Caramelized Apple Mempops

I never thought the day would come. I co-branded a popsicle. And no, not just any popsicle--a Mempops popsicle.

Crafted with homemade caramel and Jones Orchard golden crisp apples, the recipe contains an apple core-infused simple syrup, a golden apple puree, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. No artificial sweeteners or supplements--the Mempops philosophy of all-natural, all-local ingredients is applauded by local customers and especially by the Caramelized brand.

I stepped in the Mempops kitchen last week to taste-test the Caramelized Apple recipe and watch the popsicle process come to life. We toyed with citrus and sugar levels, identifying that this pop shouldn't be too sweet nor too savory; and I personally wanted to stay away from the artificial pumpkin space fad flavor (sorry, Starbucks friends).

The end product is a culmination of mild autumn flavors, calling toward a new season without parting too quickly from the last one. The Caramelized Apple pop reminds me of a lovely apple cider that refreshes the palette and pleases the sweet tooth (without overwhelming it). 

Just because summer is over doesn't mean your popsicle craze has to end. Cool off a heated day at work or a brisk autumn jog with a Caramelized Apple Mempop! Available at the brick-and-mortar store, on the mail truck or among carts around town, this popsicle is calling your name, ladies and gents. Let them know Cara sent you!

The Best Memphis Frozen Treats

The Best Memphis Frozen Treats

I know I'm not alone when I vent about this humid heat wave. High temps are admittedly preventing me from enjoying the outdoors and prompting me to eat more ice cream than a Ben & Jerry's breakup. However, I've chosen to satisfy my frozen fix with local scoops and sips. Try these and out let me know who to add.

The Best Memphis Cheese Boards

Ask anyone who knows me--My last supper will forever be a cheese and charcuterie spread. The quintessential appetizer that draws together dinner guests and gets the evening going, a cheese board takes many forms but holds true to its foundation. I enjoy experimenting with different spreads, jams, cheeses and meats; though the magic is truly in the pairing. My best cheese board bets are below; which is your preference?

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1. BARI RISTORANTE The luxurious antipasti opportunities are extraordinary, offering a la carte ordering service with two full pages of salumis, cheeses and accompaniments. Let your waiter help craft a perfect palette for two, four or eight. And don't skip the prosciutto.

2. LOFLIN YARD Perhaps it's the rocking chair and Coach House porch view, or the French bottle of red that I plucked from the shelf of the Safe House--Nonetheless, it's a package deal at Loflin Yard. The cheese plate offerings are selected collaboratively between Loflin's executive chef and bar lead to ensure wine and barrel-aged cocktails match appropriately. Earlier in the Spring, I especially enjoyed the picked red onion and watermelon with the brie.

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3. ECCO ON OVERTON PARK The cheese and antipasto plates--offered separately or together--pile high with rich berries, cheese blocks, nuts and tapenades. The starter is truly a feast in itself...And we don't mind it.

4. ANDREW MICHAEL ITALIAN KITCHEN I usually boast about the cheese; but in this case, the freshly baked bread slices and irresistible olive tapenade make this appetizer a home run at the original Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman establishment. Andrew Michael's new-ish bar lounge is a can't-beat backdrop for this cheese and charcuterie plate.

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5. 387 PANTRY (do-it-yourself) I love to take inspiration from restaurant experiences into my home. Thus, I cannot finish this list without recommending an outpost to create a show-stopping cheese board in the comfort of your own abode. I trust 387 Pantry on South Main to hand over the fresh cheese, salumis from Porcellino's, fancy crackers and spreads (like Flo's tomato jam). You might even walk out with a cutting board.

6. SOUTH OF BEALE SOB's seasonally inspired snack plate offers pre-cut cheeses with hearty sides--a hummus of sorts, fried deviled eggs (hello), glazed pecans and toast points. Their Downtown patio calls my name on an almost weekly basis, and I can never go wrong with this snack of champions.

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Loflin Yard (Memphis)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset My autumn move to a Downtown Memphis townhome was met with the realization that, like most of my neighbors, a stereotypical "backyard" wouldn't exist. In exchange for the traditional green lawn I had once enjoyed in my childhood suburbs, my backyard is now defined as the mighty Mississippi River. I fall in love with the neighborhood more and more each day; but just last week, I realized I would no longer need to sacrifice the nostalgic backyard feeling.

Loflin Yard instantly became my backyard.

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The inviting and invigorating environment epitomizes Southern comfort. Time stops when one takes a step on the Loflin Yard grounds. I have twice already intended to "stop by" after work or on a weekend afternoon and, two hours later, find myself in deep conversation with new and old acquaintances. It's wonderful, truly.

And, of course, the drink options are incomparable for the Memphis landscape. Barrel-aged cocktails are practiced and, in my opinion, perfected by bar lead Mary Oglesby from Milwaukee. Though she's been in the craft cocktail business for years, Memphis is now her new home (and drawing board) in the category. I'm especially fond of the Barrel #2, the rested gin martini with lemon.

If you're with a friend or group, curated wine bottles are available inside the original Safe House building. Pick out a bottle of rosé, take it to the bar to be corked and chilled in a galvanized tin, and tote it around. The freedom is exhilarating and authentically hospitable.

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The menu is succinctly Smoke House-focused--smoked pork tenderloin (above) and smoked trout are the shared main course stunners. Crispy peanut slaw, grilled corn and the grilled romaine salad are a few other menu stand-outs. I'll be frequenting the cheese board on Wednesday and Thursday late afternoons, as well. It's refreshing to watch the preparation from the screened-in kitchen and, upon ordering, take the trays out to the lawn or under the Coach House porch.

I already find myself craving the smoky flavors, and I've already decided the Smoke House will be my new fragrance of the season since I inhabit the lawn so often. Apologies, Prada.

Join me in my and Memphis' backyard later this week?

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The Best Memphis Burgers

These, my friends, are the best Memphis burgers. I cannot select just one, as my hometown unsurprisingly challenges the identity and definition of an American classic. Whether Asian-inspired, French-inspired, or dive-bar inspired, you'll be blessed to bite into one of these during your weekend in town. Which do you most prefer?

1. KWIK CHEK, Bibimbap Burger Korean bibimbap takes new form -- Burger style. Spicy red Korean sauce and mayo are spread on either side of the grilled bun, then layered with steamed cucumber and bean sprouts, a slice of cheese cheese, and a sunny-side-up egg. The patty itself is most impressive and thoughtful -- chopped ribeye with a teriyaki-style marinade.

2. BABALU TACOS & TAPAS, Baba Burger Oddly enough, I prefer the burger over the "tacos" or "tapas" namesake. The fluffy sourdough bun hosts roasted roma tomatoes, truly divine caramelized onions, ripe avocado slices, applewood smoked bacon, and chipotle aioli alongside the natural angus beef.

3. EARNESTINE & HAZEL'S, Soul Burger Best enjoyed after midnight, the soul burger draws tourists and neighbors regularly in the South Main dive bar and lounge. Cheddar cheese, pickles, grilled onions, "soul sauce," and juicy patties grilled on the bar back define the establishment's rule, "Keep it simple, stupid."

4. FOLK'S FOLLY CELLAR LOUNGE, Gourmet Burger Taste the legend in a more casual form than the steakhouse's ribeye. A blend of renowned ground prime beef from Humphrey's Prime Cut Shoppe is prepared exclusively on weekend evenings in the Cellar Lounge (or for take-out).

5. CAFE 1912, 1912 Burger Spread with aromatic roasted garlic aioli, this hearty French bistro-style burger melts in your mouth, especially with crumbles of bacon and Maytag blue cheese. Parmesan pommes frites pile high on the side.

6. OSHI BURGER BAR, Oshi Burger Though other burgers on the menu are tasteful, this burger is named for the restaurant for a reason. Wagyu American Kobe beef is topped with soy glaze, shiitake tapenade, Swiss and housemade Umami mayo.

A Caramelized Staycation at the James Lee House

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It's undeniable that many of us struggle to truly "get away" from the hustle and bustle of work and commitments. The notion of an out-of-town trip poses questions of logistics, flight costs (especially from Memphis), and miscellaneous work conflicts. Nonetheless, I've found the solution that creates a fine line yet fulfilling separation between home life and a genuine getaway: the staycation. Photos by Donny Granger of Creation Studios

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Memphis' premiere bed and breakfast, The James Lee House, will always be my staycation of choice. Its opulence overwhelmed me in the best way possible, as the historic, restored mansion (in the Edge/Medical District) is less than 2 miles from my Downtown town home but felt like 5,000 miles away in France.

I nourished in the sweet touches of hospitality by owners José and Jennifer Velasquez. Freshly baked (from scratch) oatmeal cookies were ready in the state-of-the-art kitchen upon my arrival, instantly elevating the mansion's coziness from rain showers outside. Southern white rocking chairs basked the front porch, and upholstered seating throughout the parlor and dining room welcomed travelers from near and far.

Before Alex picked me up for a nearby dinner at Ecco on Overton Park and nightcap martini at Mollie Fontaine Lounge (across the street from the bed & breakfast), I caught up on some reading in the grand parlor with a glass of pinot noir and faint orchestral music in the background. The novel I packed along in my Moore & Giles leather weekender had been sitting on my nightstand at home, unopened, for over a month. The luxurious and calm atmosphere of the James Lee House naturally opened the door for an hour of uninterrupted, cherished reading time.

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To complement the home's complete restoration--from to exquisite interiors and top-of-the-line amenities--I turned to Oak Hall to select a luxe, lounge-able look for the evening.

I hinted the upcoming Valentine's holiday with a blush-colored Rebecca Taylor cropped tweed embroidered jacket. The blazer draped over an everyday staple--the Joie Alicia silk racerback tank in Porcelain--and was paired with an daintily trendy Joie Meriner crepe trouser in navy.

I brought along slippers for the room, though I slipped on the Loffler Randall Amelia sandal in wheat just in time for dinner.

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The contemporary classic bathroom boasted elaborate marble and fluffy white towels in every corner. I brought along Trish McEvoy body cream--available exclusively to Memphis at Oak Hall--and a natural-toned makeup planner with brushes and blushes for the evening.

The evening was effortlessly enjoyable. And though I've had Ecco's mushroom pasta and Mollie Fontaine's crisp dirty martini already once before, the staycation attitude refreshed those previous dining experiences. Taking the extra few moments to pack that perfect outfit, plan that romantic meal, and lift those feelings of stress made all the difference.

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And, of course, I was counting down the moments to breakfast, diligently crafted each morning by José and Jennifer, the dream team. An 8 'o'clock arrival in the breakfast room was welcomed with hot coffee and a display of raisin cream scones--made from scratch (because who are we kidding).

The second course was a dainty yogurt parfait, layered with Jennifer's Meyer lemon raspberry marmalade, Greek yogurt, homemade granola, and a sprinkle of fresh berries. Fresh and utterly delightful.

The third (and final) course was rich and ridiculously tasty -- I still remember the first bite of buttery prosciutto and hollandaise with a poached egg on a buttered english muffin. The side of potatoes were caramelized in fresh sprigs of rosemary, among other herbs. It was a joy to watch José and Jennifer work together to plate each ingredient, who worked with such focus and emitted a light of appreciation and pride for all they'd accomplished in their years of planning. I shared that pride with them.

Whether you choose to staycation solo, or with a friend or lover, the well-deserved break offers an opportunity to unwind, relax, and refresh--all in less than twenty-four hours. And with Valentine's Day soon approaching, I know just the gift for that special someone or for yourself...a stay at the James Lee House! Tell them Caramelized sent you.

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This post was made possible by The James Lee House's generous hospitality, Oak Hall's fine wardrobe offerings, and Donny Granger's exceptional photography. Thank you for being supportive of my sponsors!