Dinner on the Bridge: A ‘smashing’ success!

Guest Carol Evans runs for the shuttle as torrential winds and rain whip into “Dinner on the Bridge” at about 7 p.m. yesterday.

The “Dinner on the Bridge,” a benefit for the Arts & Culture Alliance which closed the Gay Street Bridge last night, was supposed to end at 8:30. Instead, it came to an abrupt conclusion at 7 p.m. when torrential wind and rain swooped in, turning over tables and sending wine and water glasses crashing to the street.

Nevertheless, it was a big success, raising more than $55,000 and giving about 200 folks an evening of camaraderie, music, dinner and a chance to bid on dozens of pieces of original local art. The only live auction item (thank you for not having dozens of those!) brought $1,100 for a whimsical work by artist Ryan Blair.

I was nervously watching my Dark Sky app on my cellphone, which at first said the bad weather would arrive in 45 minutes. Then 25. Then 3. Then 1. And WHAM, it hit. I was pretty impressed by that app! Continue reading

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Even Mother Nature loves Ijams and the Symphony

In the 32-year history of Symphony in the Park, the fun, fun event where the Knoxville Symphony plays at an outdoor fundraiser for Ijams Nature Center at the nature center, there’s never been a rain plan in place. And, although some years have been close, there’s never been a rain-out.

A beautiful night at Ijams Nature Center listening to the Knoxville Symphony.

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Longtime couple tie knot quietly, celebrate out loud

Ted Smith, left, and David Butler were honored with a swell gathering last weekend to celebrate their marriage.

David Butler and Ted Smith have been together as a couple for 20 years. This past Thanksgiving, they decided to get married in a small, quiet ceremony in Connecticut attended only by the couple who first introduced them.

This past Saturday, Caesar and Dorothy Stair and Ann and Steve Bailey hosted a  party at the Stairs’ breathtaking home on Lyons View Pike to honor them and celebrate their legal union. It was neither small nor quiet!

David and Ted seem to be the quintessential evidence that opposites attract. David, the executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, is outgoing, gregarious, sardonic and hilarious. Ted, who works for IBM, is quiet and content not to attend every party in town (although he can be pretty sardonic, too!).

Alan and I are proud to count both of them as friends. Congrats, guys!

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‘Evening Under the Stars’ hits all the right notes

Bruce and Tami Hartmann on the dance floor.

Among  our favorite events each year is one called “Evening Under the Stars.” It is held at Sherri Lee’s beautiful waterfront home off Houser Road and it benefits the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, which performs at the annual event.

The food, by Nancy Kendrick’s Creative Catering, is always great. Randy Burleson’s Bistro by the Tracks provides plenty of wine, thankfully including some non-chardonnay options!

The crowd is always in a good mood. And the dance floor always gets crowded. Surprisingly, this year the party went on even though the hostess was in Italy! But, after having done this for more than a decade, the volunteers and professionals who make it happen have it down to a science.

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Gulf gumbo: the good, the bad and the inexplicable

Seafood gumbo at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores. Best gumbo in L.A. (Lower Alabama), if you ask me. The menu says it is made from roux that is stirred “until your arm falls off!”

Just as I think that everyone’s favorite beach is the one they most visited as a child, I feel the same way about gumbo. Gumbo, by its very nature, is something that every cook prepares differently. And you like the one you grew up with.

My mother’s side of the family is from Louisiana and my grandmother, Nanny, was a fabulous cook. My brother and I grew up eating and loving her gumbo.

Nanny’s gumbo was almost always shrimp gumbo. She didn’t put sausage in it. She might throw in some crab meat, if she found some that looked good. Her gumbo was made with a medium to dark roux, but not too dark. And it was relatively thin. A little bit of viscosity was achieved at the end of cooking when she sprinkled in a generous amount of filé powder — ground sassafras leaves. Continue reading

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Gorging on the Gulf: 4 days, 9 restaurants

The chargrilled oysters at Acme have a secret blend of butter and spices. (I’d kill for that recipe!)

After Hurricane Harvey and before Hurricane Irma, Alan and I headed for the Gulf Coast. The eating in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama area, our favorite beach, just keeps getting better and better. We made a point to visit some of our favorite places and also try eateries we had not before visited. We went to everything from dives to white tablecloth restaurants. Come along!

Acme Oyster House

As always, upon our arrival, we headed straight to Acme Oyster House in Gulf Shores. Yummy, once again. We actually ate there three times during our four days! When we like something, we REALLY like it!

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Even puppy can’t steal the show from this cook

Kim Trent, the executive director of Knox Heritage, attended this event with her new puppy, Charlie Chaplin. “I named him that because he’s a little tramp,” she laughed.

Here’s a little tip for deciding which of Knox Heritage’s many great Summer Suppers you want to attend each year. Of course, it’s good to look for an interesting setting. And the date has to fit your calendar.

But another key thing to look for is this name among the host committee: Melissa Charles! I’m telling you that lady can cook! If you see her name on the host committee, the food is going to be amazing.

Alan and I selected the most recent Summer Supper we attended based on that fact — and because our friends Julia and Gary Bentley and Mickey Mallonee also were on the host committee. The location was the 1927  “eclectic Tudor” style home of Linda Phillips and Ken McFarland in Fountain City, winner of one of Knox Heritage’s Fantastic Fifteen Awards due to its painstaking expansion.

The homeowners, who were intent on increasing the size of their tiny kitchen and adding a carport/workshop, really wanted to match the style and appearance of their existing house and preserve its rooflines. The project took 13,500 matching bricks and concrete roof tiles salvaged from three different homes! But what a beautiful outcome they accomplished.

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Quarry setting serves up Spanish ‘Summer Supper’

Chef Matt Gallaher preparing salmon escabeche with cucumber gazpacho, sturgeon caviar and crema. We had a Spanish-y theme going this evening.

A spectacular garden landscape on a beautiful evening. Convivial friends and acquaintances. And a wide range of delectable seafood dishes prepared by one of Knoxville’s most talented and in-demand chefs. That about sums up the Knox Heritage Summer Supper held last weekend at the lakeside home of Lane Hays.

Even at $250 per person, this Summer Supper was one of the first to sell out. Originally limited to 24 guests, the number was eventually raised to allow a few folks on the waiting list (like me) also to be included.

The fact that Hays’ garden is built in an old quarry makes it visually exciting and dramatic. Huge boulders and unexpected cliffs, curves, waterfalls and streams make it an adventure to explore.

Matt Gallaher, chef owner of Emilia, the popular new Italian spot on Market Square, and Knox Mason, the popular (and tiny) Southern food bistro on Gay Street, went with a Mediterranean theme for the food and his sommelier, Connor Coffey, selected wine pairings from countries on the Iberian Peninsula.

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Knox Heritage opens can of beans (even for dessert)!

Melinda and Jim Ethier do a little shopping in the gift shop. Jim, the chairman emeritus of Bush Brothers, is the grandson of the founder, A.J. Bush.

When Alan and I signed up to go to Knox Heritage’s Summer Supper at the Bush Brothers canning plant in Chestnut Hill last weekend, we expected that we’d have beans as part of our dinner. But I never dreamed they would be featured in the dessert! Yep. And we’re here to tell you that pinto bean pie is delicious! (More on that later.)

Bush Brothers traces its history to 1904 when founder A.J. Bush partnered with the Stokely family to open a tomato cannery in Chestnut Hill. The business proved so successful that in 1908, Bush bought out the Stokelys and established his own independent business with the help of his two oldest sons, giving birth to Bush Brothers & Company. All the while, the family continued to operate a general store that Bush had opened in 1897 near the plant.

“My grandfather’s first love was always that store,” confided Jim Ethier, the company’s chairman emeritus, when he addressed the Knox Heritage group on Saturday. “He loved interacting with people.”

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Delectable dinner at the Hazens’ — circa the 1920s

Food historian Patrick Hollis discussed the history of grocers, restaurateurs, diners, ingredients, dishes and practices of the Roaring 20s in Knoxville.

There are several challenges incumbent upon those who try to recreate a meal from times long gone. First of all, the original ingredients might not be available. Secondly, trends and tastes have changed. Thirdly, you never really know exactly what the recipes were because they were written so imprecisely long ago.

Nevertheless, the folks who run Knoxville’s historic Mabry-Hazen House on Dandridge Avenue gave it the old college try last weekend when they invited guests to “dinner at the Hazens’ ” as it would have been served in an affluent Knoxville home in the 1920s. Nine of us guests attended and had a fabulous time — even if we did fudge a little on the details by making a run to buy wine during the middle of the dinner. (Knoxville, like the rest of America, was in the throes of Prohibition in the 1920s. Although illegal liquor often was served before and after dinner, there would not have been wine served with dinner, we were told.)

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