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Monday, September 15, 2014

Tipping Point

Each day we deal with issues far less severe than many experience on a daily basis. It’s our nature to be curious, worried or to comment about health related items afflicting others in our midst. I’m writing today so that I don’t fall into that practice. Sharing personal things isn’t typical for me, and not something I want to dwell on. This post really is about my hitting a wall, taking care of myself and moving on. Hopefully, that's without questions and speculation about my condition, appearance… or recent failure to return messages, attend meetings or follow through with RSVP’s. This post is for those who’ve been surprised or insulted by my ‘MIA’, as well as for those going above and beyond to help me feel less guilty about it.

Being free from this is a whole new reason to celebrate. 

Over the last few months I’ve been dealing with (and attempting to manage) a fight between my nervous system breakage and my fast-paced approach to life. It hasn’t been easy, but not completely impossible either. I’ve kept up as much as physically possible and only in the last couple of weeks actually shut down.

Damaged nerves and a ‘jacked up’ spinal cord are nothing new. In the course of my adult life, I’ve been through 4 corrective surgeries. Breakdowns in my system are inevitable, happen for no apparent reason and are an ongoing challenge. I prefer to choose the bright side and to take things as they come. But, this particular experience has sidetracked me more than in the past.

Sunny and Butch sent sunshine for my first day at home... via Oshi. Brightens every step.

Sadly, it’s partly due to getting older. Bouncing back isn’t as easy in this fourth decade I find myself in. It’s a fact and one I’ve almost accepted. All of the workouts, core strength and attempts to heal myself naturally through diet won't cure hereditary disease, but the efforts certainly haven’t been wasted. Facing any medical trauma with a strong body and spirit is a plus, which is why I'll continue my quest for being healthy and strong.

Posting this to avoid shock on first sight. The upside, my neck really isn't this wrinkled.
 Bandage tape causes crinkling-- yep, that's how I'm playing it
The emotional factor hasn’t been an issue with previous operations. I’ve hated missing events and being housebound but otherwise never struggled. This time, it’s a little different with some not-so-easy-to-hide incisions. 

Vanity and ego are something none of us really want to claim as a trait or major part of who we are. I envy those that truly don’t care, but am now more than certain that what’s on the surface impacts how I feel in general.  It’s the hardest part of this battle. Not swallowing well is no problem with Juice Nashville's glowing packages, but wearing a terrible looking collar and sporting a lurking slash.... not so much.

Every day...even to sleep in. Like a ring of hockey masks-- shocking at first.
Doing nothing isn’t an option, with dozens of projects in the works that I won’t drop and a few more in the pipeline I’m particularly pumped about starting. I have an amazing husband (aka nurse Nichols), with more social commitments and shows than most pageant winners… so being housebound doesn’t really work for long in this life we’ve created.

A really sweet arrangement from This Music Publishing, such great people and friends.

Thinking I might be able to keep this orchid
alive.. from my MStreet peeps.
My current status is officially ‘on the mend’, and despite fashion challenges that seem obtrusive at the moment…. I’m looking up and moving forward. I’ve never been one to wear scarves, but guessing that’s going to change. The other shortcomings I can deal with and continue to fight. My internal system may now be filled with a little titanium, but my movement is fluid and showing great improvement. It’s a blessing I wish others could enjoy. So many in my situation are far less fortunate. I believe my ability to heal is due to my faith, incredible talent from my neurosurgeon, Dr. Vaughn Allen (and his team, especially Brianna) combined with  the love of those who make me smile every single day.

From my mentor..the woman who always takes things head on.. and makes the best of every situation. 
If I owe you an email, I promise to get back to you as soon as possible.. it's a mountain to climb. And, if I missed your opening, celebration or release… please know I was there in spirit. Expect me next time – most likely in a scarf, possibly wrapped around a brace. I’m ok with it, and hoping you are as well. What I'm looking most forward to is seeing familiar faces I've missed and doing my part to contribute to causes and cases I've neglected (and not having to talk about any of this for another second). Can't wait for all of you to fill me in on what's next.... and to make up for lost time by contributing in the best way that I can.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Step Up Summer Cocktails

The opportunity to chop, cook, infuse, mix and savor produce grown close to home is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. Cooking is an enjoyable chore and hobby elevated by seasonal crops. But, creating and sipping a perfectly mixed cocktail is an escape, experiment and method of relaxation that soaks up the essence of summer living for me.

I use my Iron Gate platter as a cocktail tray/mixing station for intimate patio gatherings.
Unexpected and inexpensive, since there's no party serving piece to buy. Use what you have...

I don’t get too serious or strict about recipes, but treat every glass, pitcher or jar like an art project from summer camp. There’s direction but no rules or expectations – just creative fun. My bar is open to treat friends at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes it's 3 and others it's 30. I've streamlined the process for more fun, less work.

Whether you’re using plastic cups at a lake cabin or expensive crystal on a veranda is irrelevant. Focus on bringing smiles and flavors to yourself and your favorite people.

Let your hosts choose their flavor or twist. Keep herbs in glasses with water along with mini scissors
and sliced fruit. A side cutting board and knife nearby to encourage cutting into your display.

Display what you have on hand so guests can get creative. There's nothing prettier to add color to a table.
A centerpiece of edible goodies (see above, cut into some to start) is a summer party favorite.


Keep fruit and herbs on hand. Buy fresh from local farmers or grow what you can. Less chemicals = more flavor and joy for all. 

Give your guests a choice instead of sticking them with a signature cocktail. Unfussy is the best hot- weather vibe. If someone dislikes berries, they shouldn't have to sip your 'famous strawberry lemonade'-- no matter how good it is. Bonus - flavor options serve as your decor/centerpiece.

Skip sugary mixes, juices and sodas all together. Ugh! They cause sluggish feelings, not to mention the wrench thrown at your swimsuit profile.

Sparkling water reigns. Today's mini machines eliminate excess plastic, but bigger bottles of Pellegrino go a long way when using lots of ice. We all crave a little fizz. It’s also nice to have on hand for abstainers, for creating their own flavored 'mocktail'.
PS: Sub sparkling water for tonic and save 125 calories per 12 oz.  At the end of the party, this really adds up. Glass bottles are so easy to clean and reuse, another plus.

Like white jeans, clear liquors are summer essentials.  Fruit hues shine and melting ice doesn’t cause a watered-down look. Infuse with herbs or fruit for a few days for a much more subtle and genuine taste than pre-flavored varieties. And, they won't stain those white jeans, either.

 I’m addicted to slower melting ‘ice balls'. I throw in basil, mint, berries or citrus for flavor. My favorites are the amply-sized Tovolo Ice Sphere Molds found at Absolution in Nashville

Summer’s about taking a break, including one from your usual cocktail or spirit brand. Instead of the ‘usual’, try new tequila or an artisan gin. A great example is US made boutique brand, Sugar Wash Moonshine as an alternative to white rum. It’s sweeter, lighter and such fun to invite friends over for ‘moonshine’ mojitos. 

Don’t go overboard and try to coordinate everything. No one cares about that except for little girls at birthday parties. If it’s an adult gathering, the environment shouldn’t be ‘matchy’. Curated themes are tasteful, but all of that party store nonsense is never good idea, especially for a casually elegant cocktail hour.

Infusing is commonplace at our bar. Gin with the flavor of fresh cucumbers and mint from my
 herb garden is great solo, but surprisingly complimentary to sweeter fruits like mango and berries. 

More tips, shortcuts and mixing fun will be posted here all week. Don’t miss seeing THE LIST of my go-to sites for shopping, recipes and presentations. Keep following... lots of libations yet to come.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Summer Cocktails: Source List

Whether you want to muddle produce and herbs for specialty cocktails, or feel more comfortable picking up a crowd-pleasing wine or craft beer, there’s no reason to put too much time into trying to create a summer party plan as a holiday weekend approaches. Don’t stress or search aimlessly through random Pinterest boards trying to find the ideal presentation . It’s easy to get buried with too many choices, and it's the season to chill—not obsess.

Just one of the many colorful concoctions found on Sous Style. This Rainier Cherry Muddler was the from another of my favorite recipe-sharing sites, Sprouted Kitchen

Just like stopping at a small market is faster (and less headache) than navigating a superstore, limiting your options to 2-3 trusted sources where ideas/guides are at the ready reduces stress. Copy links to your phone for picking up essentials when at the farm stand or market, and you’re good to go.

A libations list consistently elevates your host/hostess status and boosts your cocktail confidence without wasting precious time. When it’s time to celebrate, you don’t want to be searching for help online or trying to find an ingredient. Shop and stock up in advance—and focus on soaking up the sun with friends, cocktail in hand.

Impress and refresh your guests while using up herbs from the garden with Food & Wine's Basil Slushie


My teachers and trusted advisers for ingredients, serving advice,  mistakes to avoid, saving time/money, and evolving recipe options. I've also outlined my HOSTING TIPS guide of all I’ve collected from others, my own experience and observations from memorable parties.You'll also see a variation of motivational menus to get you on track on Southern Sophisticate, so I'm hoping you'll put it on the list along with these:

Take advantage of unique base ingredients like rhubarb to really impress, just follow simple
mixing tips for drinks like this on Maureen's 10 minute happy hour

A reliable source of recipes by a fun, realistic guru (ps: she’s also founding editor of and author of  Cocktail Club). The10 minute happy hour tab is genius. The Maker Style tab includes appetizer tips, the skinny on buying gin, shopping shortcuts and Maureen’s take on how to set a table… fast! Best choice for novice entertainers.

The raspberry-lemonade smash on Sous Style' happy hour was created by another good go-to,
 A Beautiful Mess. It's also great in big batches for backyard sipping.

If you’re idea of a great read is the latest issue of an upscale food mag, you'll lose hours perusing the site. It’s young, fresh and on trend without being trendy. Think 'grapefruit cucumber cocktails meets fashion shoot'. Keep the Happy Hour tab bookmarked. It's actually my top choice for inspiration.. and guilty pleasure reading. 

On Mouth, they do the shopping for you. I am crazy about their Summer Spirit Gift Set. One click, and done! 

Yes, it’s a shopping site for groceries and gift baskets, but in my opinion, they make sites like Williams Sonoma passé. The blog includes trusted advice on purchases. It’s a great starting point if you are seeking what bitters to buy at your local store and invaluable for online gift ordering for your entertaining friends.

Camille Styles totally hooks me with the regular profiles on top entertainers (and their secrets).

Just love this site. It’s current and full of insight on many things. The cocktails are imaginative without being complicated. Select Bottom's Up-- under the food tab... you won't be sorry. 
PS: It's ideal for the calorie-conscious, lots of lighter choices here.

Several fun watermelon and tequila cocktail blends on F&W

The chef inspired, summer drink pick is on-point, and so easy to follow... and delicious. Throwback- meets-modern recipes like the 'new' daiquiri or their Fourth of July cocktail guide are all smart but simple. It's foodie focused, but the blog often includes cocktail recipes with 3 ingredients, max.

Keep your guests (and yourself) hydrated and happy with these tips
What's your go to site for finding helpful, quick information on cocktail parties. Do hosting help is always something worth toasting! 

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Restaurant Revolution

 I’ve spent more time at home than ever this season. Cooking, entertaining, making cocktails and working on the house and garden has been a retreat. I’ve been soaking up every moment.

The newly opened dining room at Adele's on 12th Avenue is a bustling foodie destination.
While there’s no place like home, venturing out is a bit like traveling to a new city as dinner and entertainment options have literally blossomed overnight –. I never agreed with those complaining about Nashville dining in the past, as several greats just get better with time. Just this week, we had a late night date for sushi at Virago and the food's even better than I remember. and it’s been awhile. Fresh and fab new menu items will keep us coming back.

Adele was Waxman's grandmother, and eating here definitely feels like home-cooked comfort. 
What’s most exciting is trying entirely new places. Within two weeks, a couple of anticipated destinations have opened. The first is the anticipated Adele’s Nashville. If you aren’t familiar, just Google Chef Jonathan Waxman for a bit of background; his simple approach to food is soothing and satisfying, I appreciate Adele’s location and transformation of the historic building and former tire garage. It’s familiar but completely elevated, just like the cuisine. 

This Adele's salad of shaved vegetables is so simply prepared but a feast of seasonal flavors.
Open, light-filled space and a chef’s bar for watching skilled hands working over an open fire are elements I like most. Well, that and possibly the best salad I’ve had in the city this year. Adele’s isn’t pretentious or overdone, but a casually chic spot to enjoy consistently good food and service.

Grab a seat at Adele's chef's bar for the best view and some tips on technique. It's dinner and a show...

Another location many don’t know about yet is Sinema – located in the iconic Melrose theater. While I had heard talk of incredible restorations, I wasn’t prepared for Sinema’s level of fabulous. One of my all time favorite designers, and friend, KathyAnderson always incorporates a unique, refined aesthetic. Her meticulous vision for this two-story masterpiece is definitely going to capture the attention of national design publications and editors. In one word: Wow. In three words: Make a reservation! 

Stunning photographs, posh fabric and exposed brick make up the cozy seating areas in Sinema.
Anderson Design Studio incorporated countless architectural details throughout the restaurant. 
Nostalgia and tribute to the original theater are evident in everything from retro signage to the array of art photography and fixtures… even classic movies streaming on the wall. But, it’s far from a ‘kitschy/ themed’ environment that’s obvious. The approach is subtle, glamorous and respectful of the building’s history. If you want a preview, check out the photos on Facebook.  The food is modern but American, making it accessible to every palate.

The exterior reflects the style of classic movie theaters and dramatic entrances.
Top Chef veteran, Dale Levitski has created a lively bar menu and well composed dinner selections for his initial list of offerings in the dining room.  That’s all I’m dishing, as Sinema is something you need to experience to fully appreciate. There’s even a ‘sugar board’ for sweet cravings, just in case you need one more reason to go.

The upstairs lounge at Sinema is the coolest environment for cocktails and tastings like this octopus.
Levitski will create custom menus for private parties in the space as well.
I’m thrilled that so many restaurant visionaries are investing in Nashville. These expanded options only make living here a bit more delicious for us and for our visitors. Do share your top picks.... and what you're hoping to try next.

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