Grandma Tilly’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

May 15th, 2015


Dog people / cat people; cilantro / no cilantro; bikini / tankini / no-kini – there are a lot important preferences in this world but I discovered a new one recently: those who think pineapple upside-down cake is antiquated, disgusting, extinct even / those who find it to be the most fantastic thing either side of the Mississippi.

Our magical god-mother, Kristen, arrived to Hannah’s Easter party this year with a pineapple upside-down cake in-hand and changed my life forever. I spent much of the party saddled up to the dessert table eating the cake straight off the platter (my apologies… or rather #sorrynotsorry, that’s still a thing, right?). I had been converted and knew right then-and-there I had to make it for my husband’s upcoming birthday. When I told Kristen this she explained that her grandma Tilly had made Kristen’s father that very same cake every year for his birthday. Well, dear reader, I smell a new tradition in my house and it smells like rightside-up cake. And on the 8th day, God said, “please save me a piece of that cake.”

Since this is Kristen’s recipe I decided to pay homage to her by actually organizing my ingredients before I began; usually I am a wild gal with a bag of flour in a wet sink trying desperately to find baking powder while balancing bowls on top of bowls and trying to listen to my girl Lynne Rossetto Kasper talk about lard bread and latin-chinese-polish fusion desserts on my Splendid Table podcast… Kristen’s way is obviously better.


  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tall can of pineapple rings, or one fresh pineapple
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees – melt butter with brown sugar in cast iron skillet in the oven.

2. Separate yolks from whites and add a dash of salt to the whites.

3. Cream white sugar and egg yolks.

4. Sift or whisk flour and baking powder. Add the yolk and sugar mixture alternately with the egg whites, and 1/4 cup of pineapple slush (liquid and pineapple left over in the can mushed up).

5. Lay pineapples on top of brown sugar and butter mixture. Add berries if you wish to the center of the pineapples.

6. Dollop/spread batter into the pan and bake for roughly 30 minutes. DON’T OVER BAKE!!!

We were without a proper camera on the cake’s big day – many apologies. She was prettier than this in real life, but always remember that it’s whats on the inside that really counts: sugar and flour and butter and all that crazy stuff.

And thank you to Kristen’s grandma Tilly – who here looks like a Pineapple Cake Angel.


Tulum, Mexico

November 12th, 2014

My husband and I went to Tulum last month and if it weren’t for the fact that we have 2 kids at home, we would still be there. It was truly an idyllic spot that we never wanted to leave.
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It all began when we walked out of the airport in Cancun and were greeted by 80 degrees and a giant margarita stand. ¡Viva la Mexico!
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We wanted to stay at The Beach Tulum Hotel but my inability to plan in advance turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us. The hotel was booked and they suggested we try next door at Ana y Jose. It was the most perfect place on earth and once there, we couldn’t imagine staying anywhere else. We arrived to flower petals on the bed, sparkling rosé, and a private dipping pool! With 23 suites, you’d expect to feel on top of other guests but they’re spaced out really well with ample tropical foliage so it feels intimate and small. Since it was off season, it was quiet, uncrowded and just right for us.
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This is Ana y Jose, who I want us to be in 30 years.

Our first night we were tired and ended up just eating chips and guacamole (an omen of many a snack/meal to come) and drinking margaritas on our back patio. We spent the evening only speaking to each other in our version of the Spanish we learned in high school, long since forgotten. We found this to be wildly amusing, though I would imagine any eavesdropping staff thought we were idiots.
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While we did not stay at Coqui Coqui, we did walk down the beach to take full advantage of their spa services and a mojito. And by a mojito I mean several mojitos. There is a masseuse named Sara who was so amazing we ended up going back for seconds! I want her to come live with me. Had my Spanish been a little better, I would have invited her to do so. Coqui Coqui  is so lovely: small, impeccably furnished and definitely the prettiest hotel on the beach. I was in heaven in the perfumeria and can no longer imagine a life without their rose oil.
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Our second night we tried to go to Posada Margherita but they were closed for a wedding. The owner, Alessandro, was so gracious and apologized numerous times, gave us a glass of wine and drove us down the street to Casa Banana. While not our favorite, I have heard others rave about it and we loved the setting: a little jungle paradise at the end of the main road in Tulum. The next evening in a rain storm, we walked the pitch black length of the beach back to an open Posada and it was such delicious meal. We had pasta with broccoli and mushrooms and the most amazing red snapper cooked in sea water with ginger, everything unbelievably fresh and cooked in their open air kitchen. It’s a must-go spot for sure.
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When we planned the trip, I was adamant about visiting the ruins. Once we got to the beach and found our chairs under the straw umbrellas, that plan went out the window opting instead for lazy days with margaritas and chips with guacamole. We read and swam and did absolutely nothing. It was a dream.

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So sad that the only picture we have of us together from the trip is a #selfie! I am also taken aback by the fact that we were comfortable being sun glass twins on this particular day.
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I paid $20 for these three bracelets because I am incapable of understanding foreign currency.

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Our fourth night we had delicious drinks at Gitano and dinner at Hartwood. There is so much hype surrounding Hartwood and for good reason. We had the best ceviche in the history of ceviche. Red snapper and jalapeño. I could eat it every day. I had lobster and my husband had the charred octopus and every bit of it was perfection.
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Our last day, we strolled in downtown Tulum to get little gifts for the kids and experience life away from the posh hotels. It was a sleepy Sunday morning and we wish we had gone at lunch time and with a good appetite because there were so many taquerias that were the real deal and all smelled so delicious as we passed them by. I begged to take this baby hammock home. Mind you, we have no baby. I was denied despite my numerous pleas.
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I fell in love with this pup.

Our last night, we ended up at Gitano after we had a massage across the street at Coqui Coqui. We had pork and red snapper tacos and they were so good. Gitano might be my favorite spot in Tulum. The al fresco bar is so beautifully designed and with an October breeze it couldn’t have been more perfect. I just loved everything about it. The second we walked up I thought, “Why don’t we have anything as beautiful as this back home??”. And then I remembered Nashville is not exactly a little bohemian beach town. Sigh.
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It was such a beautiful trip with the most amazing food and perfect weather and I got to read TWO books which never happens in my real life. Our trip ended at a Margaritaville in the Cancun airport which is both humorous and endlessly depressing. After 5 days of the freshest fish imaginable, I ended our perfect vacation with a giant platter of “Volcano” nachos in an airport chain restaurant. And that’s when the finality of our vacation became very real.
Come hell or high water, I was bringing all of our sea fans we’d collected home with us. I managed to pack 4 in my suitcase but our big one wasn’t going in to any bag. I actually carried it home, swaddled in laundry bags like a very sad little baby. It smelled like horrible rotting fish and I thought I was going to be asked to deplane as I was making my fellow passengers (including my extremely annoyed husband) physically ill. We were red flagged at Miami customs, sent to agriculture and made to go through the X-rays normally reserved for drug smugglers. I was accused of stealing it from the Ocean’s floor to which my response was , “Oh good lord no! I have a very real fear of touching the bottom of the ocean.” That man hated me. But alas my beautiful sea fan made it home and after a vinegar bath (god bless Google for knowing everything), it sits atop our piano as a daily reminder of our happiest place on earth.
Next day it was back to our real life. Paradise just a blur.


Back in the Day Bakery

November 4th, 2014

My sister got married this summer and they took a road trip with stays in both Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC eating their way across these two great states. They visited Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah and it’s all I’ve heard about since! I picked up one of their cookbooks last month and immediately fell in love with the couple (Cheryl and Griffith Day) that own the bakery. I have since done an unhealthy amount of internet stalking and I am convinced we would be BFFs, unless they read this blog and discovered I have boundary issues when it comes to baked goods and those that prepare them. They just seem so lovely and happy and she was a Soul Train dancer for God’s sake! Most importantly, their recipes are AMAZING. My sister won a bake off in Brooklyn with the Bourbon Bread Pudding and the Blueberry Buckle is just so so good. But the be-all and end-all is their Chocolate Heaven with Chocolate Buttercream cake. I’ve NEVER had a better chocolate cake and I have been acquainted with many a chocolate cake. Bottom line, buy this cookbook! Even if you never bake anything out of it, I am convinced it’s mere presence imparts happiness. But you would be a fool not to take an afternoon to make this chocolate cake. I have just given you the gift of significantly snugger jeans. You are welcome.
I just loved this interview my other culinary obsession, Lynne Rossetto Kasper from the Splendid Table, did with Cheryl Day. You will find the Chocolate Heaven recipe here!
my best friends Cheryl and Griffith.

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March 10th, 2014

Cake is simply not allowed in my home. I do not possess one ounce of willpower or restraint when it comes to baked goods and lest I want to buy all new jeans and schedule a consultation with a diabetes specialist, I just have to get all manner of cake out of my house as quickly as possible. That said, I do love baking cakes for others and for just about any occasion. I am not sure if it is because I am such a generous and loving friend or if I am actually a sadistic bitch on a quest to fatten up my friends… Either way, this carrot cake recipe is the best. Given to me by our dearest family friend and cake baking goddess, Kristen deLauer, it is simply delicious. I should know. I ate the better part of the whole thing last time I made it. It had to be forcibly taken from me.
Here’s what you do.

Whisk together:
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil

Mix dry ingredients and stir in:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

20 ounce Unsweetened crushed pineapple
2 cups fine grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped raisins

Pour into two 8” cake pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes

2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter
2 8 ounces blocks of cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
make sure the butter is completely softened otherwise it won’t blend well. Cream ingredients together and frost cake in layers once completely cooled. You can add chopped walnuts to the top of the cake, some grated coconut or just leave as is.


Hers and His : Winter.

December 5th, 2013

Winter is perhaps the season I most look forward to. As soon as New Year’s day comes, I loathe the cold and dream of spring. But for those few weeks, winter is the most magical time of year. I am completely incapable of building a fire that does not involve a duraflame, it rarely snows in Tennessee anymore and I am chronically underdressed, but I love the things and rituals that go along with the winter season. Here is my Hers & His winter favorites…

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Kitchen Essentials

September 17th, 2013

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Summertime is basically 10 weeks of madness. My girls are at home wreaking havoc, it’s 4 million degrees outside and we are constantly traveling. So my time in the kitchen is limited at best. Once Fall sets in, I long to be back in the kitchen cooking and baking to make up for all that lost time. In that spirit, I thought I’d round up a number of my kitchen essentials; some I can’t live without, a few that I am still dreaming about and all of which will make your own kitchen efficient, well appointed and all and all, a happy place to be this fall.

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That Time of Year : Homemade Chili and Football

September 12th, 2013

My favorite time of year is when football season begins. There is nothing I love more than brisk Sundays on the sofa watching football. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the actual sport itself (I will never forget the look on my father’s face when I asked if the Braves were a good football team), but rather that it heralds “chili season”. And I live for chili season. If I were honest about how much chili I consume in the fall and winter (and even in the sweltering heat of summer) it would be one humiliating admission. Truly, I would be a viable candidate if there were such a thing as a chili-dependency intervention. Growing up, my mother put chili over spaghetti which is a-mazing (ala Cincinnati institution Sky Line-style) but I am a bit of a puritan and prefer to skip the spaghetti altogether. And seeing how I eat alarming amounts of the stuff, I have, out of necessity, come up with a simple and über healthy recipe that is oh so delicious. And the little ones LOVE it. Like mother, like daughter.

What you need:

1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 c. shredded zucchini & carrots
1 28 ounce can or box of chopped tomatoes
1 10 ounce can tomatoes and green chills (rotel or the like)
1 lb ground turkey
15 ounces drained dark red kidney beans
15 ounces drained red beans
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
salt & pepper
cayenne pepper to taste

what to do with it :

In a stock pot, sauté onions and garlic in good olive oil until translucent
Add in zucchini and carrots (shredded in the Cuisinart)
Add a bit of chicken stock or juice from tomatoes if needed to cook down vegetables
Cover and let cook on medium heat unit the vegetables have cooked down and are very soft
Add in tomatoes. Cook a bit longer
With an emulsion blender blend until vegetables are pureed but still maintain some texture

In a separate skillet cook the turkey until done and browned
Add to pot along with beans and spices. Let simmer for an hour or longer.

Serve topped off with grated cheddar, sour cream and green onion or chopped Italian parsley.

I add beer to mine in lieu of the tomato juice/ chicken stock- Shiner bock being my favorite.
When I am not feeding this to my kids I add tons of cayenne.



Cooking with Big City Grits

August 21st, 2013

Bologna Bowls

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While my blog is named after two of my grandmothers, I had one more that I absolutely adored: Cauzette Crowell. She was a hilarious East Texas transplant who was filled with an endless amount of love for her family. But let’s be honest, the name Cauzette just does not roll off the tongue, so she did not make the cut. One of the great mysteries of my life is why she went by her middle name, Cauzette, when her first name was Addie which is lovely, the name I would later give my first daughter. Then I consider the fact that her sisters were named Frankie Whortense, Orella and Modena and I just stops trying to make any sense out of that bunch. She was originally from the tiny town of Buchanan, TN, a woman of deep faith who was prone to speaking in tongues, a collector of “what nots”, a dyed in the wool Walmart shopper and madly, madly in love with David Hasselhoff.  She was also the world’s worst cook. I asked my Dad not long ago what grandma cooked for him when he was a boy and the only thing he could come up with was bologna bowls. Fried bologna in bacon fat with fried sauerkraut on top. I feel nauseated just typing the words. My sister, Carrie, of Big City Grits incorporated this recipe into a beautiful cookbook she made for all the Crowell daughters, a collection of the recipes from all the women of our family. Carrie and I wanted to do a joint post, and as we both love to cook, we wanted to do something in the kitchen. While we in no way endorse or recommend this recipe, we wanted to honor ole Cauzette with a bologna bowl. The left overs were sent home to Dad for a little East Texas nostalgia.

Carrie and I set out with our shopping list (dictated by dad):
-cheap bologna with the red string thing on it
-frying oil (Grandma used bacon fat but we just went with vegetable oil as we were not ready for that level of commitment).
Vivian & June
Heat 2 skillets with oil or bacon grease.
Sauerkraut into one.
Vivian & June
Remove red string from the bologna.
Vivian & June
Vivian & June
Fry bologna in other skillet. In theory it should fry up into a dome creating a “bowl”. Ours was reluctant.
Vivian & June
Vivian & June
Once the bologna and sauerkraut are fried well, top bologna with sauerkraut.
If you are Carrie- enjoy! If you are me- you just try and keep it down.
Vivian & June
Vivian & June
Cauzette and JW Crowell back in the bologna bowl days.

Make sure you check out my sister’s blog Big City Grits. In addition, our dad wrote a beautiful memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks about his young life as the son of Cauzette and JW Crowell. Truly brilliant. And I don’t just say that because he’s my Dad and I love him so.



August 2nd, 2013

Last fall, I was visiting my family in New York for my step-dad’s 60th birthday. My mom pulled out her new cookbook, Southern Cakes, which she had bought at the iconic Oxford, Mississippi bookstore, Square Books. She proclaimed that she would be baking “Gigi’s Fabulous Caramel Cake“ for the birthday soiree. This was the best caramel cake I had ever tasted albeit not the prettiest. Near Christmas, I was traveling in Mississippi and stopped in Oxford where I too purchased Southern Cakes at Square Books. Easter came and I decided to make the caramel cake for my annual Easter egg hunt. Naturally mine would turn out to be impeccably beautiful and I would send my mom a picture to show her how it’s done. Well, I had no idea how difficult it was to work with caramel frosting and my frosting job made her’s look like an Ina Garten creation. Humbled, I resorted to making an extra batch of frosting and putting a second layer on it to try and make it look half way decent. Truly, it did not matter as the cake was so good it was gone in 20 minutes. Every baker, Southern or not, should own this little gem of a cookbook. And every daughter should just accept the fact her mother does everything better.

Gigi’s Fabulous Caramel Cake

3/4 cup butter
1 cup milk
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
7 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Combine butter and milk in a small sauce pan and cook until the butter melts. Let cool. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and mix well. In a large bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beat well at high speed until smooth and thick. Stir the dry mixture, egg mixture, milk mixture and vanilla together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour batter in to prepared bake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool.

In a sauce pan, combine the brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat so that the frosting oils and bubbles gently. Cook for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Beat the warm icing until it thickens. Place a cake layer, top side down, on a cake stand or plate. Quickly spread some icing over the top and cover it with the second layer, top side up. Ice the top quickly and then spread the remaining icing over the sides. If the icing become too hard to spread, warm gently over low heat add a spoonful of evaporated milk and then scrape and stir well until the icing softens enough to spread again. Dip a table knife in very hot water to help soften and smooth icing out once it is spread.


48 HOURS IN…Atlanta

July 30th, 2013

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A four hour drive south from Nashville, Atlanta is the South’s “big city”. As a teenager we made pilgrimages in search of prom dresses, to see concerts that had bypassed Nashville and once upon a time there was even a shop in Little Five Points where you could buy fake IDs (Sorry, Dad!). I moved to Atlanta in 2005 and my first daughter was born there. I had a little white house on the edge of Buckhead and midtown. Right in the middle of a metropolitan city but on a quiet, pretty tree-lined street with a half acre. I loved living there. Today I go back 6 times a year on buying trips, antique hunting and inevitably end up eating and shopping (for myself) way too much. Here are a few of my favorite {Atlanta} things…

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