Today, I have been fully successful at being unsuccessful at absolutely anything. Following a two-day Oktoberfest Chattanooga Market, I am simply useless, unable to accomplish a single task: house cleaning, book work, freelance writing—all of it sits untouched, like the lunch dishes yet on the dining table. I’ve been twice, thus far, to the Starbuck’s atop Lookout Mountain. I enjoyed apple pie for breakfast and again post-lunch. And I have played more than one round of Jelly Car on my iPhone.

Needless to say, the sun room is adorned with dog-hair tumbleweeds (oh, yes, I was also supposed to brush the dogs); the recycling may soon collapse in on itself implosion-style; and I will surely resort to bottom-of-the barrel underwear (tie-dye) tomorrow morning. What’s more, and this is simply inexcusable, I have tons of yet-salvageable basil waiting to be made into pesto. There is a chance of a first frost tonight, but still I sit by the fire indulging my lethargy.

Here’s the thing: the anxiety of uselessness builds on itself. I’m now not only not accomplishing anything, but I’m also spending so much time lamenting my inactivity, that, at 3:17 p.m., it’s as if I’ve exhausted all possibility of redeeming myself.

There is a bright spot in the day, however: someone else’s cooking. Though I generally love cooking in any form (talking about cooking, reading about cooking, writing about cooking, cooking itself), there are times when it’s nice to have something prepared for me—something which I won’t have to analyze for its book-worthiness. There are no notes to be taken, no precise measurements, just a little silver tray in the fridge bearing meatloaf, potatoes, and steamed carrots courtesy of my in-laws. They will need to be warmed, of course—twenty minutes or so in the oven. But they’ll be no mincing, no mixing. The flavors will be a surprise (I haven’t paired them after all); the dishes will be minimal; and I will end my day in the perfect do-nothing style in which I began.



Last evening, my friends Monica and Brian hosted their wedding reception at Chattanooga’s Pot House—a lovely log cabin on the banks of the Tennessee River. The party was perfect. In the utterly brisk woods, with an old-timey band (two guitars, a mandolin, a tuba, and sear-sucker suits), we enjoyed corn dogs of various sorts (jalapeno/pineapple turkey dogs, traditional all-beef corn dogs, and veggie corn dogs) and a brilliant autumn-foliage-themed cake with a meringue layer. The crunch of meringue aside a thick layer of silky buttercream—pop rocks step aside, this is the textural sensation of the adult-set.

Previous to this, Chris and I were in Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-Ole’ Miss game. Here, as is standard, we visited Dreamland. Now, deep breath, for me, the Dreamland ribs are an aside; I’m not crazy for ribs after all, with their need for tugging and tearing, their required toothpicking post-consumption. No, for me, the very best of Dreamland is the fresh, cottony white bread and sauce. The sauce provided initially (in its neat, Styrofoam cup) is good. But the sauce that drips from the ribs and pools plate-bottom, flecked with bits of charred meat, is divine. Its vinegary bite, eased by the grease of the ribs, emerges a run-off of twangy-complexity and smokiness. And the quilty-soft sponge of Sunbeam is the ideal transport.

With nary a vegetable in sight, this weekend was pure Southern-style perfection--good parties, football, and an abundance of meaty deliciousness.



Lettuce. (I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but check this out.)

My sweet market-neighbors Carol and Walter of Rainbow Hill Farms sold me this still-in-the-dirt head, and informed me that, as needed, I can pull mature leaves from the bottom, keeping the rest intact. The head will continue to grow and produce (sunny spot, watered and fed, of course) indoors, over the winter, indefinitely. Fresh lettuce via countertop all year long!

Need a few leaves to add some crunch to warm roast beef and provolone on rye? Rather than buying a whole head at the grocery, just clip a few and crunch-away.

Hungry for a salad? Lob the whole head off with a kitchen knife and continue to feed and water the roots. A new head will blossom in a few weeks.

I suppose I should count myself lucky for all the hours I’ve spent peddling spice blends out-of-doors among growers and artisans and bakers and happy shoppers. (At 35+ markets a year, that is roughly a minimum of 6 weeks of my life in total; yikes!) But, I have to be honest, this time of the season, market starts to feel like a drag. Sunday mornings, I want to lay in bed with my husband watching Meet the Press; I want a mimosa-accompanied brunch, damnit; I want to laze in the web of a two-day weekend.

But here’s the thing: just when the season starts to lull and the summer’s tomatoes disappear, there’s something new—be it veggie or bookmaker, coconut cupcakes or big band festival—that makes the market new again. This time, it’s lettuce. And if I can keep it alive and thriving, it is sure to have me satisfied until the first arugula glows its verdant glow on the spring market tables.