Northern Girl in Nashville

Earlier this month I drove to Tennessee for a high school reunion. It was one of those x0th reunions. I won’t say which number. It was great to see friends, take in a few sights, and enjoy some southern cooking. I was nostalgic even before I hit the road.

Being born in Chicago, Illinois and living there until the age of 12 meant my tastebuds experienced childhood and early puberty in the up-north-and-Midwest then took an abrupt dive south as teen angst and adulthood hit me in the heart of Tennessee (and later the Carolinas and Virginia). 

Part Chicagoan and part Nashvillian, I am now 100% mishmash of north and south.

The flavors of the south sunk their roots deep in my soul and regularly give a little wiggle to make sure I’m paying attention. So when I crave comfort food, it is usually southern or country dishes. (Though, I will gladly accept pizza or sushi or tacos too.)

I love fried catfish and okra. Corn bread. And more recently pimento cheese spread (but it better be the good stuff). Tree-ripened peaches and homegrown strawberries…

While in the Nashville area (Lafayette, Mount Juliet, and Cookeville), I ate delicious, genuine southern biscuits and garden-grown corn-on-the-cob picked a few steps from the door and grown surrounded by a century farm (one in operation for over 100 years). I got to enjoy good food with dear friends. 

I drove a long way in a short amount of time (1300 miles crammed in to three days). But driving had its advantages.

Along the way there, I went through Sevierville, Tennessee. Sevier County is the original home of Dolly Parton. It has some beautiful land and views and is now filled with tourist attractions and outlet stores too. The one that caught my eye and pulled me off the interstate was the factory outlet store for Lodge Cast Iron.

I have long loved a good, well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and a cast iron Dutch Oven has been on my wish list for some time. The factory outlet store was filled with all these and more. I felt like a kid in a candy store with really heavy candy. I got a lid for my skillet at home and a very small Dutch oven. Just think of all the yummy food these heavy treasures can cook! 

I have a specific fondness for southern beverages too.

Iced tea is one of those. If you’re from the south you know that I mean sweet tea. Because in the south, if it isn’t sweet then it’s just a hot beverage gone cold.

So I’ve been on a mission this summer to make perfect ice tea and peach tea. Be in the lookout for a new Tea for Tuesday! 

My dialect is perhaps a bit more north than south, but it can jump almost all over the place. A little twang will pop out when I’m not expecting it (especially if I’ve talked to any southern friends recently).

It’s not just the drawl. In the south, for example, grown women can call each other “girl.” 

“Hey, girl!” “How y’all been, girl?” All sprinkled with a dash of twang that makes it seem perfectly okay to call somebody “honey” or “sweetheart” even if you just met and don’t even know their name.

Y’all are probably familiar with the term, “y’all.” In Chicago we said, “you guys.” It was unisex and if you had a strong Chicago accent it was pronounced, “youse guys.” Singular is “you” or “youse.”

I can say, “you,” or, “you guys,” just fine. And I occasionally say or write, “y’all,” too. (Maybe more times than I care to admit.)

But I have a hard time calling any grown woman, “girl.” Picture Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the terminator) saying, “hey, girl,” with a little southern twang. (Look at me! I’m trying to do slang!) Yep, that’s how I feel, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I sound too. It’s best if I just step away from the expression. 

But food is free game! My game. My tastebuds speak many languages.

My gracious hosts sent me on my way with an ample supply of yellow squash, tomatoes, pears, cucumbers, and corn too. 

Recipes ensued and there was much yummyness. 

There were happy memories too. I might have to go back again soon. (Or at the very least visit a Cracker Barrel.)


Cucumber and Tomato Salad (a mix of genuine southern-grown cucumbers and tomatoes with northern-Virginia, balcony-grown tomatoes, red peppers, and fresh herbs) – totally refreshing yummyness on a hot day.

Of Views and Berries

Writing 101, Day 11: Size Matters
Write about the house you lived in when you were 12. Vary the lengths of the sentences.

When I was twelve my mom remarried, and we moved from a bustling suburb of Chicago to a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. I wanted to run away. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my new step dad – he was great – or that I didn’t like the house – it was quite nice.

When you’re twelve you may not think there would be so many differences from one suburb to the next. But 40 miles outside of Chicago and 40 miles outside of Nashville were a world apart. At the time, Mount Juliet, Tennessee, was more country than suburb.

The downtown had about two stoplights. I had a 45-minute school bus ride that passed nearly every type of home imaginable. Everyone talked with an accent and quite a few called me, “Yankee.” Some asked if we were from Canada. It took time to adjust.

Our house was walking distance to a pick-your-own peach orchard. It was a hilly walk with uneven blacktop warped by the sun. The closest store was a bait shop.

We had one of the most amazing views in the four-county area. The hill was so high that military and civilian helicopter pilots used it as a landmark. Sometimes they hovered level with our windows. The whole house shook. Once a pilot waved at us from slightly below our eye level. Ultralight pilots buzzed over the treetops too.

Along with my stepdad’s job being pretty decent, real estate prices differed significantly between the two locales. We were able to get a nice house. So nice that it was rumored to have been built by Burt Reynolds for Dinah Shore back when they were a thing. Don’t know if it’s true. The house was lovely but never struck me as Hollywood celebrity caliber. The view, however, was worthy.

The exterior of our house was made of stone and rustic wood. Against the view, it looked like it was pasted onto the hillside with a scenic poster behind. I had nightmares of it sliding right down. But we could see for many miles – trees, tiny houses in the distance, wee boats in the sections of Old Hickory lake that popped into view through the trees. It was breathtaking.

Chunks of stone covered the bottom about two feet up in the front and the entire back of the walkout basement. Rough, gray wood stretched to the roof which was much higher in the middle and, after a steep slope, spread gradually out from the left and right.

The great room, as they call it in those parts, was smack dab in the middle of the house and had a high “cathedral” ceiling. In Chicago we called it a family room no matter how high the ceiling. The kitchen, dining room, and formal living room formed a section to the left. The bedrooms and bathrooms were on the right.

The kitchen was huge. It was large enough to feature a two-level island in the middle which had space to eat, room to prepare food, and several cabinets and drawers for storage. The island alone had more surface space than our entire kitchen table in Chicago. There was a built-in desk to one side of the kitchen and room enough for a full family-size kitchen table.

The dinning room was nice, but hopelessly overshadowed by the kitchen. I think we used it all of three times. Same for the living room. Our cat liked to play there. A stash of cat toys was regularly trapped under the coffee table just out of his reach.

Windows stretched from the floor to almost the ceiling in nearly every room. It was full of light.

At the bottom of our yard we grew tomatoes. Blackberries grew wild in the rough at the edge of our lawn.

The house was both rustic and beautiful, but once I got over being quite so homesick for Chicago I liked going to my friends’ houses too.

My friend Julie’s in particular was fun. They had a whole playroom above their garage complete with board games, a pool table, craft and sewing supplies, and a record player. Their house wasn’t huge, but their backyard was flat as a pancake. Great for playing! And every growing season they had a garden with the best strawberries I’d ever had. It’s still hard to beat those strawberries today.