Cooking for Company

Coc au Riesling

Ok, so I was going to write that tonight I am cooking and eating with Frank.  No lie, I have shared more time in the kitchen with that boy, Sinatra, than any male I know.  But to be truthful, I’m hanging with the whole Rat Pack.  Dean Martin, fav of my sis and Mama Sargeant, is singing right now as I eat my new Dish Darling—Coq au Riesling. I just made it the cover shot of my Pinterest “I Fancy Food” Board.  (Need I say more? For all those who know my go-to cliché, “long story short,” the answer is, of course, I will say more.  Always.)

Coq au Riesling renders the best “sop” I’ve ever had, and coming from a Kentucky-Turned-Tennessee-Girl raised on buttermilk and red-eye gravies, you can trust me. And Ella.  I never allow my puppy “people food,” but tonight I slathered the creamy concoction over her Iams.  The little lab mix lapped it up.  I varied the recipe by using rosemary and lemon thyme from my deck rather than parsley, and to prevent family feuds, I used all legs rather than equal parts of legs and thighs.  My Mama Lou called legs “drumsticks,” and she and my dad preferred them to any other part of the chicken.  So do my kids and I.

You can also trust my rave review because I’m about to go all gut honest and still raw…again.  First of all, like my dad who called “Izod” shirts “Izog,” and my mom who makes Walmart and Kroger plural, I did a brain switch on the name of the chef, Nigel Slater, who created Coq au Riesling.   When I pinned Alida Ryder’s blogpost in which Nigel’s recipe was reprinted,  I thought the name read  “Nigella Lawson.”  I hadn’t seen the brunette British bombshell in years, so when I Googled “Nigel Slater” to see what she was up to, I discovered she is a he. Both are food gurus, but they are very different people.  So technically, tonight the Brat Pack welcomed Nigel, not Nigella, to dinner.  Though I didn’t dream up the traditionally French dish, my oversized imagination transported me to Paris where I sat, not at my kitchen table, but as a Parisian sidewalk cafe.  Mama Lou taught me how to do that when we’d fly to France via her rocking chair and then move to the couch where tv trays were tables at Maxims.  And as I did last month when in Paris for real, I, of course, snapped a picture.

Which brings me to a bit of a struggle due to the Facebook/Pinterest Effect.   While we were once frightened by 1984 or The Truman Show, we find ourselves teetering between putting on a positive face/showing gratitude and living in a “Look How Great My Life Is” photo shoot (ie) trying to cook like The Barefoot Contessa while looking like Giada; resisting Instagram Envy when our travel pics aren’t from the Great Barrier Reef or Bali; missing realtime conversation because we’re distracted checking in at cool concerts, restaurants, and social events which, in turn, makes someone else feel “How Sad My Life Is” because he/she wasn’t invited; feeling pressured to book the next  Richard Avedon for  engagement/wedding/firstborn’s first birthday party pics before even dating anyone.  But I’ve decided I can say life is good, and simultaneously wish someone special was sharing this meal with me.

I knew the day would come when my kids would leave home, so I tried Match as an insurance policy against an empty table.  After a not-fun first date several years ago, the angry guy who drove me home sneered,  “Oh yeah, all you women are soooooo happy with your lives.  But you know what?  You aren’t all that happy or you wouldn’t be on Match.”  His bitterness scared me.  The truth is I have much to be grateful for.  Once a coworker compared me to Ally McBeal: “You have to love her.  You are both the ‘Queens of Angst.’” I remember mentally depositing him, Ally-like, into a curbside dumpster.  Probably because he was right.  I’m happy to say I’m no longer as full of angst as I once was, but as I discussed with friends, Kim and Cheryl yesterday, life is about seasons.  As for Ally,  I love that she was honest.  Though good at her career, though independent, she wasn’t afraid to want more. Wanting a life partner didn’t make her weak.  It doesn’t make me weak either.  Admitting it makes me real.  When he joins me for Coq au Riesling one day, I’m sure Frank and Nigel, though not Ella, will gladly scoot over.

Girls’ Night In–Happy Valentine’s Day!


My Hopeful Romantic Valentine’s Eve Party theme was “Celebrating the Many While Waiting for the One.”  I wanted to honor the women in my life with a Girls’ Night In. How and why I started these parties to survive…even thrive on V-Day is here and here.

Keep the menu simple: “Let ’em Eat Cupcakes.”  Cupcakes stacked on crystal cake plates makes an elegant centerpiece.  (I propped a picture from Marie Antionette against the base.) Last year my sister, Penny, made cupcakes for my party.  Her cakes are perfection, and if she ever opened a bakery, Gigi (of Nashville’s Gigi’s Cupcakes) would have some competition.  A black fitted sheet makes a great tablecloth, especially with a pink and red ribbon as a runner.  I used  mirrored squares as serving trays (You can buy six in a box at Lowe’s or Home Depot for about $20).

If you are serving more than cupcakes, easy suggestions would be  chocolate truffles (boxed), stuffed mushrooms (caps filled with cream cheese, onion, garlic, and fried bacon–broiled a few minutes), chocolate fondue with fruit, pecans (boiled, then tossed/coated in confectionery sugar, deep fried in peanut oil, and sprinkled with paprika), and artichoke/spinach dip with corn tortilla chips or simply  cheeses with crackers.





To get to know each other better,  have guests draw slips of paper with the following questions.  The person has to answer the question and then choose someone else to answer it. (Or have guests write a question they want answered when they arrive and draw from those.)

Suggestions for Girl Talk:

What was your most romantic date ever?

What guy from your past would you most like to run into?

What was your worst date ever?

If you had a time machine, what day would you revisit and why?

If you’re married, how did you meet your spouse?

What did you first notice about your guy?

What’s your  movie scene?

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

Who is your favorite male singer/actor?

What’s your love language–words, touch, gifts, service, quality time?

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

What’s something none of us know about you?

My movie pick to watch or have muted in the background…Chocolat.  The only guy allowed is Johnny D.

Helping a Guy Out–Love Poems for Valentine’s Day


(For those who read the Valentine’s Day Survival Guide–Pts. 1 and 2–and are planning a party, I’ll get back with you on games and menu ideas tomorrow.)

Today I’m turning my attention to the guys– sharing some of my favorite love poems for inspiration.  If you’re a guy and don’t want to write a poem for your girl, give her one of these. You could put your poem in a card, cook dinner for her and place it on her plate, or slip it in a box of candy.  Regardless of what most of us say, we love a sweet talker…especially when you mean it.

If your  girl isn’t a Domestic Diva like Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray, but her wit,  people skills, and passion for life won your heart…

Love Poem
by  John Frederick Nims

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before apopleptic streetcars—
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease;
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gaily in love’s unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty

All the toys of the world would break.

If your lady has opened you up in ways others couldn’t, give this to the one you’ve let in…

Somewhere I have Never Travelled
–e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

And to those who dare…

Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
–Emily Dickinson

Wild Nights–Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile–the Winds–
To a Heart in port–
Done with the Compass–
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden

Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor–Tonight–
In Thee!

More later.  Or again, you could try to write your own, remembering that according to Plato, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.”

Valentine’s Day Survival Guide–Pt 2


As I said in Part One yesterday, 2007 I had a new plan and a new attitude for surviving Valentine’s Day.

When I was married, it never occurred to me how much I needed women in my life.   I was too buried beneath diapers to change, birthday parties to plan, coupons to clip, papers to grade, and a house to clean.  My husband and children were my center.  Anyway, all my girlfriends had also been body snatched, living for the men and kids in their orbits as well.

But when my world was thrown off course by the end of my sixteen-year marriage, my worldview was shaken.  Despite –-no, because of—a lot of pain, I learned to reorganize my priorities.  With the help of some wise, older women who helped me start over, I began to take care of myself so I could better care for my children.

I freed myself from the “shoulds”that said before I could play with my children, exercise, or see friends, I “should”… have a straight house, an organized desk, and an empty briefcase.  But the one should I couldn’t shake was that to be totally happy I needed to be loved by the right man.  While I’d refused to settle for dating just for dating’s sake and while I enjoyed time alone, I still believed a significant other was required to navigate Valentine’s Day.

Christmas can be filled with family gatherings, office parties, even Rudolph and Bing, but Valentine’s Day is for couples.  And while kissing is part of New Year’s Eve, friends celebrate in droves whether at parties, bars, or Times Square.  There’s something painfully exclusive about Valentine’s– tables for two.  Having a soulmate is the sole focus.

Previously, if a friend had told me there’s anything better than romance and chocolate on Valentine’s Day, I would have thought her to be lying, denying, or just sadly settling.  If she then really pressed her luck and told me there’s something better than spending Valentine’s Day with The One, I’d have told her to stop worrying.  Though I am pathetically passionate which makes the weeks leading up to mid February painfully poignant, I really didn’t need her to go on Suicide Watch.

Then again, Homicide Watch might have been a good idea. Waiting on Cupid had become Waiting for Godot..  I really wanted to take a hit out on the little sucker for directing my dating life as absurdist comedy as I watched and waited for a leading man over a decade.   He knew I wanted nothing more than to be  Heathcliff’s Catherine…Johnny’s June…McDreamy’s Merdith… or Harry’s Sally.  In fact, for the girl who fell in love with Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights as a high school senior, anything short of finding my soulmate who would proclaim, “I am Cindy!” seemed to be settling.  But not settling meant I had to be patient.  And again, instead of focusing on what I lacked, it was time to focus on what I had.

And that’s when I thought of Chocolat—not just because I love Juliette Binoche and all things chocolate. Not just because I adore Johnny Depp as Roux more than any other part he has ever played.  And not just because I, too, have a pair of red shoes and my child asks me why I can’t be like “all the other mothers.”  Like Vianne, I wanted to reach out to others—particularly the women in my life—because I think goodness is defined by what we do, not what we don’t do, by who we include, not who we exclude.    Rather than invite only close friends from this group or that, I decided to bring together the amazing and unique women I knew.  It would be a chance for them to network, to make new friends.

So I abandoned the usual ritual on V Day of taking an annual inventory of guys I’d dated over the past 12 month.  Rather than analyzing why each love connection short circuited or never even had enough electricity to fizzle at all—I had dated guys ranging in age from their twenties to their fifties and in occupations from songwriters to businessmen to blue collar workers.    Most had been the usual One-Date-Wonders.  Turning my attention instead to my guest list, I found my women friends were even more diverse…and interesting.

Sports nuts and Art lovers.  Nurses and teachers.  A publicist, a coach,  counselors.  Never marrieds, remarrieds, forever marrieds.  Moms and Grandmothers.    Dog lovers, vegetarians, democrats, republicans.  Horsewomen, runners, farm girls.  Californians, New Orleanians, Yankee Italians.   A band leader.  A band leader’s wife.  It could have been a disaster.  But something told me to chance it anyway.  I was worried no one would come. Valentine’s Eve fell on a weeknight and everyone is so busy.  But shortly after the invitations were sent, the replies began rolling in.  Everyone was excited.

Thus commenced the “Valentine’s Eve Hopeful Romantic Party.”  Those with sweethearts could still celebrate with their guys and those without would be too tired from the party to care.  Either way we’d all usher in the Big Day together.

So….make your guest list and get going!  Whether you use Facebook,  send an Evite or an invitation by mail—store bought or created by you—do it now.  Just one week till V Day.  And this year it’s on a weekend—a real bonus.  If you’re inviting women who have sweethearts, then make it next Friday, on Valentine’s Eve.  That way you can still see your honey, and if you don’t have one, you’ll be too tired to care.


Valentine’s Day Survival Guide–Part 1


My best friend Kim always inadvertently refers to Valentine’s Day as Halloween. Some sort of brain switch she says. Given the terrifying nature of February 14th for many singles, I get it. Just when a girl survives New Year’s Eve, she is stalked by that little hood, Cupid. At least Father Time, a gentleman, plays fair. He confines his Love Fest to one night and even designates the stroke of twelve as the official time for couples across the globe to make out. This gives a single woman the chance to make-like-Cinderella and head home.

Eros, however, doesn’t give a girl a break. No sooner than she finishes her black-eyed peas and cabbage in front of the football game and changes ESPN to the Food Network, the Barefoot Contessa starts dipping strawberries for Jeffrey, and Paula Deen commences  frying up some love for Michael. The rapid fire of V Day reminders—candy, hearts, flowers, and getaway package deals—leaves singles shell shocked—especially since we know we’ll get sweet nothings…literally. Six weeks of all-inclusive hype leading up to a day that bars singletons from participating. Not cool.

Cupid is especially hard on the Hopeless Romantics like a never-married-forty-something friend I haven’t seen in years. She used to say, “Valentine’s Day shines a spotlight on all who haven’t been chosen.” I wonder if she still grins and bear it, then the next day drags her bruised heart back to the gym–business as usual–carb counting and cardio classes.

And to be fair, 2/14 isn’t always easy on guys either—and I’m not talking about the Commitment-Phobic (aka Friends with Benefits). These guys fall off the radar, following the groundhog into his hole on February 2nd to ask if they can crash with him for awhile until, say, February 15.

No, I’m talking about the few, the proud, The Good Guys who are truly in love. Some of my guy friends confess that they get performance anxiety when faced with the pressure of planning the perfect Valentine’s Day for their sweethearts.  I’ve got some ideas for you, too.

So to the shell shocked and the somewhat confused, relief is on the way…

In the next few posts I’ll tell singles how to not only survive but thrive in V Day’s wake. I’ll explain how a couple of years ago I learned to embrace the power of love for one night, launching a more passionate affair with life. Valentine’s Day looks different than what I imagined…maybe better. Rather than being a hopeless Romantic, I’m now a hopeful one.

So whether you’re solo or in a couple, I’ll offer ideas for making the Big Night more special. I’ll start with the singles because you have to get busy planning. You’re throwing a party, and here’s why…

I’ve been called a Hopeless Romantic all my life. I’ve lived so much in a Dream World I could instruct members of the Witness Protection Program on how to vanish from Reality. At the age of 4 rather than having just any imaginary friend, I had Ringo Starr–my very own boyfriend. Only in a child’s fantasy would I drop a drummer (always been attracted to the band boys), but I traded up for a Pretty Boy lead singer—in fact, solo act, the King himself. Christening my Maiden Voyage toward netting the ideal Catch—the tall, the dark, the handsome—I began fancying the father of my dolls to be Elvis. He had left his love interests in  Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas to settle down with me. We were very happy.

Contrary to popular belief, my incorporating fantasy males into my childhood play did not make me Boy Crazy. I’ve always been monogamous. I’ve always wanted to cut to the chase and live happily ever after with THE ONE. So as a preteen, I’d lie on our den couch reading Going Steady, imagining what it would feel like to snag a guy’s class ring and my first kiss. Desperate to find a boyfriend, I began contemplating the upside of a sprained ankle. It would be worth the pain because I imagined the cutest boy in the school carrying me to every class.

As I grew older, I became bored with my Davy Jones Fan Club and even more impatient to find true love. I sympathized with Pinocchio who longed to be a real boy; I longed to date one. When I finally did, although the feat didn’t require swooning or breaking bones, I became such a pain to others they conspired to drown me in the Gulf of Mexico. It was Spring Break 1977 and I was one of six girls who piled out of my mom’s Buick Electra onto Panama City Beach. Though once inspired by a coming-of-age classic to experience firsthand Where the Boys Are, I no longer cared to find them. I was hooked on one boy, maybe even The One, and not interested in a spring fling. So while the other girls hit the waves with a group of Alabama guys staying at our hotel, I never left my lounge chair. Eyes closed tightly for a solid week, I mouthed Leo Sayer’s words: “When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you.” I visualized seeing my boyfriend, counted off the days, and finally returned home. The only thing I had to show for my vacation-turned-vigil was a strange tan line in the shape of the portable 8-track tape player I had clutched tightly to my chest.

I didn’t think much then about ditching the girls… and not just because my focus on The Guy seemed to pay off when we married three years later. Ditching girls for guys was what teenaged girls did. It wasn’t until twenty years with The Guy morphed into ten years without him that I realized grown up women do the same thing. Once they find the One, they are too often bodysnatched, leaving their friends to talk to them via Facebook or the occasional phone call.

Meanwhile, trying to prove my patience as I optimistically waited on love, I bravely went solo to Valentine’s Day openings of radically romantic (and critically bad) movies like Bed of Roses. Though I sowed faith in love, I reaped only thorns (scary dates I didn’t like OR guys I liked but who didn’t like me.) More often the primrose path I had hoped for was a desert—a No Man’s Land of dry spells that stretched out before me for months…and years.

Trying Plan B, I traded one kind of Magical Thinking for another. Rather than believe my prince was Map Questing the way to my front door, I traded my romanticism for stoicism, pretending I didn’t want a man anyway. Though this approach seemed like a textbook case of Sour Grapes, it was really just another form of Magical Thinking. Secretly I hoped the adage was true that if I’d just forget about love, Cupid would find me. He didn’t.

Moving onto Plan C, I tweaked Dinner and a Movie. My version was Champagne and Cable. If I couldn’t do a night on the town with a date, at least I could do a romantic movie marathon home alone.

In 2006 Plan D, my most creative coping device for surviving the Big Day, was buying a $100 ticket to see  Bon Jovi and pretending Jon was singing just to me.

2007 required something really radical. For all my crying that I hadn’t found The One, I finally realized I’d found instead The Many–girl friends who had been there for me where males feared to tread.    The very reason I love Sex and the City–the soul mates the girls found in each other–was what I, too, had grown to cherish.  I’m convinced that  only when we’re single again, or single-all-along do we fully realize what our girlfriends mean.

I decided in 2007 I’d celebrate what I had—not mourn what I didn’t.  The invitation is self-explanatory and follows. More on the guest list, activities, food and fun tomorrow. If you’re a single female reader, get ready. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how to plan your First Annual Girls’ Night In…Celebrating the Many while waiting on The One!  If you’re a guy who needs to plan the big day for your girl, stay tuned.  We all know most of you won’t sweat it till the 11th or 12th hour anyway.