amazing trees near Somerset.  I hurried on home, because I knew that my dogs would take "grandparent rules" a little too far.  But, most of all, I thought about the lessons of place that the Southern Festival of Books provided me. I felt a little more ready to tackle some writing of my own.

Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Recap

Thai Food Truck at the Capitol.
Last weekend, I went down to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. I wrote about the Festival for Ace Weekly magazine, describing the sense of "place" that arose time and again during the festival's programs and events. I also wanted to share a more informal "travelogue" with y'all. We had such an amazing time taking in both the festival and one of my very favorite cities. Here's my recap of Saturday’s events. You can read about Friday's adventures here. – HCW

I don’t know why, but the Central Time Zone kicks my behind every single time. Every. Single. Time. I lived in Nashville for two years, and I never got used to Prime Time television starting at 7 p.m. This day was no exception. I gotup really early for a Saturday, and yet somehow I was still running late.

Now, I've always jokingly called the strip of I-65 from Southern Kentucky past Nashville "The Cracker Barrel Corridor" because it seems you can find one at every exit. As we pass the signs for a few of those, it felt like a good excuse to avail ourselves of some biscuits and hashbrown casserole. At first, I was a little concerned that we'd miss the session on the politics of SEC football, but then I realized that we were surrounded by that very topic. From the Volunteers dog collars and baby clothes in the gift shop to the Gators fans who've driven up for their game against Vandy, the politics of the Southeastern Conference were everywhere, so we just sat back and enjoyed our carbs.

We arrived downtown, surveyed the vendor booths, and headed in to an auditorium a few minutes early for the Grit Lit panel. As we sat down, we realized that we'dcrashed another session. Turns out, we were sitting in on a Q and A session with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, who talked about how she chooses settings for her work. It was neat and unexpected. 

The panel I was really there to see was comprised of the editors and featured authors of the anthology Grit Lit: a Rough Southern Reader. It was a funny, gritty, and real presentation. I was transfixed by the stories told by Rowan County native Chris Offutt. He's from nowhere, Kentucky, just like me. He's written for some of the smartest shows on TV. He was also as funny and offbeat and fascinating as I expected. I reached for my phone to tweet about the awesomeness, and found that Southern Living staffers were in the Grit Lit audience as well. Around the same time, the panel members started talking about the articles they've written for Oxford American. People who write for the very publications I read most closely -- the ones for which I dream of writing -- were are all around me, participating in the same conversation. It was a great feeling.

After the panel discussion, my beau and I walked around the booths of some of the University Presses  exhibiting at the Festival. We talked with booksellers and lit review editors. We discussed interesting books. We got some ice cream. (Jeni's, to be precise. Salted caramel, which is okay, and whiskey-pecan, which tastes like some sort of fantastic milky Christmas punch made with Early Times.)

After we took in more booths, musicians, and authors, we headed back to the hotel for a nap and some college football. It is a Saturday in the South, after all. Between the nap and the evening's big games, we headed out for some low-key dinner. There, in a suburban chain restaurant, I found my confidence bolstered by the day's events. I'd spent the day among writers who, as is often said, started out with an idea. I began to tell my beau the story of the novel I want to write. I'd never really discussed it with anyone before, but now it's out there. It's real. It was a terrifying and liberating moment.

Back in the hotel, I fell immediately asleep. Les Miles had to coach without me. I had big dreams of first drafts and the fantastic cup of coffee I'd be drinking in the morning.

Southern Festival of Books: Friday Recap

Last weekend, I went down to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. I wrote about the Festival for Ace Weekly magazine, describing the sense of "place" that arose time and again during the festival's programs and events. I also wanted to share a more informal "travelogue" with y'all. We had such an amazing time taking in both the festival and one of my very favorite cities.  Here's a little about my trip down to Nashville on Friday and the first night of the event. -- HCW

It was just one of those days that goes right. That's a very good thing when you undertake a five hour trip. After the dogs got in a lengthy morning playtime, I left them with my parents and I drove. And drove. And drove. I noticed the fall foliage. I bemoaned the lack of cell phone signal in rural Kentucky. And I drove some more. Finally, I found myself on the Tennessee border. I excitedly tuned the radio to Jack 96.3 (only the best radio station ever -- take my word for it!) and took in the sights.  Lordy, I love this city.
I had a few minutes to spare before the first event I wanted to attend, so I drove down Broadway. It's so quintessentially touristy, and yet such a terribly fun area. At 2 o'clock on a Friday afternoon, the honky-tonks and shops were just swarming with people. There were lines outside Tootsies, Margaritaville and Hatch Show Print. That's one of my very favorite things about Nashville: there are always people lined up to have a good time.

I headed over to the Public Library to hear Jason Howard and Naomi Judd speak about the Kentucky Roots of Country Music. Two things become apparent in a hurry: I want to be BFFs with Jason Howard, and Naomi Judd knows how to work a room. Amidst an interesting discussion about Appalachia, culture, and creativity, Mr. Howard and Ms. Judd worked in some hilarious quotes. Reading from his own description of a dinnertime scene at Ms. Judd's home, Mr. Howard deadpanned "It's her kitchen medicine cabinet. Every Appalachian woman I know has one." Later in the hour, Ms. Judd reached into her décolletage and dramatically produced a tissue -- "I think there's a Kleenex gene. I think it's a hillbilly thing."

I left the session with an interesting perspective on my own Appalachian heritage and drove down to meet my beau at the Barnes & Noble on Vanderbilt's campus (he's been in town for work). We grabbed some dinner, then decided to check out the holy grail of Nashville bookstores, Parnassus Books. 

I've been dying to visit Parnassus forever. Located in an unassuming strip of shops and restaurants in the Green Hills neighborhood, the store boasts one of the best fiction selections I've seen in ages. Because we were in Nashville, there were also more than a few country music and sporting dog titles to make us feel at home. I knew there was little chance of getting to meet owner Ann Patchett on a Friday night; I guess I'll just have to make another trip soon! 

We ended the evening with an apple fritter from the Donut Den next door (oh, how we've missed them!), and called it an early night, because we had many more books to discover on Saturday!

Good Morning from Nashville

Hey y'all!

Southern Festival was amazing and Nashville is as wonderful as always. I'll post a full recap when I get home this evening, but here are a few pics and quotations for you.

"Kentucky is such a special place-there seems to be something in the water." -- Jason Howard

"Appalachia is sacred." -- Naomi Judd

"I wanted to write about the people I grew up with." -- Chris Offutt

A Guide to Literary Nashville

When you hear "Nashville", you immediately think "country music", right?

Well, this week, you may also be thinking about that show that brought Mrs. Coach Taylor back to TV. I can't blame you there; I've already watched the pilot episode a couple of times myself.

When I think of Nashville, though, I immediately think of books. It's not most people's immediate reaction, I know. But, when I lived in Nashville, I was always discovering the coolest bookstores and cafés; it just always seemed like there was a great place to read or write. As I head down to the Southern Festival of Books, I thought I'd share with y'all a few of my favorites.

My hidden gem -- and I sort of hate to let anyone in on my secret -- is McKay's. McKay Used Books is a Tennessee-based superstore of used books, music, and movies. It's also one of the greatest resources I've ever found for odd, esoteric, and just plain awesome books. There are always plenty of interesting texts that clearly once belonged to professors at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, or Belmont. Over the years, I've found books on the philosophy of sports and a gender-studies reading of Sex and the City.  I've found a first edition of Pat Conroy's "The Water Is Wide" and a signed Ann Patchett. I've also tripled my Junior League Cookbook collection without investing a ton of money into it. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of McKay's.

RhinoBooks is another favorite used book store. With two locations -- one in the quiet neighborhood near David Lipscomb University and one amidst antique, treasure and junk stores -- Rhino just looks like your favorite used bookstore. The staff is always willing to talk Fitzgerald with you for hours. Oh, and the owner is a songwriter as well -- he's collaborated with Shel Silverstein and John Hiatt.

I haven't been back to Nashville since Parnassus Books opened. I hope to remedy that situation this weekend. At a time when conventional wisdom tells us that the brick and mortar bookstore is dead (Nashville boasted the best Borders I'd ever seen, as well as the delightful Davis-Kidd, now sadly both defunct), author Ann Patchett and publishing industry veteran Karen Hayes opened an independent bookstore. It was a bold move that went against the tide of conventional business wisdom. I know this becauseStephen Colbert told me so. Ms. Patchett's works are among my very, very favorites. I can't wait to see Parnassus for myself!

While not a bookstore, the Five Points Starbucks in Franklin is part of literary Nashville for me. Now, when I'm in Nashville, I almost never visit a Starbucks. Provence, a local café chain, has vastly superior coffee and pastries, most notably my beloved Dancing Goats. But, this Williamson County store is where a lovely series of books got their start.Tasha Alexander worked on the first novel in the Lady Emily series of historical fiction mysteries at the Five Points Starbucks after she'd taken her son to school.  As a writer, I love the idea that a suburban Starbucks in Central Tennessee was where an author crafted a story of intrigue among the upper class in Victorian England.

Nashville has so many amazing resources for readers and writers. I hope to take advantage of a few this weekend!

Southern Festival of Books

This weekend, I'm headed down 1-65 to the Southern Festival of Books. The annual event, held in Downtown Nashville, showcases Southern authors across a variety of genres and interests.  As a reader and writer, I'm thrilled to be attending. As a Kentuckian, I'm thrilled to see the Bluegrass State represented so well.  

Mama Judd will be there.  So will George Ella Lyon and Bobbie Ann Mason.  Silas House and Jason Howard are both presenting.  There's also a bunch of new Kentucky talent -- poets, professors, and librarians who've recently published.

Of course, there's non-Kentuckians, too.  Folks like Buzz Bissinger, R.L. Stine, and Gillian Flynn.  There's a guy who's speaking about the politics of SEC football.  There are historians, chefs, and musicians.  In fact, there are over 250 authors reading, presenting, and joining in on the festivities.

I'll be checking in here on HerKentucky all weekend.  I hope to give y'all some updates, photos and fun insights.  I'll also be updating on twitter (@heathercw) as I go.  I'm pretty excited!

Who's your favorite Southern writer?