Monday, April 15, 2024

What I Read #7 (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 too): Bridgerton!


This is pure book candy and just what I needed in my life right now -- some fun escapism that is engaging, but doesn't leave me pondering deep philosophical questions. 

When I was in my teens and twenties, I was a big (but sort of secret) fan of historical romance novels. The more "literary" books might have pride of place on my living room bookshelf, but the top shelf in my closet was filled with paperbacks from Bertrice Small, Virginia Henley, Amanda Quick, and Valerie Sherwood. 

My love of romance novels started early. When I was 12, we visited my aunt in DC. Having already gone through the stack of books I brought with me to read in the car, I was going through Aunt Charlene's bookshelf when my eyes were drawn to a flowery pink cover with a couple galloping on horseback. And thus, I discovered Danielle Steel. 

Oh wow, Nancy Drew and Ned never did THAT!

And, well, my Mom didn't really monitor what I was reading...  So I may have been a shy bookworm who didn't put what I read into practice, but by the time everyone in the ninth grade was passing around copies of Shirley Conran's Lace with some particular pages marked (80s girls, IYKYK), I was pretty blasé about it. 

In our 20s, my bestie worked part-time at Barnes and Noble. Customers would often ask for romance novel recommendations, and since she is not a fan, I created "Stephanie's Guide to Smut," which ended up posted on the wall of the employee break room. 

I don't remember everything from my guide to historical fiction authors, but I do remember describing Amanda Quick as a Regency novel that was a bit less sexually graphic than some of the others -- basically, it's Jane Austen Gets Naked -- with some humor thrown in. 

Of course, I've watched (and loved) the Netflix series, so I decided to jump in and read the series, and Julia Quinn's Bridgeton novels were a pure retro delight that reminded me of the Amanda Quick books I loved back then.

Oh, and I can't wait for the third season of the show, which starts in a few weeks. Romancing Mister Bridgerton was my favorite, and it's nice to know my cynical, 50-something self can still get lost in swoony silliness. 

I think we should all hold onto a little bit of that. And who wouldn't sigh when Colin tells Penelope:

“I love you with everything I am, everything I've been, and everything I hope to be. I love you with my past, and I love you for my future. I love you for the children we'll have and for the years we'll have together. I love you for every one of my smiles and even more, for every one of your smiles.”
Tuesday, March 19, 2024

What I Read #6: Capote's Women


I suppose this is also a "What I Watched" post because I bought the book to go along with watching Feud: Capote vs. the Swans. 

So this is basically the OG version of the Real Housewives of NYC - a peek into the lives of the super-rich society women who ruled the social scene in the 1950s and 60s. If you love vintage high fashion and glamour -- it's a lot of fun.  

The FX show is based on Laurence Leamer's 2021 book. And even though it pulls in a bevy of amazing actresses to play legendary socialites such as Babe Paley ("you can never be too rich or too thin"), CZ Guest, and Lee Radziwill, it actually narrows down the cast of swans considerably, mostly leaving out several of the women profiled in the book (Pamela Harriman, Marella Agnellli, Gloria Guinness) who became confidantes of Truman Capote and were the focus of his final, largely unpublished novel. 

Neither Capote nor any of the women come across as particularly admirable characters in the book or the show (the book is actually a little grittier and less forgiving). Still, they make for an interesting story that has been fun to read and watch. 

Friday, March 1, 2024

Strawberry Cake for a Rainy Day


Just when I thought spring was arriving -- with the urge to pull out the sandals and cute floral dresses and take the pupper to the dog park-- it's a cold rainy Friday here in Atlanta. 

The four-legged prince of the household refuses to go potty in the backyard and get his butt wet, and I'm back in cozy sweats and sipping a mug of hot tea. 

When I opened the fridge for some milk (I like my English breakfast tea strong with a spoonful of sugar and a splash of milk), I noticed the strawberries we bought last week at the farmers market. They were meant to top a spinach and feta salad that never got made, because the fruit and vegetable bin is sometimes the place where my good intentions go to die. 

If I was going to use them, something needed to happen FAST.

Enter my favorite strawberry-lemon yogurt cake. It's easy to make and goes perfectly with a hot cup of tea (or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which is what will be happening later today in our house).

The first thing I ever baked on my own was a pound cake when I was 15, and they are still one of my favorite things to make, in many variations.  The Greek yogurt and lemon give this one a nice tang that balances out the sweetness, and it's a great way to use up those strawberries that haven't gone to the dark side -- but that are definitely not looking super bright and fresh.

Friday, February 23, 2024

What I Watched #1: Shōgun Premiere


While my days of taping pages from Tiger Beat to the wall have long passed, I think most grown-ass women still have our swoony crushes on certain celebs. I know I do (looking at you, Bradley Cooper), and I know my mother did. 

For my mom's generation, Richard Chamberlain was at the top of the list of drool-worthy dudes. This was the era of the mini-series, and I have vivid memories of watching The Thorn Birds and Shōgun with her. 

Revisiting The Thorn Birds as an adult a few years ago was jarring. Yeah, Richard Chamberlain was a hottie... but the story of a Catholic priest obsessing over a teenage girl that was wildly romantic to a 12-year-old girl struck me as kind of creepy from today's viewpoint.

But I've been intrigued by the trailers for FX's new adaptation of Shōgun, and was excited to have a date night with Tim last night to attend a sneak-peek preview of the first two episodes. 

All I can say is WOW.  I'm impressed! Visually, it's absolutely stunning and seems to have been made with amazing attention to sets and costumes. It's just simply gorgeous to watch each scene and take in the details.

The story is pulling me in also and I can't wait to see how it unfolds. Watching the original in 1980, I'm sure I was laser-focused on the romance, but this is shaping up to be a fantastic and complicated story of politics and power, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

And yeah, if Tiger Beat still existed, I could happily stare at pictures of Cosmo Jarvis taped to my wall!

Friday, February 9, 2024

A 15-minute chcken dinner? Hold my beer...


So last week I wrote about the easiest yummy chicken marsala that you can get on the table in 15 minutes. This week I topped myself with this quick and satisfying Cowboy Chicken Salad salad. 

I actually had this for the first time at Tim's aunt's annual Christmas lunch - Linda is a fabulous cook, and there is always tons of yummy food when the Hulseys get together. The version was a meatless side, and even with all the gooey, carb-loaded holiday goodies, everybody went back for seconds. 

I made it this week and added some rotisserie chicken for some protein to make it a one-dish dinner. It seems to be a riff on a Ree Drummond recipe, with a few simplifications.  Seriously, you can throw this together in five minutes, so it's FANTASTIC on a night when you want something super easy and not too heavy. 


  • 2 cups diced rotisserie chicken
  • one head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • one can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • one can corn, drained
  • 12-15 ish grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese (whatever floats your boat)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped (or a few green onions)
  • optional - some sliced jalapenos or avocados, fresh cilantro, crunchy tortilla strips


  • 1/4 cup each - mayonnaise, barbeque sauce, lime juice, whisked together
  • a dash of chipotle hot sauce or powder if you like things a little spicier

Toss everything together in a big bowl, and you're good to go!

Thinking out loud, this would probably be amazing if you skipped the chicken and added some sliced grilled flank steak instead. Keeping that idea for when it's warm enough to break out the grill again!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

What I (Re)Read #5: A Discovery of Witches


Re-reading a favorite book is like spending some time with a comfortable and cozy old friend. And even though I've got TONS of books on my to-read list, I was in the mood for one of my all-time favorite book series ever -- Deborah Harkness' All Souls novels. 

I love a supernatural story, and this one has all the right elements with careful nods to history and a great "universe" of customs and rules for the supernatural creatures that inhabit the series. the characters are intelligent, fully-fleshed-out adults, and the vamps DO NOT SPARKLE. 

I re-read the first in the series, and I'll probably go back to the other three before the fifth book, The Blackbird Oracle, comes out later this year. 

The Brits adapted the first three books as a TV series that I also really liked. (available on Prime) - definitely worth checking out. 

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Best 15-minute Chicken Dinner!


When it comes to cookbooks, I have a bookshelf full, but I tend to reach for a few over and over for my tried-and-true favorites.  The Barefoot Contessa has pride of place with her own shelf. Smitten Kitchen's see a lot of use, and the Southern Living Cookbook is my bible. 

I'm also a big fan of Giada de Laurentiis -- her first cookbook, Everyday Italian, has some of my go-to Italian recipes, including the easiest Veal Marsala ever.  The marsala recipe is in a section on "cutlets" and most of the recipes work interchangeably with thin cuts of veal, chicken, pork or steak. 

Chicken Marsala is in regular rotation at our house. It comes together in no time at all. and if you're lazy like me, it's super easy over some premade mashed potatoes. I like to serve it with french green beans steamed in the microwave and tossed with a little butter, lemon juice, and lemon pepper. Boom! Dinner in 15 minutes. :)

Giada's Chicken Marsala

1 package thin-sliced chicken breasts (why bother with pounding out breasts when you don't have to?)

2-3 tablespoons butter

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped (I use a couple of green onions, and use scissors to cut them right into the pan)

2 smashed garlic cloves (if. you haven't discovered Dorot frozen garlic cubes, find them!)

1 package sliced mushrooms (white or baby bella)

1/2 cup marsala

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

sprig of fresh rosemary

Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook in a large skillet with half the oil and butter until slightly browned. 

Remove chicken to a plate, add more butter and oil to the pan, and saute the mushrroms with garlic and shallot/onion until tender. 

Add marsala and scrape pan. Let it cook down by half, then add chicken broth and rosemary and return chicken to pan.  Simmer for a few minutes longer until the chicken is cooked through. Salt and pepper to taste.

If you want a slightly thicker sauce for your mashed potatoes, you can make 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch slurry and mix in while the dish is simmering. Finish it off with a sprinkle of parmesean cheese if you like.

Friday, January 26, 2024

What I Read #4: The Silent Patient

I know I'm way behind the hype on this one, but my sister-in-law gave me her copy, and I finished in less than two days! 

It's a story that sucks you in and keeps on delivering plot twists. I thought  I knew what was happening, only to realize I barely had it halfway figured out... 

I have a pretty high tolerance for creepy, and not many authors surprise me anymore, so this was definitely a fun read. 

If it's cold outside and you don't plan on leaving the sofa for the better part of a weekend, I'd highly recommend this book and your favorite cozy blankie.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

THE Soup. It's just that good.


It's 12 freaking degrees in metro Atlanta right now, so what's a girl to do other than hot tea and soup...

Seriously y'all, I'm kind of obsessed with this soup these days. In my mind, it's THE SOUP -- I've made it five times already this fall and winter, and it's become my lunchtime staple. 

Ribollita is a thick Tuscan vegetable soup, often made to use up stale bread. I had it for the first time at iRicchi, a DC Italian restaurant that has been a favorite of the K-Street crowd for more than 25 years - it was delicious and so thick you could stand your spoon up in it - drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with fresh parmesan. 

The best bowl ever was at a small cafe in San Gimignano on a rainy day in Tuscany. A hot bowl of soup and a plate of prosciutto e melone stands out in my memory as an absolutely perfect meal for the day and time. 

It even makes a great anchor for a dinner party --I've made a big pot of THE SOUP and served it with plates of Italian yummies such as:

  • sliced canteloupe and prosciutto
  • a salad with arugula, bresaola and shaved parmesan, dressed with olive oil and lemon or balsamic
  • a Caprese salad
  • precooked arancini (risotto balls with mozzarella - Trader Joe's used to carry)
  • an antipasto plate of Italian meats, cheeses, and crackers

Of course my two go-to lady chefs (Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis) both have good recipes for this. I've been tweaking things a bit -- mostly to make it easier and still flavorful, and I've settled on this super-easy version of THE SOUP that comes together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping. Especially if you can use a tub of precut mirepoix (chopped carrots, onion, and celery often found in the product department) and some good crushed garlic -- the jarred minced garlic is nasty, but the frozen cubes from Dorot or the tubes in the produce department are great timesavers and taste just as good as fresh.

It's also very friendly to substitutions, so you can use whatever you happen to have on hand. If I don't buy mirepoix, I'll use a medium onion and 2-3 carrots. I don't care for celery all that much, so I don't mind leaving it out. Sometimes I'll add in half a chopped sweet pepper too, if there is one handy that needs to be eaten. And most recipes call for cannellini beans, but I think chickpeas work very well here, and I almost always have them in the pantry. If your deli department sells parmesan rinds, tossing a couple in here while the soup simmers is AMAZING. And if your bread is still fresh, toast the cubes on low heat in the oven or air fryer until they get crunchy.

If you don't add the bread, it's a pretty darn good veggie soup on its own. And I haven't tried it, but I'd imagine that swapping the chicken stock for vegetable stock would still be pretty tasty for a vegetarian option.  

Here's the basic recipe for THE SOUP

  • 1 tub mirepoix
  • 1 small-medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp italian seasoning
  • 1 generous pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste - I use 1/1/2 tsp of each
  • 1 32-oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (low sodium), undrained
  • 1 can chickpeas, undrained - the starchy liquid helps the soup thicken
  • 3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped (or just dump them in)
  • 3 cups stale bread, cut into small cubes (less than an inch - this is about half a baguette)

In a dutch oven or stockpot, saute the mirepoix in olive oil until it begins to soften, then add the zucchini and garlic until the veggies are soft but not browned.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and let it simmer for for 15 minutes. Add in spinach and bread. Let simmer another 15 minutes, letting the bread break down. If you want a thicker puree, help things along a little bit with a stick blender. The soup isn't quite as pretty, but I think it tastes even better! Serve with a sprinkle of parm on top. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Middle-Aged Non-Influencer's Favorite Beauty Products


I'm not one of those females who publishes exquisitely staged videos of myself standing in my perfectly-decorated bathroom artfully dabbing skincare and makeup products on my face. I'll leave that to the 10-year olds posting TikTok's with their Drunk Elephant products...

My morning beauty routine is more along the lines of throwing stuff on five minutes before a Zoom call when I need to hide the undereye circles, tame the bedhead, and look moderately presentable.

But I do have a longstanding love of makeup products going back to that first tube of bubble-flavored Maybelline Kissing Potion. I'm especially a sucker for eyeshadow palettes. It's like a new set of colorful markers tempting me with all the colors, and I probably need an intervention...

I'm turning 54 today, and I like to think I look younger than my age. So I sat down and came up with a list of my "best of" products - the things I buy on repeat that have a permanent home on my badly-in-need-of-renovation bathroom counter. I won't say they are for everyone, but for a pale-faced chick in her 50s who likes a natural look and has zero patience for 20 layers of contouring and drawing in each individual eyebrow hair, here's what works for me.

Paul Mitchell Super Skinny Serum - I really hate heavy hair products, but this one is lightweight and doesn't weigh down my fine hair and make it look greasy. Just the right amount of shine and smoothing. 

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner - they are pricey, but worth it. You really do only need to use a little bit, so they last a long time, and the conditioner has a great minty scent and tingle that wakes me up and leaved me feeling energized. 

M.A.C. Glow Play Sheer Lip Gloss - I spent over a year looking for something to take the place of my dearly beloved, discontinued Laura Mercier Stick Gloss, and these sheer soft colors are the best I've found.  They leave my lips soft but not sticky, with just a hint of color. I've got three or four colors in regular rotation, but my favorite is That Tickles - which looks dark in the tube but is really just a sheer wash of perfect pinky-brown color that works with everything.

Yes2Grapefruit Face Wipes - These remove makeup nicely and leave my skin feeling great. They are less irritating than the Burt's Bees version, and smell better than the Neutrogena ones.

Physician's Formula Butter Blush - The Vintage Rouge shade is perfect for me - blends nicely and I can use it without needing a bronzer too. it also smells yummy - like a day at the beach. 

Revlon Styling Brush - Seriously the best styling tool ever! I completely suck at blowing out my hair with a round brush, and this tool is amazing! I don't usually dry my hair all the way from wet with it. I let my hair air dry or hit it with a blowdryer until it's almost dry, and use this to smooth things out, curl the ends a bit and give me a little volume. It's perfect for the non-shampoo days when you want to smooth out the bedhead and get out the door quickly.

Aqua Allegoria Perfumes - My bestie says I'm all about "kitchen scents."  I like citrusy and herbal fragrances, mostly because heavy florals give me brain-shaking, eye-popping headaches. Guerlain's AA line switches up every year, but I've come across some great ones. Mandarine Basilic and Herba Fresca are old favorites, and I'm currently obsessed with Granada Salvia, which is pomegranate with hints of blackcurrant, cypress, lemon, and bergamot. 

Doctor Bronner's Peppermint Lip Balm - That meme about how when your chapsticks are not in their expected locations and your whole day is screwed up? That's me. DocB's has replaced Burt's Bees as my go-to, and there are tubes in both cars, in my bag, at my desk, in my nightstand drawer, and in a basket downstairs at all times. 

Clear Revive Nasal Spray - I used Afrin far too frequently for years for the quick hit of clarity. I discovered this a few years ago, and it's been an absolute life-changer for my sinuses. It's all-natural and non-medicated and clears away the stuffiness instantly. 

Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara - Best mascara ever? Quite possibly. The tubing formula goes on without clumping, looks natural, stays on pretty well all day, and makes my skimpy pale lashes look amazing with just one coat.

UrbanDecay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencils - I'm not great with eyeliners. I can't draw a decent wing to save my life, and I make a mess with liquid and markers. I want something that goes on softly and easily and holds up reasonably well.  Ulta's gel eyeliner pencils and the NYX Epic pencils are pretty good, but the Urban Decay ones are definitely worth the splurge and come in some really fun colors to play with. Stash, Mildew, and LSD are my favorites. 

Clinique Exfoliating Scrub - when it comes to my basic cleaning and moisturizing routine, I may stray every couple of years and try something new, but I always end up coming back to Clinique -- my mainstay for more than 30 years now. All About Clean Mild soap, Clarifying Lotion 2, and the classic yellow Dramatically Different Moisturizer in the morning, then All About Eyes and Moisture Surge at night. People always think I'm at least 10 years younger than my actual age, so I suppose it's working. Once a week, the Exfoliating Scrub is my go-to for a deep clean that leaves my face feeling fresh and soft. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

What I Read #2-3: Tony Horwitz Travels the South


A couple of weeks ago, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley bumbled it big time in a town hall, responding to a question about the causes of the Civil War without mentioning slavery. Her word salad of a response was completely inappropriate for someone running for a national office, but it echoed many things I've heard throughout my lifetime as a Southern woman. 

There are some deeper questions about those issues that I'm still contemplating and will likely write about sometime soon, but it reminded me of a book that's been sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read for a while now.

I first read Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic when it came out in 1999, and his later book, Spying on the South, coming 20 years later seemd intriguing. I decided that before I read Syping, I should re-read the original book first. Both are travelogues that explore the attitudes of modern-day Southerners about the South, the Civil War, and America. 

They are both funny and frightening, engaging and thought-provoking. 

In Confederates, the hints of the growing divide that is putting our nation's future at risk are glaringly evident, and 20 years of hindsight makes me think Horwitz was even more on point than he seemed at the turn of the century. 

All in all, they left me with even more to ponder on as I think about history both personal and public, and where we are headed as a nation in a year that I think might be a watershed for the future or failure of our country. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

What I Read #1: The Exchange

Other than cooking all the southern goodies, I was a couch potato for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and it was HEAVENLY to relax a bit after a busy holiday season. 

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in recent years has been the books and chocolate exchange started by one of my lovely sorority sisters. There are about 30 women in the group. There are a few fellow Sigma Kappas, but most of us don't know each other and are only connected through Allisa. Every year, she draws names to pair us up for our own little Jolabokaflod, and we give each other books and chocolate to enjoy during the holiday season. 

I received John's Grisham's The Exchange this year, and I was excited to see what happened to Mitch and Abby after they escaped The Firm. It was an engaging read and fun to revisit some memorable characters, but I kept waiting for a "bigger" conspiracy to emerge and thought the ending was a little bit of a letdown. I wouldn't put it up there with my favorites among his earlier novels, but it was a pleasant way to spend a relaxing day or so.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Doing the Full Southern

Once again, my New Year's resolution is to flex my writing muscles. As in previous years (see 2016, 2022, etc.) I'll probably write a few things in January, and then the crickets will once again take over.  

Who still reads blogs anyway? :)

I'm happy to close the book on 2023, which will not rank up there with my better years.  But I'm starting 2024 with a healthy-ish little family and a lot of love, so we'll see what the year brings. 

Before settling into a late night of football yesterday, I tried to get ahead in the luck and money department with a Full Southern New Year's Day feast. It was one of those rare meals where everything turned out perfectly, so maybe the luck thing is already working.

The Pig: This Island Pork Tenderloin Salad from Epicurious has been a favorite for years.  I made the wonderful spicy-sweet pork yesterday to go with all the unhealthy sides, and I'll make the salad part tonight to use up the leftovers.

The Peas: Dried peas and the Instant Pot are a match made in heaven. I loosely followed this recipe from Grits and Gouda, but used half chicken broth and half water and added a few chunks of seasoning bacon.

The Greens: This is a good basic recipe for collard greens. I add a spoonful of sugar near the end of the cooking time to cut the bitterness, which I think makes all the difference.

The Cornbread: I wish I could say I made it from scratch, but I used Krusteaz southern-style cornbread mix, cooked in a cast-iron skillet prepped with bacon grease. I've yet to master homemade cornbread that tastes like my mom's, and I haven't yet inherited THE PAN -- a 60-year-old, seasoned-to-black baking pan that is used ONLY for cornbread. It was my grandmother's, then my mom's, and I have already called dibs on it for the next generation.

Mac and Cheese: It doesn't represent anything lucky for the new year, but it was damn good. After years of loyalty to Alton Brown's baked mac and cheese, this recipe has won my allegiance, although I think an extra layer of shredded cheese under the breadcrumbs doesn't hurt. I used 4 cups of hoop cheddar and 2 cups of Dubliner cheese, and it rocked!

It was a great meal, and two great football games followed. It's always a good day when Satan/Saban loses, and if my Dawgs aren't in the championship, I'm happy to root for those other dogs in purple!