It’s how I roll

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As a professional caterer for about ten years now, the Christmas holiday season has become more of a chore than a celebration. Whether I’m in a client’s home or our banquet facility, there are candy canes, mistle toe, fake gifts sitting under fake Christmas trees. From Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, it’s 80-hour work weeks, eating the same “Holiday” food day in and day out (usually cold and leftovers from the buffet), and no family time to speak of. And then there’s the music.

The same tired old songs playing on a loop over and over and over again. Retail workers and package delivery drivers feel my pain. I have long envied the families and work groups I’ve catered to. Smiling and drinking because they’re happy, not necessarily because they’re overworked, tired and sore. They still have the Christmas spirit. I’m not talking about the birth of the Lord; I’m talking about the warm, fuzzy feeling from hanging out, baking, drinking or watching the Peanuts Christmas special on TV.

As a kid, like all kids I suppose, Christmas was my favorite holiday because of the gifts. Now, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is sort of like the calm before the storm for me as a caterer. I know it’s coming, and I have time to mentally prepare. I go to Chattanooga to see my family; we exchange Christmas wish lists and sometimes exchange gifts. I hug and kiss everyone because I’m about to head down into the trenches of Christmas catering, only resurfacing Christmas Eve.

Another way I prepare is with my favorite wine that is released in limited quantities the week before Thanksgiving. It’s Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais nouveau. I am not a sommelier, but I know more now than I used to. But I always have and still buy wine according to two pieces of criteria: price and how pretty the label is.

In 2000 (Ironically, the year I began my catering career) I bought a bottle of wine because it fit my two criteria– it was inexpensive and colorfully packaged. It was the Beaujolais nouveau that I now consider to be my own private tradition.

For years I have anxiously stalked the liquor store clerks day after day beginning at Halloween.

“Is my wine in yet?” I say with a hopeful grin.

“Nope, any day now.”

I have been buying the Beaujolais nouveau right before Thanksgiving for years now–usually when we’re getting ready to decorate our tree. I force Hubby to listen to carols, wrap gifts reflect on the upcoming holiday seasons and look at photos from seasons past. This is my one chance to play the part and enjoy the season before I’m inundated with serving up all the food, song and drink that other people actually enjoy at this time of year.

Only last year did I discover that there’s actually a story to this wine. French government prohibits the Beaujolais from being corked prior to the third Thursday in November—hence my connection to it at Thanksgiving. Apparently, I was slow to get on the booze train because people all over have been privy to this.

There are “roll out” parties across the world and restaurants arrange special dinners to pair with the wine the day it’s released. I had no idea its arrival was celebrated by anyone but me. It’s almost as if I’ve suddenly joined a club or fraternity of sorts.

The wine is a red and best served slightly chilled (no more than 30 minutes in the fridge or an hour on the back porch on a chilly day). It pairs easily with almost any food, and is more of a pedestrian wine that’s easy to gulp than it is a “serious” wine that needs to have its bouquet discussed. It’s light and fun, like the holidays. (Please, no political discussions when I’ve got my glass of wine in hand.)

This year I plan on doing what I always do: enjoy my Thanksgiving with family, hug and kiss everyone goodbye for the next month and head down into the trenches of Christmas catering with January on my mind. This year, though, I think I’ll buy a whole case and share.

Off the playground; off the grid

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It seems like Knoxville is a little behind the times with every fad that comes around.  We lag behind big cities as far as fashion (naturally), we’re not the focus group for independent films, and we’re not what they’re referring to when they say “Now showing in select cities.”  Hell, we didn’t even have a full-fledged sushi joint in town until a few years ago (I’m still not a fan).  Now we’re even playing catch up with social media websites. As if it isn’t enough to feel the need to broadcast what’s on your mind 24 hours a day or know who your friends’ other friends are, know you can announce where you are complete with a map and link the update to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Once only for major metropolitan areas, Foursquare has finally arrived in Knoxville.

Foursquare is a location-based game that users play from their mobile phones.  Basically, you check-in where you go, whether it’s your favorite bar, the park, a museum or any other public place.  You earn points for checking-in and adding new locations, and once you’ve checked-in more than anyone else, you become the mayor.  So far, the points are pretty much a useless badge of honor of sorts, but businesses have begun to offer discounts to mayors of their establishments.

From the Foursquare homepage, you can search your other social media accounts for other users who can be your 4sq friends.  My problem is that 4sq is so new to Knoxville I don’t have any local friends. My only friends are in Chicago, St. Louis and Atlanta, and that’s no too much fun so far.  Of course, if you had local 4sq friends and are checking in at a cool bar with a couple of girlfriends, don’t be surprised if other friends get the update and decide to stop by.  It’s for this reason that you can check in incognito, or check-in just to get the points but hide the actual location from being published. It’s called going “off the grid.”  Valentine’s night dinner with the hubby might not be the best time to publish your whereabouts.

As with any other service, there is a certain amount of etiquette that goes along with using 4sq.  It’s generally considered poor taste to check-in at your work.  You have to be there.  You shouldn’t be the mayor of your work.  But there’s a grey area.  I work on a university campus.  All of UT is not a single location.  There are dozens of buildings.  Since I work in the University Center, can I check in at the Haslam Building?  I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t check in at Rocky Top Café or Smokey’s since they’re in my building and I’m there every day.

Another point of 4sq etiquette—and something that’s wrong on more than one level— is adding your home address as a location.  You probably don’t want to advertise the fact that you’re at home way more than you go out, because you look like a homebody. But one downside to playing the game is when you check-in elsewhere, you’re publishing the fact that you’re not at home.  If you have a public Facebook or Twitter account linked to your 4sq game, it could be a hazard.  How many times have you tweeted about buying that new flat screen or beating someone at Halo on you’re your new xBox?  Combine unprotected tweets with your home address being made public on 4sq, you’re pretty much saying, “Please rob me.”  And someone has created a website with that same name.

With the motto “Listing all those empty homes out there” and in an attempt to bring awareness to the fact that you’re opening yourself and your home to a whole world of hurt, the site Please Rob Me posts actual Twitter users’ profile pics and tweets under the heading of “New Opportunities.” The website is based in Holland and has gained much attention since its inception.

The internet is a fluid invention, and is constantly in a state of movement, just like we are on a Saturday night, but publishing your whereabouts could prove to be a danger to your possessions.  It’s fun to engage in these memes and play all the little games, but don’t forget to exercise appropriate caution when you do

What the hell is Twitter, anyway?

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Twitter, tweet, twitpic, Tweetdeck, Twitterific.  It sounds like something from a Dr. Seuss book, but it’s actually some of the most hip and up-to-date communications lingo out right now.  They all refer to Twitter, a social networking website where users are asked to answer one question: “What are you doing?”   The “answers” (tweets) are short.  They make you keep it to 130 characters only, and it’s designed to be quick and mobile.  You “follow” people (sign up to receive their tweets,) and try to get people to follow you.  Much of the world has gotten on board this internet phenomenon, but there are still quite a few hold-outs out there who haven’t made the leap yet.  Are you one of them?

Twitter popped up sometime after Facebook became open to anyone, and wasn’t only for students anymore.  The Facebook status update had become more than just a notification about how you were feeling at that moment, it became an art.  People would spend a good bit of time crafting clever, funny updates in the hopes of garnering several comments and starting a conversation.  In its early stages, Twitter was basically described as a Facebook status update without all the Facebooking attached.  It didn’t take long for people to discover all the other wonderful ways Twitter could be used.

The number one reason people say they don’t use Twitter is because it’s nothing more than your ordinary friends telling you how many times they ate sushi this week, if the TV show sucked, or that their dog was sick.  Honestly, none of us really care about all that.  If we’re close enough of friends, you’ll probably call me on the phone, text me or tell me when we’re hanging out Friday night, right?

But what happened was businesses figured out they could reach a diverse group of people, or a targeted group of people, for free.  Restaurants, bars, bookstores and loads of other types of businesses started a Twitter account and inform their followers about happy hour specials, book signings and what-have-you.  People sign up to follow their local hangouts on Twitter and can find out what band is playing Saturday after the game.

Of course, it’s grown now, and celebrities are tweeting.  You can follow Ryan Seacrest and get first-hand info about his many jobs on TV and radio.  You can follow Lindsay Lohan and witness her train wreck for yourself.  You can follow your favorite comedians and get a shot of comedy first thing in the morning to jump start your day.  My personal favorite is Michael Ian Black.  His tweets are not-suitable-for-work, by the way.

I know people who follow their favorite authors, celebrity chefs, political pundits, news organizations.  And Barack Obama tweets, people.  Yes, the President of the United States updates his Twitter page a couple times each week.

Just because your best friend is on Twitter doesn’t mean you have to tell them you are.  If you’re sick of hearing about trips to the dentist or the boy who never called back, you don’t have to.  And something you may never have thought of: you don’t have to tweet.  You never have to post an update.  You can just use Twitter as an information gathering device.  Or you can use Twitter to suit whatever your own purposes may be.  Twitter is one of those things that’s begs to be re-invented.

Josh Roberts and the Hinges in Knoxville

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Knoxville’s music scene just got a little bit better.  Friday, December 12th at Preservation Pub, Josh Roberts and the Hinges played to a small but dedicated crowd.  From Columbia, South Carolina, this was JRATH’s first trip to Knoxville.  They’ve traveled from Columbia to Asheville, and Nashville to Athens, but never made the pit stop between.  Roberts says it’s probably just because they never knew any bands here.

Please allow me to introduce.

Roberts admits he inadvertently comes back to certain themes with his music: home and away, life and death, the nature of the human spirit and the truth that exists underneath.

“I don’t try to do that.  Frankly, I think people write about nothing but that stuff and it’s a little pretentious.  But I just keep doing it,” says Roberts.

The Hinges’ second album, My War Cry is Amor is a reflection of that.

“I took that line from Joseph Campbell, who is a writer of mythology—books that really explore the nature of human spirituality and all throughout time and history, and the interests that lie beneath it all.  That line is lifted out of “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell.”

Just listening to lyrics, Roberts may be the thinking man’s rock and roller, but don’t let that scare you.  There are layers to the music.  What starts out as a plodding commentary on mankind’s destructive nature could just as easily turn into a light-hearted romp, then a sweeping, epic jam with no lyrics to get in the way.

I listened to a handful of songs from the band’s MySpace page and website before the show, but had no idea what I was actually in for.  The banjo and southern twang belie the rock and roll at times.  It’s sort of the duality of Josh Roberts.

Some songs have a hint of Americana, but don’t tell Josh.  He prefers the broader term: rock and roll.

“That’s definitely what I call it.  People want me to specify, and I’m like, ’No.  That’s why I use that term.  So I don’t have to specify’”, Roberts says.

“So you know, just think the broadest term possible…rich rock and roll.”

Tupelo Honey review in Blank Newspaper March 2009

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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I’ve said it for years and no artist has shown me otherwise: no one does a love song like Van Morrison.  Perhaps the record that proves this the most is Tupelo Honey.  In the title track, Morrison pours out his heart and soul, declaring, “She’s as sweet as tupelo honey.  She’s an angel of the first degree.”  It’s not just the lyrics, but the fact that his voice makes it so that you can’t help but feel the emotion seeping into the cosmos.  I swoon when I hear it.

And it’s as true today as it was 30 years ago, it’s not popular to describe or depict gratitude for hearth and family the way Van Morrison does on Tupelo Honey.  Not just does he show appreciation for his woman as a lover, but also as the mother of his children.  In “You’re My Woman,” he sings, “You bore my child.  Lord, I want to thank you…no one else will do.”  And he continues, “I really love you.  My heart is for you.”

“Old, Old Woodstock” speaks of coming home and hugging your children with your wife waiting for you at the open kitchen door.  In “Starting a New Life” we find out that he’s been working hard, shoveling snow and feels that life has become stagnant.  With the springtime comes rebirth and it’s time to be…starting a new life.  “When That Evening Sun Goes Down” allows us a sneak peek into the end of the day and the simple act of relaxing with your lover, walking hand-in-hand.

Personally, I think this would have finished the record nicely, but then we get a jolt from “Moonshine Whiskey” that almost feels like an afterthought.  Maybe I say that just because the final track isn’t one of my favorites.  It’s not as sentimental as some of the other songs on the album, but it still declares, “I can’t wait to see that little darling of mine.”

Overall, Tupelo Honey seems to be an album that is well-suited for a cold winter night.  It’s not exactly a ragtop kind of album.  It serves as a reminder to appreciate your home and family and that chivalry is not dead.  That’s something that seems to be lost on many people theses days.  Guys, if this sounds boring to you, just ask yourself what your ladies would think.

So long, Coach

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Since the day I stepped foot on UT’s campus, Phillip Fulmer has been my coach. I never played football, although I am among the few “outsiders” who has had the pleasure of walking on Shields-Watkins field (although not in the checkerboard). But he’s the only coach I’ve known.

People may think we’re weird to celebrate 10 years since winning the national championship, but it was arguably the best thing to happen to our program. And people may think
Coach Fulmer leaving is the best thing to happen to the team.

You know what they say about opinions.

It’s funny to me how, in a situation like this, it’s almost like he’s dead. A week ago I was cussing about losing games, now I feel like I’m mourning the loss of a family member. It’s sort of like the saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Only time will tell if that saying is true.

I’m tired of losing football games, but I’m sad to see a Tennessee hero leave on such a down note.

Thanks for the memories, Coach.

Good luck.

We’re all friends at the Fellini Kroger

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

fellini-kroger-pic1Have you ever been in a hodge-podge of society and thought you were the only “normal” person there? I once saw a guy at the flea market with a parrot on his head and a woman with a ferret on a leash. It’s funny and captivating – maybe even a little scary. That’s also describes the North Knoxville Kroger, affectionately known by some as the “Fellini” Kroger.

Located at 2217 N. Broadway just behind the Taco Bell and the old gas station, the Fellini Kroger got its name for Italian film director and producer Federico Fellini. Fellini is known for his bizarre characters and surreal situations.

On any given night at the Fellini Kroger you could see a fight between a midget and a one-armed man, obese albino twins with matching overalls, ladies fighting over rutabagas or a rugged construction worker with a Pomeranian dog strapped to his back. I once saw a plus-sized grandma with a blue mohawk and Z’s shaved onto the side of her head wearing baggy pants that read “Bite me” repeatedly.

Those are just some of the experiences posted by members of the Facebook group “Friends of the Fellini (North Knox) Kroger.” Facebook user Ann Kidd says she started the group simply because she lives nearby and had always heard stories about the store. The group has more than 450 members so far. “I never imagined it taking off like it has,” says Kidd. “But that just goes to show how well-known the place is and what a reputation it has.”

Group members post their experiences and photos from the infamous store. For instance, there’s a guy who says his girlfriend’s feet were worshipped by a customer while they were shopping. Another group member says the deli clerk tried to convince him the mahi-mahi was dolphin, “you know, like Flipper.” So the employees are Fellini characters as well.

People have been flashed, some characters have declared their level of stoned-ness, and others have been spotted on foot at the Taco Bell drive-through, which is easily considered Fellini-esque by association. I spotted a man buying nothing but a super-sized bottle of mouthwash to drink.

But so far the character that is ubiquitous, yet elusive, is Nipple Guy. He’s a fellow whose appearances have been documented on the Facebook group no less than three times. Nipple Guy just doesn’t seem to understand why men have nipples, and he seeks answers from Fellini Kroger patrons. Sometimes he serenades them.

It’s difficult to describe. So, take your in-laws when they come to town. Or take your girlfriend for a cheap date. There’s always something playing at the Fellini Kroger.