Smile at the Nashville skyline and become a little giddy about seeing your family again.
Almost fall into the toilet in the bathroom when Kelly Pickler abruptly and loudly welcomes you to the Nashville airport over the intercom.
Observe a middle-aged woman and a young gay man at baggage claim embrace each other and cry for a long three minutes. Try with all your might not to cry too.
Notice more gray hairs in your dad’s beard and marvel at how your mom never ages.
Feel supernaturally tall in your childhood home after coming from your sleek modern apartment with high ceilings.
Lay on your stomach on your old bed and peruse the books on your shelf, a chronology of your adolescent and college years.
Shop at Kroger with your mom for Thanksgiving stuff and pray you don’t run into someone you know.
Begin feeling the symptoms of dehydration from sitting in the same chair for hours reading, symptoms you recognize because of every Harry Potter book release of your young life.
Read too much thoughtcatalog and come to terms with the 20-something hipster you probably are.
Drive around your empty college campus with pangs of sadness for a time of your life you will never get back and for memories you had almost forgotten. Compare the person you were in college to the person the “real” world turned you into.
Cross a threshold in your relationship with your mother by talking about times when you were drunk.
Spend hours combing through your brother’s massive itunes library for songs to burn and asking his opinion on every artist. Wish that you could hang out with him more often because you feel like you might be a better person.
Become irritated that you aren’t able to come and go at your leisure without having to tell anyone where you’re going or who you’ll be with.
Enjoy talking for 5 hours to someone you haven’t seen in 5 years, mostly while in a dark classy bar sipping on sidecars that make you feel warm and more acutely post-college. While walking out, observe a couple giggling continuously while crossing a street for no apparent reason. Then do the same in reaction.
Drink sangria and sing along with Al Green while making mac & cheese with bacon and caramelized onions for Thanksgiving. Feel more intoxicated by the smell of bacon than the sangria. Be complimented by two people over the age of 45 in your taste in music.
Spend 30 minutes writing personalized thanksgiving texts to the people you care about and hope that you didn’t forget anyone. Literally “lol” when one person recognizes the gesture while accusing you of sending the same one to all the people you know of the same name.
Be asked by two family members if you have a boyfriend. Say that you are too busy making big bucks as a teacher.
Be asked by your mother about the boy who texted “Happy Thanksgiving” to you while your phone was innocently near her. Tell her that he’s your lover and he’s pregnant and that you’re the father.
Eat the cranberry sauce you made from scratch with a spoon, turkey be damned.
Inhale copious amounts of second hand smoke from cigarettes and the fire pit your dad bought without your mom’s permission. Sing Al Green again around the fire with your childhood friends after changing your dad’s country pandora station.
Share stories about your students and your job because you can’t help yourself and don’t have much else to say.
Laugh and laugh and laugh.
Watch the younger people play a classy game of beer pong on your parents’ oak dining room table while you try to stay up past your old person bedtime. Bang your head against the iron chandelier accidentally. Feel more awake.
Peel your clothes off before collapsing into a deep post-Thanksgiving sleep still smelling like a bonfire.
Cry and cry and cry.
Scream CONGRATULATIONS into the phone for a friend that got into medical school and feel like you got into medical school too. Pop open a bottle of beer to celebrate 400 miles away from him. Become momentarily worried that you don’t know what you’ll be doing a year from now. Only momentarily.
Play Al Green again while writing this because he just makes you feel good, dammit. Be embarrassed to wish for a split second that you were in a cheesy rom-com so someone would take your hand and slow dance with you because the holidays will make you feel lonely sometimes.
Pack your bags and think about the people you didn’t get to see while in your hometown. Promise to see them at Christmas. Hope that reality doesn’t smack you in the face too hard when you get home and that you don’t find spiders in the storage closet that holds your Christmas tree.
“We need to get out today,” my mom said at the breakfast table, staring at the rainy windowpane.
“And do what?” I asked with a mouthful of cheerios.
“Well we can go to Walmart…We can go to JCPenny, watch old ladies buy polyester pantsuits for Thanksgiving…”
I laughed, but my mother had just snarkily summed up the most thrilling activities in my hometown.
Now it’s possible that I have a skewed perspective; I’ve been spoiled for almost 6 years. I lived and went to college in Nashville, Music City, significantly more entertaining than my small town. Plus I was in college, so there was, ahem, plenty of fun to be had. I’ve been able to experience other cities such as Chicago and New York, and now I live in Dallas, the 9th largest city in the US, a city with plenty to do and see.
I’m spoiled, I know it, and I kind of feel guilty about it. When I come back to my hometown I feel like a snob. I can’t just hop over to a Whole Foods or Central Market and buy my favorite local milk or a unique food I’ve never tried. I don’t have my choice of dining options in all styles from all corners of the world, from taco truck to fine restaurant. I can’t walk to an art museum and browse. Hell, I can’t even browse a bookstore.
I can go to Walmart. I can go to JCPenny and watch old ladies buy polyester suits. Actually I can go to any number of places and watch old white people do things.
When I come back now, I find myself repeating “In Dallas we have this and that. In Dallas I can do this and that. In Dallas I would be blah blah blah. Dallas Dallas Dallas Food Food Dallas.”
Have I become a city girl? Or worse, have I become a Texan???
Jokes aside, I am a city girl. I need variety, movement, diversity, modernity, and some damn good culinary options. My hometown has just always felt too small for me. And though I really like Nashville, Tennessee has always felt small for me too. But people I love love Tennessee, so I try not to sound like a broken record about Dallas for fear of sounding like a snobby d-bag. And there are things I love about Tennessee…but not many are in my hometown.
So what did my mom and I do today? We left. We drove 45 minutes to Cool Springs. Went to Whole Foods. Bought some delicious Olive & Sinclair artisan chocolate, a local Nashville company while there. Browsed Barnes & Noble. Watched Puss in Boots at a once-nice-now-shitty movie theater. And we were still scraping for things to do. If not for the heavy rain, I might have suggested driving the extra 15 minutes to Nashville, but that will be another day. We took the scenic route back home. There are beautiful things here, but today the rain and season casts a depressing pallor over everything and obscured one of my favorite things about Tennessee: the gorgeous sunsets. Something else for to save for another day.
I love fall daylight savings. Falling back an hour is heaven that first morning. I easily woke up at 8:30 and already felt accomplished by not sleeping in. I went to my usual Sunday planning spot, Crooked Tree Coffeehouse, and had the usual Vanilla Chai Tea Latte.
After several hours, I finally finished writing my midterm for the semester. I probably could have written it in half the time, but I was busy jamming out to 90s tunes on Pandora (Breakfast at Tiffany’s station is the bomb dot com), Facebooking, and other internet time wasters…in the name of making planning more bearable. For example, I laughed at this photo for about 10 minutes because it perfectly describes me on a daily basis:
I think it’s the look of joyful denial that really gets me. The Pretend-It-Doesn’t-Exist Forcefield was at max strength after I finished that midterm. My roommate Allison and I got 5 tacos each at Fuel City and took them home. After that, I found any excuse not do work-related things, such as watching TED talks.
Inevitably I got the urge to bake. I cooked up a dozen chocolate chip cookies from some cookie dough I had left over from last night’s urge. Then I decided to make use of some cranberries in the fridge by baking some cranberry bars. They’re very basic but the tart cranberries remind me of the holidays AND the fact that my Thanksgiving break is TWO WEEKS AWAY!!!!
Chocolate Chip Cookies: I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from my How to Cook Everything app. Simple but makes some great cookies that are almost fluffy in texture.
Cranberry Bars: I used this Gourmet recipe I found on my Epicurious app. (Take a guess about how many food related apps I have on my phone and iPad.) I just halved the recipe (because of lack of cranberries) and replaced water with apple cider and half the granulated sugar (that cooks with the cranberries) with brown sugar. I also added a pinch of cinnamon and a few cloves to the cranberry mix, which I was careful to pick out later. This was another simple recipe that could be easily dressed up, but it did the trick. My leftover cranberries are way more useful this way than sitting in my fridge.
I’ve been dying to go back to Tennessee, which is something I’d never thought I’d write. I miss my family. And lately I’ve been very nostalgic about college and Nashville. I’m definitely going to be taking a trip down memory lane when I go back and visiting some of my favorite places.
Not that I haven’t found some good places in Dallas…I ate at least four seriously gigantic slices of New York Style pizza at Serious Pizza in Deep Ellum. I actually had to fold the leftovers so it would fit in my fridge. I had cold pizza for lunch the next couple of days but I didn’t mind at all because it was absolutely delicious. The sauce they use on their pizza must be seasoned because it was certainly not like the bland acidic tomato sauce you’d get at other places.
Still…I am ready to go. I am so burnt out that I fantasize about going to grad school on a daily basis. Post-Halloween my students were bat-shit crazy. (Halloween should NEVER be on a Monday.) I need a break. The kids need a break. Everyone needs a break. I’m sure you can sense the desperation by now. But we’re almost there. And I am two weeks away from some gobbling up some McDougal’s chicken tenders with buffalo sauce. That will get me through the next 14 days.
My Southern Foodways class culminated this evening with a class dinner at the lovely home of one of my professors [writer Alice Randall–read her new book, Rebel Yell! :)]. Our honorary guest was Southern food writer and scholar John Egerton. We read his Southern Food for class, so it was great opportunity meeting him. My professors asked me to bake my coconut cake, which is a recipe adapted from Consuming Passions: A Food Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West, one of my mom’s favorite books. I make it with local and organic/natural ingredients and tweak a few things here and there. It was a big hit when I baked it for my class earlier in the semester, but I was nervous about making it for THE John Egerton.
My coconut cake was only a small part of a wonderful vegetarian “locavore” Southern meal that my professors put together. First of all, the dining room was decorated beautifully. I felt like I was in a magazine. We started with three little bread crackers that were spread with three different local pepper jellies.
The main course was a hearty soup of collard greens, black-eyed peas, and more, swimming in Alice’s special sweet potato broth. (It’s so difficult to photograph soup in an appetizing way, but I can assure you it was delicious!) A cornbread madeleine accompanied the soup. (You can see it on the plate in the picture above.)
Afterward, we had pears poached in a local wine, along with local goat cheese and honey. The pears looked like jewels and were absolutely delicious. I am definitely going to try making this sometime because it’s so simple and elegant.
Finally, it was time for dessert, strawberries, caramel cake, and my coconut cake. I cut the first slice for Mr. Egerton and to my delight he loved it! He said it was gorgeous and delicious, and that his cake wasn’t as good as mine. Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic. My classmates also enjoyed it; one guy exclaimed, “HOW DO YOU DO THIS? IT’S SO GOOD,” and one girl joked that she wanted to marry me. One of my professors took a slice home to her husband so he would experience what she’d been raving about since the first time I baked it.
Egerton had lots of interesting stories, and he was so kind. He even gave me the contact info for his son since he lives in Dallas, where I’ll be moving to in the summer. So now I sit in my room, with inflated stomach and inflated ego. Can’t think of a better way to finish a class.