Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's a Man's World, but the Bedroom Don't Mean Nothin' Without a Woman or a Girl

So I spent last weekend in Atlanta. The conversation about gendered spaces came up again, although this time I got feedback from my boyfriend Chris, whose corner of his bedroom I had taken over. He scored points with me saying that the bedroom should be a shared space. Really?, I thought, as I reorganized my oversized suitcase blocking the master bathroom.

Ideally, a home, especially the bedroom, should feel as though it is a shared space for those who live there. Most men will take a back seat to decorating, protesting the occasional stuffed bird or pink walls (or curtains, in my case.) Chris's house, on the other hand, is distinctly his own, which is something I can appreciate. He has a plethora prints, a series of monochrome paintings that line his hallway, and a large abstract drawing that forms the focal point (though it competes with his "tiny" television) of his living room. There are leather couches, ample lighting throughout, and a pairs of glass doors that open to a porch (where both male and female smokers congregate.)

Where we were great at sharing space, aside from the obvious, was in the kitchen. Ordinarily, I am territorial in this space, but with the right person I move in tandem with my partner. The kitchen, I was told, was more or less an eyesore before Chris has his way with it. Now replete with slate and granite, and all new appliances, including a gas range, it's a cozy space, and probably the place where we spent a good amount of my visit. We cooked several meals together for ourselves and friends. There was his chicken, pasta carbonara, and chicken salad, paired with my risotto, steak, and grits.

Back in my tiny Oxford home, I crave the company I had in Atlanta. People complain about sharing a home, but I've realized how much we miss out on when we stir a pot of risotto together. A bed even seems more inviting when it becomes a place to disappear to together.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


"So," I ask my friends Michael, Matt, and Clarissa, "Is the bedroom a female space?" Earlier that day, my professor and I discussed gender and space and after determining the porch male, the kitchen female, and the living areas shared, we were left with the bedroom. 

Michael and Clarissa claimed female while Matt later recanted that it is solely such. His parents, he said, share everything. It's a his and hers house. The conversation ended and the guys proceeded to the porch while the women stayed in the kitchen. 

While they did whatever it is men do on porches (Clarissa posits that the porch is actually a shared space, and while I think she is right, it has only recently become this way), we women cooked and dished on men. 

When Matt and Michael returned, the conversation resumed. Matt pointed out how in the 1980/90s there was a change in Southern architecture that witness the den (male space) become a shared space with the kitchen. A bar often separated the two. I'm curious about the truth of his observation. When did the open floor plan take hold of the south? Was it something that the west coast or more urban areas embraced before we did? Very likely, but I'll get the facts from my architect cousin in Portland and let everyone know. 

For now, our group seemed content to interpret the bedroom as a female space. Then I remembered that my mother, in the last year or so, painted her shared bedroom pink. Not a soft pink, but a garish flamingo color. Light comes through the windows on late afternoon and it becomes for my parents what Dr. Charles Wilson calls "a sanctuary." And perhaps he's right. As I write, I am in my sanctuary. A bed with a heated blanket. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eat Like a Southerner

(Did someone just die, or are the Rebels playing?)

I finished the article on Helene DeFrance's cookbook/entertainment guide the other night. Reading it was rather timely considering I've been in entertaining mode for most of November. This month there was dinner with friends every weekend. There was Alysson and two other law clerks from Jackson (toast points with caramelized onion and Parmesan cheese, rosemary pecans, and the ubiquitous cheese plate), a baked ziti dinner (a la Marcella Hazan) with Alysson, Nathan and Scott Barretta, and most recently, a shared meal with Scott (a regular) and my friend Avon who spent the last year in France learning about food at Rose Bakery in Paris. The menu was simple: orrecichette with a bordelaise New Orleans-style sauce and salad. This weekend, I'll be cooking remotely in Atlanta.

(The Maryland Rebels and their pan-fried chicken.)

Entertaining is one thing southerners have down pat. Witness the Grove. Aside from weddings, I've never seen such decadent and decided planning of meals. What happens in the Grove has garnered the attention of national print in Saveur among other publications. Recently, I was to meet some editors there from Gourmet who were considering doing a story on the spectacle. A spectacle it is. When my brothers arrive next week from Florida, I intend on sharing this little piece of culinary heaven with them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On the Plate

What fortuitous timing. Yesterday, during a culture meeting for the company I work for, I was asked to make our new office "pretty." The enthusiasm for my selection stemmed from the knowledge that I whipped Pierce Avenue into shape in under a month. (The key to getting anything done is setting a deadline, and in the case of my new home, I set the date for a party.)

The company's new location will be at the corner of Van Buren and S. 9th, just across the street from St. Peter's Episcopal Church. The highlight of the place is not its "decaying elegance," though there is certainly something to be said of it, but its porch. I find it fitting that a company, which has positioned itself as helping businesses with their identity, would work out of a place reminiscent of a home. Homes are incubators of our identities.


(Signing with Helen DeFrance on November 28 at Square Books.)

Bess Currence Reed, formerly of Regal Literary out of NYC (and now all things BBB with her husband and chef, John Currence) just asked me to write about Helen DeFrance's forthcoming cookbook At Home Cafe: Gatherings for Family and Friends. I'll be interviewing Helen for an article that will tie-in with her event in Oxford on November 28.

Homekeeping Tip #1

(Alysson poised to pour.)

This in from Alysson Mills who refers to my home as "Mary's Jewelbox":

Here are two websites that you should be checking daily --

DISCLAIMER: Both sites provide sneak peaks of homes capable of producing house envy in the viewer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the Menu: Southern Kitchens

(Tasting the menu at Ravine.)

No discussion of the southern home is complete without addressing the bedroom (reading: Suzi Parker's Sex in the South; watching: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Before I explore that space, however, this week I'll be posting on the southern kitchen and the places we entertain.

Living in Oxford, Miss., creates more than a few examples for this conversation. Home of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization that documents and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South, as well as The Grove, a place on the campus of the University of Mississippi that becomes the picnic grounds for those attending the football games most weekends in the fall, Oxford is not short on places to eat. There are also a few restaurants on the outskirts of town, whose cozy settings coupled with a BYOB policy, create an at-home dining experience.

I'll be bombarding the blog with posts on all of these things, in addition to a write up of Julia Reed's latest books on home and entertaining, and my own ruminations on what it means to feed people. How did I become a hostess? There's a story there, I promise.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

In Which Mary Confesses to Being a Snoop

I have a confession. I like to know what people keep in their drawers and closets. Apparently, so do other people. As I finished packing my suitcase last weekend, Michael Hearst, one of my house guests, said something along the lines of, "Looking forward to going through your stuff." Hours earlier, I hid my journal and other unmentionables, but only for the sake of politeness. I laughed him off.

The subject came up initially at breakfast. Another person in the entourage staying at my house confessed to doing the same thing as a kid. I'm convinced that some of us have carried the habit into adulthood out of a yearning to "know" the other. While I can't remember the last time I employed my finely tuned snooping skills (and you wonder what we learn in grad school, hah!), my house provides the curious with a cadre of places to find things. One such thing is a long, narrow, wooden box with a series of small drawers. Within each of them are at least one of the following: shells, keys, sea sponges, feathers, prayers written on little pieces of paper, and marbles. Those are just the things I can publicly admit to hiding.

Why do we hide things that don't necessarily need to be veiled? Sometimes I think it is to simply be surprised by that which we possess, but have forgotten.

If the boys dug through any of my drawers, I wouldn't know. But I did receive this video that gives me at least a vague idea of what went on while I was away.