And they're off...


Derby day is upon us. Are you ready?

Among the various traditions associated with the Kentucky Derby, dating back to 1875, wearing an outrageous hat is perhaps the most visible. Hats for ladies in the 1870s were considered an essential accessory for any out-door event. It would have been scandalous for a lady to appear without one. Wide-brimmed hats also provided sun protection for Victorian ladies. They went to great lengths to remain the fairest of them all. Sun-kissed skin meant you were of  a lower class.

Apart from being an attention-seeking fashion statement, wearing a hat on derby day is considered good luck.

Let's take a look at some.

Classy...

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Over the top...

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Tramp stamp winner!

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Our neighbors host a derby party every year. Mrs. M is from Kentucky. She strongly encourages guests to don a hat. I don't have mine picked out yet. But, I did see some Derby duds at Vineyard Vines -- "the official style of the Kentucky Derby." Yes, I was actually wandering around aimlessly at Lenox last weekend and snapped this photo. Smart looking outfits for a GRITS and her date. There's no way Mr. Mophead would go for the floral tie.


Love this one.

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This cute julep tie too.

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You all know that juleps are another well-known Derby tradition, right? Apparently there is much controversy over how to make the perfect mint julep. According to Drinkology, the cocktail has a long history that dates back to the 15th century when some form of it was used for medicinal purposes. In America, brandy juleps predate those using bourbon. Drinkology highly recommends using "good" bourbon and serving juleps in a pewter or silver cup. The metal conducts the cold from the ice. Crushed ice is essential.

Most recipes call for fresh mint leaves, simple syrup or raw superfine sugar and water, crushed ice and bourbon. The March issue of Matchbook includes a recipe for "the perfect" mint julep. As far as "good" bourbon goes, Kentucky chef Edward Lee offers this list in the May issue of Country Living:

Best over $80: Pappy van Winkle's Family Reserve. (He calls it the "god of bourbon."), Jefferson's Reserve Presidential Special Select and Colonel E.H. Taylor. "It is sacrilege to mix these bourbons with anything other than a touch of water," says Lee.

Best under $35: Old Forester. Four- or five-year-old Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are fine for mixed drinks.

Best for cooking: Bulleit and Elijah Craig.

Lee kicks it up a notch with this jalapeƱo-spiked julep recipe.


Grab your hats and juleps and enjoy the most exciting two-minute sporting event of the year in high style. And, good luck on your bets!

Photo images: 1, 2

Cupcakes and the capitol

The title of this post is a slight rip off of Emily Shuman's blog cupcakes and cashmere. Emily has somehow made it big writing about fashion, food, beauty and interior design -- stuff she likes kinda like me. Except, she has a HUGE following and has even published a book.

In any event, Emily does a post every Friday called "5 Things." I'm going to steel that idea too just for today -- multiplied by two -- to describe my spring break trip to the capital city.

10 things...

Cupcakes! Yes, cupcakes were our treat of choice. First stop, the famous Georgetown Cupcakes. Red Velvet is GC's best seller. I happen to love red velvet cupcakes. Of course I had never had one until I moved to the Atlanta. It is widely considered a southern recipe. Remember the armadillo groom's cake in Steel Magnolias? Our plan was to visit several different renowned shops, but we only made it to one more -- Sprinkles -- "the world's first cupcake bakery" (highly doubt that) started in Beverly Hills. I bought the red velvet there and did a taste comparison. The Sprinkles cake was moister (sorry Molly), but the GC cream cheese frosting was better. The winner -- Matty Cakes in Atlanta.


Red velvet cupcake war.

My taste testers unanimously agreed that GC was better all around. I had to agree. Going to the shop in and of itself is an experience. You can watch them decorate each cake by hand.



This lady is cutting printed purses stamped on fondant to go atop a special pink-frosted breast cancer cupcake.




These two decadent chocolate cupcakes were the blue ribbon winners! There was also a chocolate 3 that we didn't try. I was afraid it would make the taste testers bounce off the walls. Smart decision.

Side story: On the way over to GC I spotted two Visi -- my high school -- girls cruising out of the shop on foot. I was wondering how that could be because it was still during school hours. Back in my day, we were not allowed to leave the campus confines (by that I mean a huge stone wall and guarded gate), which forced us to come up with some elaborate escape plans, like being driven off campus in the trunk of someone's car.

I talked the boys into walking over to the campus. While touring the gym I saw this photo of me just off the courts after winning a big match.


And, at field hockey practice.


Just kidding. My boys were not convinced. They think I'm ancient, and often ask questions like: Were cars invented when you were little? No lie.

The Capitol
This may sound biased, but Washington in my opinion is one of the prettiest cities in the world, especially in the spring. We did not tour the Capitol during this visit, but I will never tire of seeing it in all of its splendor.


View of Capitol from Newseum terrace.

Cherry blossoms
As luck would have it, we arrived during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The 3,000 cherry trees Tokyo gifted the city in 1912 were in full and spectacular bloom. We didn't make it to the tidal basin during the day, so I took some night photos.
  

Cherry blossoms at night by the FDR memorial.

Seafood
Being landlocked in Atlanta pretty much sucks. Oh how I miss fresh seafood from the eastern shore, especially local blue crab -- the real deal. The best meal I had on the trip was at Johnny's Half Shell. When I lived in DC, the restaurant -- originally located in the Dupont Circle area -- was a fraction of the size of what it is now on North Capitol Street. Sorry no food porn to share, but I can assure you it's well worth a visit, especially if you like oysters and crab cakes. A great place to people watch and eves drop too. One of my favorite past times.


The Newseum 
Hands down the best museum I've been to in a long time. It moved from its original Virginia location to an enormous and amazing space on "America's Main Street" Pennsylvania Avenue. We were lucky to view the new "JFK Creating Camelot" exhibit the day it opened. So well done, including 70 newly restored Jacques Lowe photos of the the first family. Jackie O is one of my favorite fashion icons. Love her! We spent over four hours there without a peep of whining or complaining. Seriously, two 9- and 10-year-old boys were not bored at all. The restaurant cafe, catered by Wolfgang Puck, was the best museum food I've ever eaten. The sixth floor greenspun terrace provides visitors with a spectacular view of the city. Your pass provides entrance for two days. I easily could have spent several more hours there.


Life Magazine cover taken by my assistant photographer who insisted on covering the Kennedy exhibit.

Union Station
Another architectural stunner. We met our moonlight monument tour in front of the station. I had to go into the Main Hall to take a peek. I vividly remember when the station reopened its doors in 1988 after a $160 million renovation. Worth every penny.



The faithfully restored Main Hall clock as seen behind netting that covers the entire ceiling to keep birds out. 


Isn't this original water fountain (updated fixture I'm sure) beautiful? It sits atop the gorgeous black and pink marble floors -- 2.5 acres worth. Love this.


Inlaid marble tile. Love this too.

Capital Bike Share
A form of public transit new to me -- Capital Bike Share. Join for a day, a month or a year and you have over 1,600 bikes at 175 stations in DC, Alexandria and Arlington, VA at your disposal for a reasonable fee. The first 30 minutes of your trip are FREE. Perfect for running a short errand. You can pick up and return bikes to any station. The standard bikes were too big for our kids, so we didn't use them. Such a great concept.


Bike share station across the street from our hotel.

Metro
Washington is a very walkable city. If your dogs can't take you where you want to go, hop on the Metro to travel around town. I miss living in a city that has a comprehensive subway system.

Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Institute is comprised of 17 museums and galleries plus the National Zoo. All are free except the Zoo. Doesn't get any better than that. As the Smithsonian's logo tag line says: it is seriously amazing.

Parks and trees
The city is littered with trees and parks. I guess I had always taken the tree-lined streets for granted. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about trees in the city. Turns out there are over 100 tree varieties planted on the 58-acre Capital Grounds designed by the brilliant landscape architect Frederick Law OlmstedMany trees have historic or memorial associations. A number commemorate members of Congress and more than 30 states have made symbolic gifts of their state trees to the area. I also learned that the Urban Forestry Association plants 4,500 new trees in DC every year. Wow!

There you have it. Any of you Washingtonians or visitors care to share what you love about DC?

So you think you're interesting?

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A few weeks ago my bibliophile friend Jill asked me to join her to hear Jessica Hagy talk about her new book How to Be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps). We were psyched to go because Austin Kleon -- author of Steal Like an Artist -- endorsed her book. I posted about his book talk here. Jessica calls herself a cartoonist, and is referred to elsewhere as an illustrator, writer and humorist. Best known for her blog Indexed, she became an overnight success when her "How to be Interesting" post on Forbes.com went viral with over 1.4 million viewers. Hence the book.

According to Jessica, being interesting is the greatest personal asset in business and life in general. "It’s a core attribute that draws people toward each other, and greases the wheels of love and commerce and politics." Here's the rub: Although she didn't claim to be interesting, Jessica's delivery was flat at best. With the exception of a few quick-witted remarks, she wasn't engaging or compelling at all. So disappointing.

The funniest thing she said was "Bunkhead" when referring to Buckhead where she was staying. For those of you not familiar with Atlanta, Buckhead is "where old money lives and and new money parties" (according to the Urban Dictionary). It is also known for its high-end shopping malls. I loathe going to Buckhead in general, and only shop there when I'm absolutely desperate. Buckhead ladies are often referred to as "Buckhead Betties." Not by me. No way.

Jessica explained that she was out exploring (see Step 1 below) in someone's "Bunkhead" yard. Sounded interesting, but she didn't share what she discovered (see Step 2 below) even when asked. Maybe she was embracing her weirdness (see Step 4 below) and didn't want to admit it. Who knows?

Since then, I've read her book. I really like it, and love her blog.

Back to my original question. Do you think you're interesting? If so, great. If not, and you no longer want to be a bore, follow these 10 simple steps:

Step 1: Go exploring.  [Adventurous]
Step 2: Share what you discover.  [Generous]
Step 3: Do something. Anything. [Active]
Step 4: Embrace your weirdness.  [Strange]
Step 5: Have a cause.  [Caring]
Step 6: Minimize the swagger. [Humble]
Step 7: Give it a shot.  [Daring]
Step 8: Hop off the bandwagon. [Original]
Step 9: Grow a pair. [Brave]
Step 10: Ignore the scolds.  [Self-assured]

Check out Indexed for lots of clever charts, graphs and Venn diagrams. Love these!

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If you could change lives with someone you find interesting -- either living or dead -- for a day, who would it be and why?  I'd like to be Lena Dunham. Why? Because it would be fun to be 26 again. And, it would nice to be a critically acclaimed, award-winning filmmaker, actress and writer with a sweet book deal.

A northeastern girl's guide to living with GRITS

Just back from the capital city -- my hometown (more on my trip in an upcoming post). After living in Atlanta for over a decade, I will always be a Washingtonian. Although DC is technically part of the southeastern United States, I consider myself a northeastern girl. I think most Washingtonians would agree that DC feels more like the north than the south. When people ask where I'm from -- either here in Atlanta or away on vacation -- I say "DC." When someone asks if I've read the paper, I assume they are referring to The Washington Post.

It was tough leaving a city I had lived in and loved for 31 years. Moving to Atlanta was a bit of a culture shock. Thankfully my dear high school friend Heather lived here. Heather introduced me to lots of people, including some of her southern deb friends. I had never really met anyone like them. Except of course girls I met from Texarkana (had never heard of the place) who worked in DC during the Clinton years. Don't get me wrong, these were some of the most endearing and hilarious people I've ever known. I was just used to hanging out with overachievers and trust fund deadheads.

I now have many friends from southeastern states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. For purposes of this blog post, I will collectively refer to them as GRITS (girls raised in the south).

Last year I read an article in Atlanta Magazine's Southern Issue -- "Don't you See? We Gossip Because We Care." -- by one of my favorite southern authors Kathryn Stockett. In it she says that southerners are genetically predisposed to talking about each other. By this she means talking trash. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Kathryn said she didn't know just how southern she was until she had lived in NYC for 16 years. She laments that New Yorkers aren't good liars, are unjudgemental and don’t have a natural talent for good grocery-store gossip. "You go to a party and nobody’s snickering to their friend about how hungover you look or that so-and-so’s cheating on such-and-such’s husband." Southerners are just more fun, according to Stockett. "We enjoy breaking rules and acting up and the occasional gossip, even at the risk the talk might be about us next week." Does any of this sound familiar?
  • Join the Junior League.
  • Go to Bible study.
  • Monogram everything. [I once saw a girl wearing a monogrammed sports bra. No lie.]
  • Have unusual spellings of their first names (Kathryn), first names that are last names (Taylor), double names (Jane Ellen), surnames as middle names who are called by both names ("Hey Mary Harris!").
  • Pledge a sorority.
  • Drink sweet tea (See "tea" below.).
  • Make pimento cheese (usually an old family recipe).
  • Love bows.
  • Wear sun dresses.
  • Wear pearls.
  • Love pink & green.
  • Marry young (by northern standards).
  • Tailgate in style at sports events and steeple chases.
  • Refer to their elders as Miss ("Ms." isn't a word in the southern dictionary.) or Mr. followed by their first name (Miss Maureen).
Bless her/him/your heart: Prefix or suffix to an insult usually followed by backstabbing. 
* Source

I'm the first to admit that Washingtonians are geographically predisposed to gossiping, backstabbing, mudslinging and scandals. That's why I gave up gossiping for Lent. Easter has come and gone, so I can resume talking trash about people as along as they are "blessed." See glossary below.

Kathryn Stockett is a true GRITS. I've found that there are some tell-tale signs, so they are pretty easy to peg. From my personal observations, true GRITS:
You can also tell true GRITS by their lingo. Here are some common words and phrases I've heard followed by their meanings:
-- You know, it's amazing that even though she had that baby 7 months after they were married, bless her heart, it weighed 10 pounds.*
-- Bless her heart, she’s so blind, she couldn’t see the moon shine.*
Buggy: Grocery cart.
Coke: Any carbonated soft drink.
Sounds like "fur": For.
Daddy: Dad.
Fixin': (vb.)  About to do something. I'm fixin' to to get drunk.
Girrrl!: Say what? No way! or Shut up!
Hey: Hi.
Hey girl: Hi Maureen.
Holler: Yell or call. Don't holler at me. or I'll give you a holler.
Mama: Mom.
Might could: Might be able to... or You could...
My word!: Oh My! or OMG!
Parking deck: Parking garage under or next to an office building or shopping mall.
Pitch a fit: Have a fit.
Sugar: Term of endearment. 
Tea: Sickeningly sweet iced tea.
Tore up: Upset.
What's that?: Say again.
Wreck: A car accident. 
Y'all: You all -- 2-4 people. 
All Y'all: You all -- 5 or more people.

Bring it on GRITS. Do you agree with my observations? Did I get anything wrong or leave anything out?

Down on the farm...


I'm delighted to introduce my very first adult guest blogger Elizabeth F. who is a faithful follower and commenter. Unlike me, she is totally tech savvy. She "clouded" me her photos, which threw me for a huge loop. [Note: I had to reformat her text, so if you see any typos, etc. it's my bad, not EF's.]  I'll also add that she is a fab baker. Her macaroons put Alon's to shame.

When Elizabeth told me she was going to Blackberry Farm for her birthday I just knew you all would want to see and hear about it. I've been jonesing for a trip to the farm for years. Jealous, of course.

Before turning it over to EF, I thought you might want to get to know her a bit.

Tea or coffee? Tea, preferably English breakfast with lemon and honey
Favorite city? San Francisco
Spring or fall? Spring, with a few points deducted for pollen
Bloom of choice? Tulips 
Style icon? Gwyneth. Don't yell at me.
Linens? Serena & Lily
China pattern? Wedgwood signet platinum
Most prized possession? Our family photos on hard drive and the vintage cake topper from my grandparents' wedding
Girl crush? Carrie Brownstein 
Boy crush? Alex Trebek, the mustache years 
On weekends… A "long" run, children’s sports, the Sunday NYT and hitting up Taqueria de Sol

Interesting, especially the Alex Trebek crush. Without further ado...

Hello blue mopheads readers! I had a milestone birthday at the end of last year (let's not talk about it) and my husband J planned a weekend at Blackberry farm as my bday present. I have been interested in BBF for a while. It appears on those "best places to stay" lists pretty often, and it sounded amazing -- a working farm that is known for great food and unique events like concerts, visiting chefs, etc. And, it's nearby in Tennessee. So, I added it to my mental bucket list. I may have mentioned this to J at some point. I'm older now, so I can't be expected to remember everything.

So when J told me that he had booked us a weekend there, I was THRILLED. But then sad because we would have to wait three months to go. But then happy when the weekend finally arrived!  
The property is immense with thousands of acres. The main buildings are spread over just a few. 


We stayed in the “Washday” cottage -- named for a type of pea, not how I describe most of my days at home. It was adorable. The furnishings and a fireplace made it so cozy. It came with a golf cart, so we could zip around the grounds to explore.



We roamed the grounds during the day. You can just pop into wherever - the dairy, the butcher, the horse stables, the greenhouse. The staff is happy to stop and chat with you about what they do and life on the farm.  

  
Dinners were held in the barn (the restaurant at BBF), which is gorgeous -- all reclaimed wood inside and these massive chandeliers and candles everywhere. Downstairs there is a wine cellar that stores 150 thousand bottles (!!!).  I mean, wha? It just is beyond. 

The fabulous barn designed by Susan Kasler via
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During our stay, the main event was a big Americana music festival with late-night concerts in the barn both nights. The first night was the Howlin’ Brothers from Nashville – lively and fun. The second night Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett performed. They were just indescribably lovely and warm and amazing.  


Let's move along to the food, because that's something I never get tired of talking/thinking/reading about. We enjoyed some fantastic meals.  

Things I ate that I loved. [Title is a ripoff of this hilarious blog that Mindy Kaling used to keep.]


Mac and cheese
My favorite part of any m&c is the crunchy, browned topping. You guys, their version for Saturday lunch had crispy bits on top AND throughout! I don't understand how they worked this magic this but I found the
actual recipe and I will be trying it asap. I can make a lot of things, but I do not make a good m&c. I think this is because I find a recipe and it always has like 48 lbs. of cheese and cream and whole milk and I immediately go into substitution mode and use skim milk and less cheese and then I wonder why it is bland and not creamy. I'm going to try and resist doing so bc this one is sooo good.

Poached egg with asparagus and bacon vinaigrette
This sounded delish, but its inclusion in the "Small and Light" section of Saturday's breakfast menu worried me. When I questioned our server, she tried to assure me, oh yes, it's the smallest thing on our menu, we can take away some of the toast, etc.  I was like, let me be clear. I do not desire small and light. But it was divine. I mean I love a poached egg anytime, but the dressing added salty, tangy deliciousness to it and the super fresh, barely cooked asparagus underneath. [Just to be safe, I also ordered a biscuit with spicy sausage gravy on the side.]

Salad with preserved lemon and radishes
Those guys can work a dressing, but the preserved lemons OWNED that salad. The teensiest cubes of lemon among the snap peas and radishes provided incredible little zings of flavor. I think the lemons could easily be added to an at-home salad to make it special. Not sure where to find. Alon's? Research needed.

Caramel popcorn
Unexpected treats are the best kind -- like when you discover leftover birthday cake in the office break room at 3 pm on a random Tuesday. You wish a silent happy birthday to "Steve" and you dig in. During Friday night's concert, servers came around to the tables to deliver this still-warm caramel popcorn, which was puffy, crunchy, sweet, salty perfection in beautiful hammered copper bowls in an amazing setting of candlelight and music.

An unknown number of Diet Cokes from the room fridge and elsewhere. Diet Coke is delicious and healthy. I think I learned this on Dr. Oz one time. DC in a glass bottle is a delight. The clever BBF people stock the room minibar with complimentary [not complimentary in the least, because you are paying to stay there, but there is the illusion of them being free] glass-bottled sodas, juices, waters and little snacks. But there's more! This nice couple we met clued us in to the fact that there are secret stashes around the property. So you'll be wandering around and go into a little tackle shed or whatever and find a minibar hidden behind a door. Like geocaching with peanut M&Ms as the reward!

Sweet tea fried chicken and cheese grits
LAST MEAL FOOD for reals. Dinner Saturday night was all divine (s/o to the Brussels sprouts + bacon), but these two dishes were exceptional. Everything was served family-style. Unfortunately I was last to the grits (not cool), so I did not get the quantity I wanted (aka very many bowls). Super cheesy bc of the homemade chevre-like cheese and amazingly velvety in texture. The chicken was brined in the sweet tea, so it was juicy and just the tiniest bit sweet but then kicked in with some cayenne spiciness in the golden crust. YUM.

We left Sunday after brunch rested and happy and more than a few pounds heavier.  I admonished J because he wanted to take some of the cokes with us (“Omg, no!  That’s so tacky!”), as I counter-swept all of the Aveda toiletries into my bag.  It was an unforgettable weekend at BBF and the perfect birthday present.  


Thanks Elizabeth for sharing your trip with us. 

Have you ever been whisked away for a special occasion weekend? My most memorable was an anniversary weekend on Cumberland Island -- accommodations at the Greyfield Inn, not camping out in the wilderness with the wild boar and other creatures.

Shake, rattle & roll

Poor Lane :(
The Mad Men premiere (Sunday, April 7 @ 9:00 pm) countdown has begun. I can not wait! It's time to stock your bar for the coming attraction. While you're at it, check out the Mad Men cocktail guide.

As mentioned in my cocktails post, bar carts are trending big time. And, wheels are the way to go. Here are some of the fab bar carts I've been seeing on the blogosphere. Too bad I don't have anywhere to put one.

Brass is back...

Milo from Restoration Hardware

Lisbon Bar Cart from Arteriors


Shiny gold...

Ronald Gold Leaf from Worlds Away

Normandy Bar Cart Gold from Bungalow 5 

Classic...
classic bar carts
Classic Bar Cart from Restoration Hardware

Cosmopolitan Bar Cart with Glass Top, Polished Nickel
Cosmopolitan from Williams Sonoma

Modern...

Modern Metropolis by Ralph Lauren 

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Modern Bar Cart from Pieces 

Rattan...

South Sees Bar Cart from Serena & Lily

Delaney Rattan Bar Cart | Pottery Barn
Delaney Bar Cart from Pottery Barn

And, some pretty cool trunk bars. Just for fun, let's play a game of high/low. Which of these two bars is more expensive -- is it trunk #1 or #2? Leave your guess in comments. No cheating!

Trunk bar #1


Trunk Bar #2

Photo images: 1, trunk bar #1, trunk bar #2
 
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