Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spring? Summer? Please?

I love Memphis. 

But this winter seems really, really, REALLY long. 

Basically it's like Arendelle in Frozen. 

Also that movie was fabulous.

But as much as summer in Memphis is terrible sometimes, I really need it to be warm again. 

Especially after we got teased last weekend with a perfect, drinking beer on the Second Line patio, Saturday afternoon. 

So sunny. So perfect.

So I'm ready. 

I'm ready for mimosas on the Boscos patio.

I'm ready for summer festivals and concerts, at Levitt Shell and the Botanic Garden.

I'm ready to mooch off of my friends who have pools.

I'm ready to jog and walk and run and dog walk in my neighborhood.

I'm ready for Memphis to look like this again.

I'm just ready for the city I love to look like herself again.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Recipe: Black Forest Cake Trifle

This recipe is kind of a sham.

It's really just an excuse for me to talk about problem solving and show off the awesome dessert I made.

So it's a sham, but it's a delicious sham.

My friend Ashley's birthday was yesterday, and for MONTHS, she's been bugging me to make her a Black Forest cake. She said, "You're German, you can make those!"

Well...ethnicity aside, yes, I can make a Black Forest cake. The name in German is Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest cherry torte. Really, it's not named after the place, but after the liquor from that region that is distilled from cherries. 

Of course, Germany is a big country. 

*this is from

The Black Forest is actually in the southwest, near Stuttgart. 

The cake was originally associated with Berlin, in the northeast. 

My family is from Gerstenberg, a little town about an hour south of Leipzig, close to the Czech Republic's border. 

So I don't know how being German (my great-grandparents were from Germany, and I absolutely have gotten yelled at in German, but I'm also a lot English, Irish, and Native American) from Gerstenberg means I can make a Black Forest cake but I went with it. 

I mean, it was her birthday. 

Now, most Black Forest cakes look like this: 

*And, actually, this isn't the German dessert I grew up with. We had it, but we also had magenflaster, which is leftover bread dough deep fried for a few minutes, then sprinkled with granulated sugar while it's hot. So basically the best food ever.

But Ashley doesn't really like sweets, so I knew she wouldn't want a whole cake, and I don't like cherries that much. 

And then it started sprinkling. 

See, Memphis is super humid basically all the time. But we've had a rash of warm weather, and it's super humid, and my kitchen, which is tiny, has both the dryer and dishwasher in it, which doesn't help. 

So my cake baked, but I couldn't get my frosting to set. 

So I improvised. 

And made a Black Forest cake trifle. Kind of. 

A trifle is really a custard dish, but I've loosely interpreted it to mean a layered dessert. 

Semantics really. 

I started off with this: 

Yeah, I'm not really a baker. 


It's a standard cake mix: 3 eggs, 1 cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Greased pans, 350 degree oven, you know the drill. 

You'll also need: 
Cherry pie filling
Maraschino cherries
Reddi-whip/whipped cream
Milk chocolate frosting

That's it!

After it came out, and I realized nothing would set, I roughly cut the cake up into bite size pieces.

*Also, we clearly have a powerade problem in my house. 

Since I was making a small cake for Ashley and I, I actually grabbed two wine glasses to put our cakes in. 

I started by putting in some cherries, a little of the frosting, then some Reddi-Whip and a few cake pieces: 

Then I just did 2 more layers and added a final layer of Reddi-Whip and a maraschino cherry: 

This was the perfect amount for one person. 

But of course I had made an entire cake mix. 

So I made a larger trifle for my house - we have people in and out a lot, and my roommate is a boy, and one of our neighbors and friends loves cake. It will get eaten. 

And since I don't have a trifle bowl, or any glass bowls really...I put it in tupperware. I'm very classy. 

I did this the same way. Just layers until the top, when I put Reddi-Whip and cherries and smushed them together a bit, then topped with some crumbled pieces of cake. 

So good. 

The cream and the cherries and the little bit of frosting keep the cake moist. I put mine in the fridge, and when I took it out, it had kind of solidified into a more solid, coherent cake. 

This is also a lesson in not being afraid to change the plan halfway through. The thing is, if your cake tastes okay, it doesn't really matter whether it's 4 beautiful layers or all smushed together in a pretty wine glass - your friends will still love it. 

And then there's this: 


Ich liebe dich, y'all!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Memphis Nosh: E's 24 Hour Cafe

I have a 2004 Kia Optima.

*Which will never be this clean.
**Also, don't stalk me.

It's nothing super fancy, although it does have cup holders, unlike my previous, much beloved 1994 Hyundai Excel, which finally died after about 7 years of me driving it like a bat out of hell, my mom driving it with a lead foot, and who knows what before we got it.

But seriously, this thing was a pimp:

*via wikimedia.

I loved that car, which was a gift from my mom for my high school graduation. But it did have some quirks. And when I got a "new" car, I expected similar quirks and strange things. 

(And by quirks I mean no cupholders, eventually no glove box, and the weirdest seat belts ever. Like the ones that go back when you get in the car, but always attached at the top of the door, with a separate lap belt. And my drivers side one was sewn back together with fishing line. Safety first people.)

I just attract weirdos. 


A few months ago I went to Gateway Tire on Poplar to get a squeaky noise fixed. Turned out it was my tensioner pulley, they fixed it, I was poor, whatever. 

And then it started squeaking again. 

I love Gateway, and they realized it was a bad part and offered to fix it for free right away and it was a great experience. 

See my Yelp review on them. 

I love those guys. 

But sometimes things take awhile. And I was starving while waiting for my car. 

So I decided to walk down to E's 24 Hour Cafe.

I love diners, and I'd heard good things about this one, which replaced all of the CK's in my area. 

*From their Facebook, before the Poplar location was finished. There don't seem to be any pics on the internet, and it was way to cold to stop and snap one. 

When you walk into the Poplar location, it's a little confusing for a second - I assume there's usually a waitress or hostess around, but it was such an odd time (after the lunch rush) that the cook was the only one there. He asked me if I wanted food to go kind of like it was the only option, and I said I wanted a table. He was really nice, and a waitress came out right after that and told me to sit anywhere. 

So it's a diner. Like Waffle House or like CK's was. You're not going for the five star service. 

My waitress was super nice, though, and gave me suggestions. I decided on a coke, the patty melt, and as many refills of coffee as she felt morally comfortable giving me. 

She suggested the patty melt with bacon and jalapenos. I'm a traditionalist, so I went with just the regular thin patty, cheese (American), and grilled onions on wheat toast. 

Holy burger. 

It was fantastic!

*Greasy, oniony, cheesy, excellent. 

You can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day, which meant I could get hashbrowns with my patty melt: 

*With cheese, of course. 

Okay, so I know I need to embrace my inner Russian judge more sometimes and not gush about how much I love this thing or that thing. 

I'm the Marshall Eriksen of approving things sometimes. 

But I have a special place in my heart for patty melts. When I'm back home, my dad and I make them on occasion, usually at midnight while in the middle of a Twilight Zone or Worst Cooks in America or Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon. It's our thing. 

So I'm picky. 

And I'm being serious. 

Outside of the ones my dad and I make, this is the best patty melt I've ever had. 

I also got endless refills of my coke and my coffee, which was the perfect diner coffee - dark, strong, and constantly kept warm: 

E's is definitely a winner. And this entire meal, with drinks, was like $9. 

Plus they let me sit there for 4 and a half hours reading my book while my car was getting worked on. 


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Memphis Nosh: Sweet Grass Next Door

Last weekend, after I went to see Spamalot, Joelle, Amanda, a few other Yelpers and I went to Sweet Grass Next Door for drinks and some food.

Next Door is the restaurant right next door to Sweet Grass (get it?) that's open later and has more of a bar feel than the original restaurant. I have no idea how to say that any more eloquently. Usually I just say, "Sweet Grass...Next Door."

Either way, both restaurants are fantastic. On the weekends, Next Door definitely feels like a cool after hours bar - if after hours bars were clean and had great food and didn't make you feel like you were making bad life decisions.

Because both restaurants are EXCELLENT decisions.

I started off with a Memphis Made beer:

*I had never had this one before, so our server asked me if I'd like to try a sample. Amazing customer service - and it was fantastic!

I like to try local or regional beers whenever I have the opportunity, and all of the Memphis Made beers have been great. I *think* this was the "Lights Out," but I'm not expert? Beer sommelier? 

After we had a couple of drinks, we decided to get food. Amanda got the charcuterie plate, which looked fantastic, Joelle got the burger (which, since I'm clearly on a quest for burgers in Memphis, I'll have to have soon), someone got the nachos and they were MASSIVE (I probably can't remember who because I couldn't see them over the nachos...). 

But I knew what I wanted. 

The best 3 words in existence. 




Now, tons of things look good on the menu: 

*Not the most current menu, or not exactly what we had, but close enough to get an idea.

But I have a long-standing love affair with chicken and waffles. Eat the Chicken and Waffle at Miss Polly's, on Beale Street, at 2 AM, and tell me you don't have the same feeling.

And that one is still amazing. 

But this guy. 



Really fluffy waffle, perfectly cooked chicken, really crispy skin, awesome butter (how does it taste so much better than regular butter!?!?), and some great syrup. 

This was huge. 

It was daunting. 

It was greasy. 

I ate the whole damn thing. And loved it. 

Especially with a good, cold beer and some awesome people, this was the best chicken and waffle experience I've had yet. 

So who wants to go back with me really soon?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Memphis Nosh: The Green Beetle

Last night my roommate and I went downtown, to The Green Beetle, to play trivia with some of the members of his kickball team.

We didn't do great at trivia (although I really like this trivia - we usually play at Young Avenue Deli, and it's fine, but Kevin Cerrito's trivia is great), partially because, being born in 1985, I was the oldest person on our team and it was 90's trivia.* But we did get all the names of the main characters of American Pie - the product of a misspent youth, clearly.

I did, however, succeed at ordering something fantastic.

The Beetle Burger.

*Well hello. 

The Beetle Burger is a 1/2 pound burger served on either toasted sourdough (what I got) or a honey wheat cranberry bun, and comes with steak fries, for $9.50. I added cheddar cheese ($1), and asked for pickles and onions only, with the burger cooked medium well. 

Holy shit. 

It came out and is MASSIVE. The fries have seasoned salt on them, and are some of the best steak fries I've ever had. 

But that burger. 

I'm gonna have dreams about that burger. 

It was amazing. 

I usually put a little mustard on my burgers, but even cooked medium well (I'm an inconsistent burger temp girl - sometimes I go medium, sometimes medium well, and if I'm someplace really sketchy, super well done) it was the juiciest burger I've ever had. And the bread was like toasted buttery pillows surrounding a giant delicious slice of happiness. 

I may have kind of dirty dreams about this burger now that I talk about it more. 

Oh my. 

Our waitress was also great, and the bar is tiny, but cute and super clean. It's on the corner of Main and Vance, and parking was super easy. It looks like they have some great happy hour specials, and their fire sale beers were really good. I had an ice cold PBR, but I'm just classy like that. And it's been around since 1939, according to their website. 

I can't wait to go back!

*In other news, I am unbelievably old.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Memphis Life: Spamalot!

First off, let me just say that British humor is some of the best.

Every semester when we talk about the Spanish Inquisition, my students get to see this: 

Really, no one expected it.

One of my favorite shows of all time is The Vicar of Dibley:

*And I believe...they might both be butter. In a cunning disguise.

A show that taught me the value of reading ahead before reading aloud, especially in old books.

Succor starts with an S. No matter how much it may look like an F.

And I love, love, love Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Actually, let me back up.

I love Monty Python.

And I love medieval Europe.

Especially Arthurian stuff.

I am way less of a weirdo than I sound like.


Because of all these things, when Memphis Yelp Community Manager Joelle created a Yelp Event to go see Spamalot, I was in.

Plus, front row tickets, for free, plus getting to hang out with some awesome people AND going to Playhouse on the Square for the first time?


*Via wikimedia.

Playhouse on the Square has been around for a long time but just opened in this new space in the past couple of years. The area is becoming very bustling, less than a block from Overton Square, right across from the coming Fresh Market, the new Hattiloo Theater, and the Overton Square parking garage (which I parked in - super nice!).

So the Playhouse is great, and I had some great company to share it with!

*Blatantly stolen from Joelle. Also hooray drinks! And my friend Amanda was there!

The bar is cash only, so be prepared. 

We got our drinks, and made our way to our seats. 

*Vodka cranberry. They do not skimp on the vodka. Be warned. 

Now, obviously I couldn't take pictures during the play, but we were right in front of the orchestra pit, and it was AMAZING. 

Here's another shot of the curtain: 

And one of my favorite songs (from the original Broadway run, with David Hyde Pierce): 

The play itself was fantastic. I am definitely not a theater critic, but I do love the theater. 

The first play I ever saw was when I was 11 maybe, and my mom took me to see her college's production of "The Tempest." 

I'm not 100% sure "The Tempest" is appropriate for 11 year olds. 



*BRB staying in to watch Shakespeare movie adaptations.

A couple of years later, I went to see a collection of gothic short plays in Little Rock for school.

Tell-Tale Heart, Monkey's Paw, that kind of thing.

Maybe I am that weird.

So I've seen a lot of plays, and a lot of different kinds of plays. And this one was great.

The Flyer did a great review, and I would only add that David Foster was fantastic as Galahad, and Carla McDonald was hilarious. The orchestra was also great - I'm constantly amazed by that level of skill.

So the show was great.

But getting to hang out with such cool people, at an event that encouraged local Yelpers, bloggers, and community members to interact, was the best part.

After we went for some drinks at Sweet Grass Next Door, which I'll review later.

(Spoiler alert: I ate a ton and drank awesome beer and I'm not sorry.)

Thank you Joelle, and everyone else who came!

And keep an eye out for future Yelp events!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Finally "Okay"

I've written a couple of times about my broken engagement in 2011, and how big of an impact it had on my life, both personally and in how I approach relationships now. 

And how, since then, it's continued to really rattle me, quite often. 

I do think reevaluating my relationships with my family, friends, and romantic partners was a really important thing, and I'll forever be thankful that, no matter the impetus, I did that work. I feel like I'm surround by a group of people who truly care about me, for me, and, equally importantly, themselves. 

I have amazing friends. 

And a great living situation for the first time in a long time. 

And a better relationship with my family. 

And I'm done with those who aren't on "Team Amber."

And all of that is amazing. 

But for the past 3 years, I've teared up when I saw wedding magazines. I've thought about my ring and what I should do with it a lot - and not in the financial or aesthetic sense, but the emotional one. Whenever a guy at a bar didn't want to talk to me, or didn't notice me, or a date went badly, or a boy didn't text, I would get upset and think that it was me* and that because I hadn't even been able to convince my ex to marry me, I wouldn't ever find anyone. 

Fuck that.

No really. 

I rationally know that that's not true, and that I need to be okay, because, while we're friendly now, my ex is not worth spending this many years crying over. I'm better than that. 

(*Sometimes it is me. I'm a loud, sometimes obnoxious, snippy, weirdo at times. But I'm interesting!)

Rationally knowing something is a little different from feeling it.

For example, you can convince yourself you're warm, but actually feeling warm is totally different.

So imagine my surprise, when, last week, I woke up one day and actually FELT "okay" rather than just telling myself I was "okay." 

It felt great.


It felt fan-fucking-tastic.

Understanding how sad I could be, how bleak the world could look, made me realize how good the happy times are. I won't say I'm "grateful" necessarily, but I'm sort of weirdly glad I got such a great life lesson. 

Of course I'm still sad sometimes. Of course I'm a little more cautious about trusting people. Of course.

But finally. For the first time since October 2011. I don't feel damaged. 

I'm not broken. 

And it's AWESOME.

I'm ready to date again (anyone got a setup for me?!) and I'm ready to be open to new friends and I'm ready to just be happy.

I really like myself. And it's nice to be back.