Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort & Spa at Grand National

We’ve found our favorite hotel in this part of Alabama — the almost word-salad level name that is the RSA’s (Retirement Systems of Alabama ) Marriott closest to Auburn. I’ve come to really enjoy the RSA properties, and they regularly get very good ratings. Their Marriott portfolio includes:

Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center
Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel
The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa
Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spasort & Spa
Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel & Conference Center at Capitol Hill
Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa
…and this one at Auburn/Opelika

Hmmm…lots of blue and orange here…
The rooms are pretty monochromatic. They’re comfortable and we enjoyed the balcony view of the lake and pool
The pool is super fun and a nice size — our boys completely loved it.

———- A L S O ———-

Here are some fun things going on in the area:

It really is the loveliest village on the Plains, so just visiting Auburn‘s campus is always going to be fab

The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art is small, but often hosts interesting exhibits. For example, Creative Cadences: Works by Roger and Greg Brown (the Brown brothers grew up in Alabama) is showing through November 3.

Coach Dye has a Japanese Maple tree farm and nursery, with 5k+ trees for sale.

Try: Toomer’s always, Mrs Story’s Dairy Bar, and Acre, which is supposed to be amazing.

The Gogue Performing Arts Center opens this fall, and *wow!* Renee Fleming will be on stage September 24.

Birmingham in the Beard House, And Dol’s Recipes

A few days ago, a small team from Highlands Bar and Grill in Bham served supper at the James Beard House in NYC. Frank Stitt posted the menu highlights:

Island Creek oysters, old Mobile-style
Field pea salad, cucumbers, fresh dill, fried okra
Bayou la Batre shrimp & crab salad with sungold tomatoes, capers, roasted peppers,
green beans & Xeres vinegar
Roast Jamison Farm lamb loin, Richard Olney zucchini gratin, marjoram & savory
Dol’s lemon meringue pie and coconut cake, pecan génoise, crème anglaise

Dol was there making sure the desserts were perfect — so happy when she was recognized by the JBF as Outstanding Pastry Chef last year — and got me thinking about that fab coconut cake, always available at all three of Frank’s restaurants: Highlands, Bottega, and my fave, Chez FonFon.

The dessert table at FonFon. Someone beat us to that first slice.
This slice, one of many I’ve shared at Bottega. Though it looks a little thin, it’s tall.

The NYT published Dol’s recipe for her Lemon Meringue Tart (though you may need a NYT Food subscription to view) and the one for her Coconut Pecan Cake can be found free at the JBF site. It’s also, I’m almost sure, in the Bottega cookbook along with the recipe for the zabaglione cake, though I’m not at home this sec to make certain. If you’re not in the baking mood, you can call one of the restaurants and order the coconut for take-home with some notice…

Here’s her sweet potato pie recipe, and blueberry cobbler

———- A L S O ———-

For the last nine-ish years, UAB Hospital has partnered with Frank Stitt to offer dishes he develops for in-patients. I mean, yeahhhhh.

On June 19, the JBF will be doing a special Heritage: Tribute to a Nashville Legend supper: Arnold Myint (a.k.a. Suzy Wong) of International Market & Restaurant, Nashville. Their description:

Arnold Myint has been delighting diners for years with his outstanding food and drinks, endless creativity, and larger-than-life personality, but before Arnold was his Thai mother Patti, a Nashville culinary legend who left a community in mourning when she passed away in the autumn of 2018. Now Arnold returns to the Beard House to cook a special Thai-inspired dinner honoring the legacy she passed down to him.

Jaime Aelavanthara’s ‘Where the Roots Rise’

What will never stop being fun is going to the smaller museums and seeing shows that should be in much larger venues because they’re just that good. It’s like a little surprise. You know for some museums, they’re busy putting together regional art photography, or remixing the permanent collection to look fresh, or they’re making a benefactor’s very particular interest (or gifted collection) be a thing.

But what’s going on at the University of Mississippi Museum right now with Jaime Aelavanthara‘s ‘Where the Roots Rise’ exhibit is special, and a big institution needs to pick this up and give it a larger audience. In the meantime, we can feel really smart about driving out to Oxford and seeing it now (through December 1). And we can fit in some football and some Square Books and some Four Corners chicken-on-a-stick while we’re at it, too. Win, win, win, win, y’all.

This short is great for context:

The exhibit is described at the museum site:

Where the Roots rise, a series of tea-stained cyanotypes, serves as a reminder that the gap between nature and ourselves is smaller than we acknowledge. Decay runs rampant—seasons change—nature lies in await to stake its claim. 

above: ‘She Rests in Camellias’

Jaime Aelavanthara’s work articulates humankind’s capacity to decay as a marker of our identity. Set in the swamps and woods of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, natural places where one encounters life and death, growth and decay, the series chronicles the intimate relationship of a feral woman and her surrounding nonhuman environment. The woman collects the bones, branches, and flora and treads with the animals, both dead and living. Recognizing the deaths of other creatures, this woman observes in death, she, too, will be repurposed and consumed by the earth.

‘Mississippi Night’

The cyanotype process shifts focus from potentially colorful landscapes and figures to patterns, textures, and the relationships of forms within the images. Tea-staining the prints dulls the blue and adds warmth. Printing on Japanese Kitakata paper, which is prone to ripping, tearing, and wrinkling, reflects the deterioration of nature and gives the prints a feeling of fragility. Untamed ultimately reflects upon the forms, the impermanence, and the interconnectedness of natural life.

‘Bones of My Bones’



The Kitakata paper used takes this especially rustic look (plus, it’s tea-stained) and as I was standing there, I was inspired: it might be interesting to do larger-scale prints on paper sacks from, say Piggly Wiggly, and not only use the blank portion of the paper, but overprint on the logo side. I may give that a try.

‘Out of Africa’

The artist’s works (btw here’s her IG) are also available as cyanotype prints on her Etsy.


The Hidden Lantern, An Aside On Better Shoes, and Idees

It’s hard to be in Destin and *not* take in the little communities along 30A, so we happened to stop this time at Rosemary Beach’s The Hidden Lantern bookstore. While I have a special fondness for slightly dusty with a lovingly unorganized, come get lost, stay-the-week-we-don’t-care vibe (say, the book version of Charlemagne Records), this place has its…place. It’s completely put together and lovely. And you know there have been about ten thousand pairs of Tory Burch flip flops flipping through here.

Mine included. Well, actually my platform Donald Pliners, but you know what I mean.

(Just an aside on shoes: expensive shoes, always. Worth it. Those Donald Pliners have lasted years, literally. I have Cole Haans that look new after sixteen forevers. My Fryes will never die. I go to Belk every now and then and think I’m saving money by bringing Korks home (not even Kork Ease, what’s your deal, Belk’s?), and they won’t even make it past a summer. I have a gorgeous friend who wears my same size and she has impeccable taste in shoes, so I’ve often been the recipient of her fabulous shoe-ular generosity. They always look fab and last. Get yourself a friend like that. But no matter what, get the good shoes every time.)


When I saw this piece at the entrance, I immediately thought of the one at Perch on Magazine in New Orleans:

It’s the PolArt InsideOut bookcase

Get comfy:

Really likable: their labeling

And of course, their not-so-hidden lanterns, which look so familiar that I’m thinking I first saw a how-to on making them in one of my back copies of Marie Claire Idees.

P.S. the English translation of the Marie Claire Idees site is great and helps me not-so-much miss giving up the print edition (coming from France, it’s pretty $. You could Kindle it, but really, getting it in the mail with those glossy pages and the scent of French printing ink is mmmmmhhhhhh). At least, maybe peek at it online for holiday inspo or the recipes, which always look of course completely, fabulously French and thus especially wondrous.

Most Romantic Inn in America?

Earlier this year, we took the opportunity to visit the Henderson Park Inn in Destin, Florida again. It’s been voted the, and one of the, ‘Most Romantic Inn(s) in America’ by publications, and I mean…it’s pretty fab. I have two kids, so my hotel stays are usually along the Marriott and Hilton lines rather than amazing tiny B&Bs, but I get it.

The one thing I do want to point out especially is that they call themselves a B&B, but in my mind, a B&B is when you’re staying upstairs in the ‘Miss Cavanaugh Room’ at…you know…Barbara and Steve’s dream Victorian somewhere and secretly inside you’re all “where’s the tv?” but decide to roll with it and it’s fine, and in the morning you saunter down to the crazy formal dining room for their amazing cinnamon rolls and heritage breed sausage from Old Man Phillips’ farm and there’s perfectly-done eggs and just-squeezed orange juice and wanna-make-that-a-mimosa?whysuuuure.

Here, it really is more of a hotel. There’s a fridge in the main building with drinks you can take all day, and there’s a great breakfast with a smiling omelette guy ready to put whatever you want in that skillet, and there’s a sack lunch included to take for wherever you’re jetting off to during the day. There’s a happy hour at which I think giddily ingested three (free) glasses of merlot while on a swing just watching the waves go back and forth. But there are no ‘innkeepers’ and you don’t have to worry about making too much noise walking on creaky floors, or waking someone if you come in too late from supper.

Henderson Park Inn is situated right at a state park, so there is no development whatsoever on one side of the beach. The people staying there are nice-nice and the staff is super friendly.

Our room. Turndown chocolate is a Lindor truffle (though some local-ish chocolate would have been super nice), and we had a welcome gift of their own cookbook, which was a great touch. 

This tray with roses, wine, and fruit was also set out

There’s more than one grouping of rooms at the Inn, and this was the lobby at our small building. 

This is Destin, so copious amounts of time was spent on the beach. The sand really is sugar white and is so soft that it feels almost like walking on cake flour

There didn’t seem to be a lot of regular jellyfish in the water, but we did see this beautiful Portuguese Man O’ War and a couple others (if you’re feeling technical, this is not really a jellyfish, but the big thing to remember here is that you can get stung by this monster’s tentacles even with it beached like this, and it will seriously destroy your next few days if so)

We had supper one evening at the on-site restaurant, the Beach Walk Cafe (reservations also available on OpenTable, so easy-easy), which was completely lovely (and my pics here are not at all doing it justice)

There was an amuse, an app of shrimp cocktail and other of Kung Pao shrimp, a steak, and pork chop, all of which were delectable. Old-school but still charming that way, all the women leave with a single stem rose

What’s pretty new is The Henderson, their family hotel across the street. The takeaway is that Henderson Park Inn is for couples and The Henderson is for the kids and grandparents…everybody. It’s not *on* the beach, but they have a great pool and looooook how comfortable and lovely the rooms are. There’s tons and tons to do every day as well.

Staying at either place, guests are welcome to swim at The Henderson, as there’s no pool at all at the HPI.

And the lobby. The lobbyyyyyyy. Yassss.

The chandelier. My love.

We’ll definitely consider this hotel the next time we come down with the boys. Lovely.

Nick Cave: Feat. at the Frist

Unfortunately the Nick Cave: Feat. exhibit at the Frist is now over (I completely flaked on DFK earlier this year), but I got some great pics of it while it was up.

Loved seeing the soundsuits on what amounted to a walkway in a room studded with buttons. And just the whole thing was really well put together.

From the synopsis:

…A deeper look reveals that they speak to issues surrounding identity and social justice, specifically race, gun violence, and civic responsibility. His trademark human-shaped sculptures—called soundsuits because of the noise made when they move—began as a response to the beating of Rodney King by policemen in Los Angeles more than twenty-five years ago. As an African American man, Cave felt particularly vulnerable after the incident so he formed a type of armor that protected him from profiling by concealing race, gender, and class.

Along with broadcasting an increasingly urgent call for equity, Cave wants his art to spark viewers’ imaginations and aspirations. This exhibition’s title, Feat., refers to the exceedingly hard work that goes into attaining success (it takes, for example, roughly seven hours to hand-sew just one square foot of a button soundsuit). It also plays on how talent is often listed in promotional materials—an appropriate nod to Music City and its creative community. Through this immersive installation, Cave hopes to provide a transformative place where your narrative can be featured and your dreams can soar.

This was the 2011 ‘Architectural Forest’ made up of bamboo, wire, plastic beads, and acrylic paint. It seemed to change design as one walked around it.

Here, a multi-paneled wall relief

And my favorite piece, the ceramic dog on a chaise

Feat. opens September 14 at the Orlando Museum of Art.

Also: several Nick Cave beaded blankets are on exhibit through February 2019 in Concourse A of the Nashville airport.

Looking forward to the Do Ho Suh: Specimens exhibit at the Frist from October 12 – January 6, 2019 and the Diana Al-Hadid exhibit May 24, 2019 – September 2, 2019.

Chocolate Cake For Days

That wasn’t our first trip to the Gaylord Opryland this year. Back in May, we stayed there (an atrium balcony suite in the Garden Conservatory upgrade thanks to Marriott Platinum status) and visited the Nick Cave Feat. exhibit at the Frist.  First, though, here’s the room:

The living area was by the balcony, and the bedroom was just as one enter’s the hotel room.

Our view:

Supper one night was at the Old Hickory Steakhouse which, from reviews (people on OpenTable where I made my res like it better than people on Yelp), looks a little hit or miss, but we had a great experience.

Our table was outside under the atrium, so we got to view the rest of the area while we were dining

We started with the seafood tower, which had lobster, crab claws, shrimp, and oysters

I was boring and only wanted a Caesar salad for my entree. It was as expected suitably boring.

…though I did have a good amount of the creamed spinach and kale with gruyere and a poached egg atop which was delicious

…annnnnd a bite of this steak which was beyond:

…and and annnnnd ohmystars this crazy chocolate cake which completely rocked and no we didn’t even finish a third of it

Lunch that following day was at Arnold’s, which is always good — not mind-blowing, but solid yummy meat-and-three

Oh! And on the way home, we stopped at Stan’s in Columbia, Tennessee for anytime breakfast and cracklin cornbread:

Let’s get back to that exhibit though. Tomorrow. Pics of *amazing* Nick Cave works. Promise.




Tasting Menu at The Chef & I, Garth, And Pls Don’t Paint Buildings Like That

The tasting menu at The Chef & I in Nashville (close to Arnold’s) was incredible and just so much fun, owing to the chefs, staff, and owner Chris being super friendly and putting on such a great time.

There were cocktails — this was the Freddie Mercury, with Xicaru mezcal, Frida Kahlo tequila, jalapeno agave, and house sangria float…

I made reservations on OpenTable, and we were able to sit right at the counter — the chef/owner, Chris explained how much he was in love with this quartz and how it was one of the largest expenditures. He spent a while talking with one of my friends about the restaurant business and the operations there.

Being a tasting menu and changing so often, the servings weren’t listed on a menu. But I can say that every.single.thing was just crazy delicious, from the egg dish to the blackberry waffle to the shrimp with avocado, and our desserts — chocolate espresso creme brulee

and the heirloom carrot cake = so fab.

One of the most amazing things for me was that the kitchen staff seemed unhurried. They did everything efficiently and quickly, and everyone got their food in a reasonable amount of time, but they weren’t crazy stressed or running around like I imagine (and I guess I get that from too much reality-ish tv). In fact, when there wasn’t a server available and a dish was ready, the chefs would just bring it around themselves. Nobody stood on ceremony. It was just super chill.

After lunch, we didn’t even think about supper. It was off to the Grand Ole Opry to see Garth Brooks! He was last of course but played four or five songs and the crowd was SO into it. Of all the concerts I’ve been to, this short set with Garth was maybe my favorite. He is that much fun.

Afterward, we joined the rest of Nashville on Broadway at Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western Wear (there were two other big concerts going on that night) and got price-gouged by Uber going back to the hotel. Still, who cares!? It was crazy fun.

BTW, quick mention about lunch the next day: it’s been a forever since we went to Monell’s downtown, that we had to do it again — but this time at their location by the airport — Monell’s at the Manor. Y’all. I’m not sure their air conditioner was working and everyone was just burning up. And while usually one’s table mates are friendly, only one couple was really interested in chatting (the other was busy with their baby, and a group at the end of the table was busy talking about a supposedly worthless member of their family so whatevvvvs). The food wasn’t especially hot or flavorful, and the waiter took the fried chicken platter and never came back with it as he had promised another member at the table. Just meh. Soooo I don’t have to do Monell’s again for a while. And hoo. Why is the building they’re in painted like this?

And of course, our next adventure, going to Cheekwood for the Cracking Art exhibit, was divine. Crazy great weekend.

Cracking Art at Cheekwood

We got to see the Cracking Art exhibit at Cheekwood in Nashville and it was really fun! The show is closing September 2, so now’s definitely the time to go.

If you’re familiar with Cracking from the penguins at the 21C hotels, or you’ve just seen news about their other exhibits, Cheekwood made for a terrific setting because the sculptures were on view on the grounds of the garden setting, as well as in the mansion.

From Cheekwood’s site:
Cracking Art is a Milan, Italy-based artist collective born out of the intention to radically change the history of art by investigating the relationship between natural and artificial reality. By using 100% recyclable plastic materials, Cracking Art creates site-specific installations using large-scale, natural animal forms made of synthetic materials, playfully arranging meerkats, bears, crocodiles, birds, and other animals in surprising invasions of familiar landscapes.

We interacted with the giant bird and her eggs, and even rode the croc!

September 22 – October 21 is Cheekwood Harvest where, among other sights, is their famous 400+ gourd pumpkin house.