Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Witches' Brew

I have this amazing group of friends. One night a month, we get together for dinner. We laugh and talk and eat good food. Once in a while, we'll try a new restaurant or see a movie or a play together.

This October, it was my turn to host. I thought I'd take my new kitchen for a spin and cook a fall dinner for everyone. Since it was so close to Halloween, I also thought a photo booth with some crazy costume options might be appropriate.

I sent out an evite invitation, threw some decorations up (See my spooky table at left.), and got ready for fun!

Here's what we ATE!

Appetizers: This was a mix of purchased items. We had cambezola, comte, and goat cheese; sliced red pear; almonds and pralines; prosciutto; red grapes; and whole wheat crackers. Nice nibbles.

Entree: We had a roast pork shoulder (I bought the really big, fatty kind and just sliced off a big enough chunk for eight people.) with a mix of roasted autumn vegetables - rutabaga, carrot, fennel, onion. Sprinkled everything with olive oil, chopped sage from the garden, and tons of salt and pepper. Chicken broth and white wine in the bottom of the pan kept everything from drying out.

Dessert: A big apple crisp with maple syrup and walnuts, served with indulgent scoops of vanilla ice cream, topped off the meal.

What was great about this menu was that it was easy and relaxed for me. I put together most of the crisp the night before, threw the roast in the oven before everyone arrived, and laid out my assembled appetizer platter. Then, I just had to remember to put the crisp in the oven before we sat down to dinner, and that was it. It really allowed me to have fun with everybody instead of cooking the whole time.

We served everything with two bottles of pinot and a bottle of chardonnay.

The company was absolutely epic, and we all yukked it up in the photo booth. I so love this group of women. We are all different, but we totally click. I admire each one of them and really look forward to the time we spend together. I am one blessed lady!

Marvelous McComb!

I've had the occasion to be in McComb, Miss., a few days here and there lately, and I have been so impressed! If you have the chance to visit, here are a few things I've enjoyed:

1.)  The McComb Railroad Museum. Just adjacent to the McComb train depot is a delightful one-room railroad museum. You can operate a train whistle, fold down a sleeper car sink from the wall, and snoop through old railroad china and other artifacts. They have lots of photos, a model train, and even uniforms on display. This is an adorable exhibit and a quick stop. Outside, they have an old train engine and some cars on display, as well as a small train-themed playground for little ones.

2.) Once you're done visiting the museum, walk a block or two into downtown McComb to eat at The Caboose! It's a nice white tablecloth restaurant with a variety of food at reasonable prices. We had delicious oyster po boys (They bring their french bread in from New Orleans. Mmmmmm!), and their smoked chicken salad is also yummy.

3.) Another legendary dining spot in McComb is The Dinner Bell. Everything wonderful you've heard about this restaurant is true. You are seated at large, round tables with massive lazy susans in the middle. The kitchen just keeps bringing out scrumptious food for your table, and you serve yourselves, family-style. (We went on a Sunday afternoon and had ham, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, green beans, dressing, fried eggplant, sweet potatoes, rolls, deserts, the list just went on and on and on) Oh. My. Goodness. Pure deliciousness. I have had quite a bit of fried chicken in my life, and what they are serving at The Dinner Bell ranks right up at the top.

So if you find yourself south of Jackson with a free afternoon, stop on by! McComb also has a traditional shopping mall and other things to see and do, but I was completely charmed by the old downtown area and the depot district. Enjoy!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Louisiana lagniappe

What fun!
For a long time, I'd been wanting to take Clay down to the Global Wildlife Center. Trouble was, Folsom, La., isn't exactly on the way to New Orleans, and I rarely find myself driving in Louisiana when that's not where I'm headed.

But, the final weekend of September, a dear friend was getting married in Lafayette on Saturday night. So I thought to myself, "Self, we could drive to Folsom, love on some wildlife, then putter over to Lafayette with plenty of time to make the wedding." Not only that, but I could brunch the next morning with another dear friend who happens to call Lafayette home.

Clay got up close and personal with the giraffes.One Comfort Suites reservation later, it was a date.

One thing to remember about the Global Wildlife Center: FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THEIR WEBSITE. Our GPS was sending us via what looked to be a shorter route. Wrong. We ended up taking a rather scenic drive through the Folsom area. It may LOOK like the directions on the website tack an additional 20 miles onto the trip. No matter. Just follow them, and you'll be all right.

Once we got there, we felt like our brief detour was worth it. The Center is about 1,000 acres, and they house between 4,500 and 5,000 gorgeous (non-predatory) animals. We saw the sweetest little Asian deer, camels, zebras, giraffes, llamas, and more. We bought a bucket of corn so we could feed them, and the llamas and the giraffes would eat right out of your hand! They were adorable and so soft!
My and one of my dates at Marcello's
We'd booked the private jeep tour, which meant it was just the three of us. Our guide could drive us right up to the animals. It was just a magical visit. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

After that, we drove over to Lafayette and checked into our hotel. After freshening up a bit (You never realize how desireable a shower can be until you smell like camel slobber!), we headed out for dinner at a place highly recommended by one of my friends. Marcello's is an Italian restaurant and wine bar, and we fell totally in love with it. We started with the macaroni and cheese appetizer (flavored with truffle butter). Then while Clay and I moved on to half orders of the spaghetti and meatballs and the pasta tritone, hubs got the veal marsala. Every single thing we ordered was absolutely delicious, and I was completely charmed by the half-orders. (What a great idea. You can have an appetizer and a meal and not feel like you are going to pop when you leave.) We washed it down with two glasses of pinot.

The French Press' amazing breakfast sandwichThen, I gussied up a bit and went to see my beautiful freind get married. Both the ceremony and the reception were hosted at Vermillionville, an attraction featuring historic houses and other buildings. It was a beautiful night, with a truly beautiful bride.

The next morning, the Bradshaw clan met up with another one of my sweet friends for brunch. Per her suggestion, we chose The French Press. It's an amazing little place, with a casual, neighborhood vibe and fantastic food. I had the stuffed french toast (strawberries and bananas - yum!), Clay had pancakes, and hubs got a giant breakfast sandwich with potatoes. We sipped our coffee, caught up, and filled our bellies!

Playing in the fountains!As we were leaving, the fountains on the square began to play. Clay couldn't resist playing in them, and he ended up completely soaked! Luckily for him, I had a complete change of dry clothing in the car for him. (This is not my first rodeo, people.)

We had such a great time in Folsom and Lafayette! I can't wait for our next trip!

Fun for the small (and the big)!

Butterbeers!Oh, we have had such fun the past few weeks with little man!
First of all, hubs and I decided that he might be old enough to watch the first Harry Potter movie. We'd caught a few snippets of it on television, and Clay had seemed really interested. So, we recorded it off a movie channel and set aside a Saturday night. Since it was such a momentous occasion, I decided that we really needed appropriate refreshments. After a little hunting online, I found some buuterbeer recipes. We whipped up both hot and cold versions to taste test along with our pretzels! Little man loved the movie, by the way, though he did get a bit wary at the scary parts near the end.

For over a year now, I'd been hearing wonderful things about Livingston Farmers Market. They are open seasonally, on Thursday nights, and they are WAY OUT in Canton, which is why I'd never been. But one week in September, hubs took a trip with some of his college buddies, leaving Clay and I to our own pursuits, so we decided to check it out.

Livingston Farmers MarketWhat a party! It's all set up outside, and it was a gorgeous night. In addition to all the vendors, selling everything from homemade bread to vegetables to artisan soaps and candles, they had a brick pizza oven (The pizzas were delicious!), an inflatable water slide, an ice cream truck, and live music! We ran into some old friends, and Clay spent the night running around with other kids, eating kettle corn, and dancing to the music of the band. It's a hoof to get there, I'll grant you that, but it is also pretty amazing!

Our mosaics!Also in September, the whole Bradshaw clan went out to The Mosaic Shop on County Line Raod to try our hand at artistic tile work. While I don't think headhunters for any Italian restoration companies will be calling us any time soon, it was a very fun afternoon. (And, as per usual, Clay's psychedelic guitar mosaic was the best of all three of them! When will Brian and I ever learn?!)

The weekend of September 15, there was a special traveling show at the Jackson Convention Complex - Discover the Dinosaurs. It was a big animatronic dinosaur exhibit coupled with a dino-carnival. The minute I found out you could actually ride an animatronic T-Rex at this thing, I knew little man and I HAD to go.

This was not a cheap morning, but it was so much fun! We paid our admission and spent quite a while ogling mechanical dinosaurs. And they had them all - T-Rex, allosaurus, triceratops, stegosaurus, pteradactyl, on and on and on. And after you were finished with THAT part of the attraction, you could buy tickets in the carnival section for more fun. Clay rode a T-Rex, played dino mini-golf, jumped in the inflatables, and got a fierce-looking "dino brow" painted on his face.

The week after that offered even more fun - Symphony at Sunset at The Cedars! I took Clay to this last year, and he loved it. This year, we all went back for more live music in a relaxed outdoor setting. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the grounds of the Cedars were lovely, lite with cafe lights and spotted with patrons enjoying the music and one another. It was a magical evening.