Alabama’s oldest restaurant, The Bright Star in Bessemer, is looking a little brighter these days.
First know that this restaurant is a real treasure. I’m not just referring to the delicious Southern (and Greek) food there. The hand-painted murals in the main dining room have been restored recently to the kind of bright, shining glory that Bright Star diners haven’t seen in decades.
The famous murals were painted more than 100 years ago by an itinerate artist in exchange for food and lodging.
There are safety nets everywhere you look, but there also are little holes in these nets–just the right size for your hand and an iPhone.
Tip: You’ll need to get a free ticket with a specific time for entry, and you’ll do that near the north tower, around the corner from the main entrance. There’s a kiosk onsite for this, or you can use your smartphone while you sip wine at a nearby cafe.
Five-Carat Soul (Riverhead Books) by James McBride was one of President Obama’s favorite books from 2017. I enjoyed it, too, and included it in my book recommendations on WBRC Fox 6 in December. This is the first new fiction from McBride since his National Book Award-winning historical novel, The Good Lord Bird, which was about John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry. Five-Carat Soul is a collection of never-before-published short stories about race and identity and history and understanding. Fans will recognize McBride’s insightful, humorous style and his ability to create remarkably lifelike characters. These stories are all over the place. Consider the antiques dealer who discovers a legendary toy commissioned by General Robert E. Lee in the home of a black minister in Queens. In another story, an American president gets inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable. Then there are the highly entertaining stories from members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band. McBride was at The Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham not long ago. You might still find some signed first editions there of this book or McBride’s Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown and the American Soul or The Color of Water or The Good Lord Bird.
I didn’t have time to go to my local Hispanic market, Mi Pueblo, so I grated some lime zest and added it to sour cream with a little lime juice for my Mexican crema. We added the extra pureed chipotle chiles in adobo to the finished soup for a bit more heat. And some of us—the more daring of us—just scooped it onto tortilla chips.
1.Open a dedicated checking account. Our daughter made a budget (with extra money for unexpected expenditures), and we opened a checking account with that amount. She was great about keeping up with everything on a spreadsheet, and she and her husband-to-be could spend the money as they wanted–and keep what was left over! 2.You need a wedding planner. These people coordinate weddings for a living. You probably do not. Even if you are a great hostess with amazing ideas and skills, you need someone else to make it all happen as easily as possible. We hired Jayna Goedecke, of Jayna Goedecke Designs, for the month of the wedding, and she was absolutely amazing. Her day-of schedule was seamless. An hour before the wedding, she oversaw moving the reception indoors, and all I had to do was stand back and watch it happen. That alone was worth every penny.
3.Trust your vendors. Give them direction, sure. Pinterest pages are perfect for this! But then, trust them to make your vision happen. That’s their job. We asked Jessica Morris at Hothouse Design Studio for rich colors and texture and got bouquets with pink roses, burgundy dahlias, succulents and olive branches; gorgeous mirrored lanterns next to weathered driftwood; and beautiful, loose arrangements in silver goblets and baskets made of kudzu vines by an artist from Alabama’s Blackbelt region.
We wanted Southern dishes to reflect food traditions from our town (Birmingham, AL) and Will’s hometown (Shreveport, LA). Our caterer, Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, came up with a beautiful and delicious menu of oyster po’boys, black-eyed pea hummus with cornbread crackers, and roasted Gulf shrimp with McEwen & Sons grit cakes. She even put together a biscuit bar with hot chicken, barbecue pulled pork and bourbon cane syrup. Roasted duck and gnocchi dumplings were a fancy version of chicken and dumplings. Laura Wilkerson Photography captured the special day perfectly. She even took photos of folk art in our home (where the girls got dressed).
Mary Jane Clements of Makeup Mary Jane made us all look great with fabulous up-dos and lots of false eyelashes. 4.Start with shoes. This is going to be a big (long) day for everyone … including the MOB. Both Allison and I shopped for our shoes (comfortable ones!!) before even looking at dresses. 5.Encourage the groom’s family to match. This happened with us quite by accident, but looking at the photos, we saw that the groom’s family ended up in various shades of blue and purple and black. They looked stunning together. 6.Fun gifts. Spend a little extra money, if possible, on an unusual, fun gift. We rolled various colored pashminas with a little tag that read: “It’s a Wrap! Thanks for joining us! Love, Allison and Will” Then we placed them in big baskets around the venue. They were a huge hit! Even some of the men took a few. 7.Song requests. We asked on the response cards, “What song will get you out on the dance floor?” Then throughout the night DJ Divine called people by name when he played their songs. It was a great way to keep everyone engaged.
8. Make your own rules. Instead of a big, fancy wedding cake, the couple had a beautiful little “naked” cutting cake, baked by IZ, and lots of bite-size pies from Pie Lab, which is in Greensboro, Alabama. The pies, especially the brown-sugar buttermilk, went quickly! Also, my daughter bought her dress at David’s Bridal because she found one there that she loved. It looked beautiful on her, and our tailor made it fit perfectly. Some people were taken aback that she didn’t buy from a high-end boutique, but she figured she would only wear it once and wanted to spend more money on other things.
9.Enjoy what the day brings. Allison’s outdoor wedding at Vulcan Park & Museum had an uninvited guest: Hurricane Nate showed up during the reception. We already had moved most everything inside and put the DJ under cover. When the rain started, DJ Divine kept playing, and one bridesmaid walked out into the rain and started dancing. That’s all it took! The rain photos were amazing, and the wedding suddenly became very memorable.
10.Know that nothing’s ever perfect. Something will go wrong or, at least, not quite as planned. There might even be a hurricane. Look around at all the special people who have gathered to enjoy the day with you. Then take a deep breath and move forward. Enjoy yourself! At this point, you’re entitled to that, too.
Chicago in fewer than 48 hours still is exciting. Here’s how:
Lunch at The Purple Pig (a James Beard Award-winner). An afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s the second-largest art museum in the U.S. It was hard to walk away from Monet’s Wheatstacks in any season. Dinner at Sepia. They do amazing things with okra here: The seeds were scraped out and picked and the pods julienned and flash-fried. That’s a rose made of orange rind floating in my delicious drink. Spend a few hours in the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center.