Last week, Husband’s beloved nana passed away. She will be remembered for her beautiful Georgia accent (which basically precluded all use of the letter ‘r’) and some of the biggest hair you’ve ever seen–never a strand out of place.

She's in the __ row, 2nd from the left... wearing pearls, of course!

She’s in the 4th row, 2nd from the left… wearing pearls, of course!

We took some time to look through a few old things while we were up for the funeral and came across this page from the July 1960 issue of National Geographic. I just love the colors! How perfectly ’60s. They were living in Hawaii at the time and this was snapped at her husband Ritter’s graduation.

Thanksgiving Conversation or Let the Games Begin

Thanksgiving conversation: That delicate annual dance between cheerful fodder and high blood pressure. There are rules to be embraced at times like these–lest you and your (insert your scandalous statement here) be the topic of conversation at the next family prayer meeting. So here are a few ideas on avoiding missteps during this annual foray into family front.

Topics to Avoid:

While it will be painfully obvious as guests eat their meal in peace and quiet that you have not blessed your parents with grandchildren yet, I would suggest that this is not the right moment to bring up that you also vote democrat.

No one cares about Scandal as much as you do. No one. And no, I don’t want to binge watch it so we can talk about it. No. Really.

Aunt Ivy may not have invited Clara Sue to that reunion, but who knew her address changed after the divorce? (Everyone but Aunt Ivy apparently.) All families have tiffs. If you are neither Aunt Ivy or Clara Sue, this issue is not yours. Sit there quietly and daydream about the Nora Ephron movie of your choice. (For me, it’s always the street fair scene in You’ve Got Mail when Rockin’ Robin is playing and Tom Hanks is in the turkey.)

Topics to Embrace:

Projects that involve just enough skill to be impressive to Uncle Bill. For example: An outdoor project involving a drill or shovel. Warning: Avoid projects involving saws as these stories always lead to unappetizing anecdotes.

Topics that entice a humble brag from your guests. People love to talk about themselves, y’all. Know your guests before they arrive, and encourage them to talk about something fab they’ve done lately.

Taylor Swift. She’s everywhere right now and your niece, grandmother, and even your brother Steve (after reading this Esquire article) can now openly admit they love her.

Your vinyl collection. Universal truth: 99% of people like music of one sort or another. People over the age of 49 have memories of spinning vinyl as they discovered rock-n-roll and made out in their parent’s living room. Those under the age of 49 relish the hunt for their favorite old records in pristine condition. Bonus: Every family has an audiophile at the table who will be more than happy to share the science of why records are superior to whatever you just downloaded from iTunes.

The Playlist

Finally, when in doubt, sit back and enjoy that you get time with this crazy special group of family and friends. Perhaps sit back and enjoy it quietly while listening to whatever music is playing in the background. Here is our Thanksgiving playlist…

In Which We Meet Our Goddaughter

You may have noticed a bit of radio silence around here of late. That would be because we have made not one but two trips to the east coast over the last couple of weeks in the trusty Volkswagen for a couple of big family milestones. The first one is really big (but physically very tiny) so she gets her own post.


We’ve made the choice not to post pictures of Goddaughter’s face here on our blog. But who doesn’t love baby hands and Brooks Brothers, right?

Weekend number one was spent near Washington D.C. meeting our goddaughter. I had no idea I’d ever have so much love in my heart for a little one. Her three-week-old self was tiny, floppy, and oh-so-snuggly. We were both completely smitten at first site!

Goddaughter’s parents, Tim and Jan, have been some of our very best friends for almost as long as we’ve been together (11 years!). So when we found out they were expecting, we were ecstatic! But you must understand that we are totally at that age when it seems everyone we know is either pregnant or trying to be at the moment. (Big note here: EXCEPT US!) Something must be in the water at work, there are numerous pregnant gals we pass in the park, and if one more person has the nerve to ask me about our timeline… Well…

Maude Season one

But to have two friends that we love and respect so much decide to bring life into the world? Well now honey, that changes everything! It was as if no one had ever done such a thing before–and even if they did, what are the odds they did it as well as my girl, Jan?

It is completely mind-blowing to see friends that you already respect so much as two morph into a family of three. And, not just that, but producing a tiny human that will change the world just by the fact that she lives in it. (I swear, I’ll love her just as much if she’s a concert pianist, an ambassador, or the next poet laureate.) Well, needless to say we are quite humbled that we get to support this beautiful little girl on her journey through life.

It is probably worth noting here that if you’d like an honest and hilarious look at Tim and Jan’s pregnancy, they’ve been documenting it here. It’s totally worth the read. 

Happy Birthday, Husband!

Happy Birthday, Husband!

This guy! Seriously, could he be any cuter? Ten years ago, I got blessed when the greatest guy a gal could ask for walked into my life, and today he turned 29! He’s my favorite person to spend time with, he has the best sense of humor and, to top it all off, he’s devilishly handsome. He also hates me making a big deal out of his birthday. So this post is short and sweet. Happy Birthday, Husband!

Snapshot of a Sunday

First of all, please let me apologize for my absence. This past week, Husband & I ended up in Ohio after the very unexpected death of my very favorite aunt and 2nd mother, Vangie Hughes. We spent the days with family and friends overwhelmed by the love and support that came from everyone we talked to.

She was truly one-of-a-kind. We heard story after story from people who credited her with being the reason they had a relationship with Jesus, praised her love & acceptance of each person she met, and talked about how she was ‘their very best friend.’ She was the embodiment of mercy, and the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people that showed up to celebrate her life with us on a very snowy Friday afternoon testified to that.

All that to say, today I wanted to share one of my favorite snapshots of Aunt Vangie taken just before her senior prom. Is that dress not killer? (Sidenote: why don’t we wear gloves anymore?)

Aunt Vangie & Mom on their way to prom, 1969  |  Secrets of a Belle

Aunt Vangie & Mom on their way to prom, 1969

I was trying to think of how I could share Aunt Vangie’s spirit here on the blog before getting back into my regular weekly groove when several friends sent me a message to read her “About Me.” You know that part on Facebook that most of us either never fill out or post something utterly ridiculous? Well, Aunt Vangie’s “About Me” was pretty fantastic because it really is exactly who she was. So here goes…

I am happily married to Gary Dean Hughes, my best friend and a wonderful pastor!
He has encouraged me to do more than I ever thought I could do and has been my cheerleader!!! What a wonderful support he has been for me. It’s a joy to serve in ministry at his side for the Lord Jesus Christ! I want my life to be remembered as a prayer warrior and dedicated woman of God. I love God with all my heart and I’m totally surrendered to the Holy Spirit and His guidance! It’s a joy to think about all that God has yet planned for Gary and me.

And then she proceeds to list all of her family & favorite people… for 3 more paragraphs.

I know this post could be a bit of a downer, but I hope you take as an encouragement to reflect, as I have this week, about what you are known for, how you treat people, and, most importantly, how you love people. Thanks for indulging me. xo* ~HB


Snow  |  Secrets of a Belle

Husband in the snow... no socks.  |  Secrets of a Belle

Yesterday, it snowed… I understand this may not seem like that big of a deal to most of you, but we live in East Tennessee where it was in the mid-60s & sunny on Saturday. Needless to say, everyone got super excited. Snow pictures covered my facebook & instagram feed. So in honor of this joyous occasion, I couldn’t resist the urge to post this…



Connecting Through Food & My Favorite Brownie Recipe

quarter cup cocoa

I consider myself very blessed. I have always loved to cook. My very first memory is of learning to dredge chicken for frying while standing on a chair at my Nanny’s house. Before I was 5, I would put on little cooking shows from the organ bench for an audience of stuffed animals. (Yes, there are videotapes to prove it.) I remember dishtowel aprons in my Aunt Vangie’s giant kitchen around the holidays, watching my grandfather bake bread every weekend, and watching my WooWoo, for hours on end, cook for a houseful of people–completely mesmerized by the authority she seemed to possess over the ingredients. It felt like she could take nothing and somehow manage to feed 40 people at the drop of a hat. (A skill I firmly believe every belle should possess, but we’ll talk about that at a later date.)

I’ve always liked to think that there’s something special about how we approach food in the South. For Southerners, cooking is often a spiritual thing; there is love and passion and history tied into our recipes. However, as I’ve traveled more, I’ve realized that this is true of many cultures and really not at all specific to my own region. Another thing that’s become very apparent is that not everyone is lucky enough to experience ‘being in the kitchen’ like me. Not all children are taught to cook and many come from families that rely on their microwaves and drive-thrus. But I would like to think that there’s something that can be done about this.

Cooking is an invaluable skill. When you cook, you are very aware of where you food comes from and exactly what you’re putting into your bodies and feeding your loved ones. (For a really great read on the science/nutrition part of this, might I suggest Food Rules.) But there’s something more than that: Recipes carry histories. They carry stories along with them and pick up little anecdotes along the way. My college thesis was actually on this very topic, and it has been on my mind again a lot lately.

I know I’m an old soul, but I really do believe in the power of the past to influence and connect us to the here & now. So, with that said, I wanted to start a new series here on the blog of recipes & the stories that go with them. The first recipe I’d like to share with you is actually the very first recipe I ever cooked by myself when I was 6 or 7 years old: WooWoo’s Quick-as-a-Wink Brownies.* I remember that I couldn’t wait to call and tell WooWoo what I’d made… with my father’s supervision to turn the oven on & off, of course! This recipe was a favorite around the Green house because even the most finicky of palates likes brownies, and the recipe is so easy to double. It is also a very easy baking project for beginners so I hope you’ll try it!

WooWoo's Quick-as-a-Wink Brownies | Secrets of a Belle

Ingredients for the Brownies:

1 C (2 sticks) soft margarine or soft salted butter
2 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
6 eggs (beaten)
– – – – – – – – – – – –
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C cocoa
– – – – – – – – – – – –
1 C chopped walnuts or pecans (Husband doesn’t eat nuts so I use this as one of the toppings!)


Ingredients for the Icing:

1 C confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbsp. cream
1 Tbsp. cocoa
1 Tbsp. butter


Preheat your oven to 350°F.

1.) Combine the first 4 ingredients one at a time, beating after each entry. I do this part in my KitchenAid, but a hand mixer works just as well.

2.) In a separate bowl, sift together the next 4 ingredients (aka the dry ingredients).

3.) Add you dry ingredients a little bit at a time to your wet until just mixed.

4.) Fold in the nuts.

5.) Grease a baking dish. (WooWoo used a 15″x10″ but I use a 9″x13″ aluminum pan) Pour in your mixture, then lift it about 1/2in. above the counter and drop it a couple of time to get rid of any air bubbles.

6.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Then, allow to cool.

mixer brownies

Now for the Icing…

1.) Combine ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.) Spread over brownies. Let set and then cut into squares. Serve with icecream, whipped cream, & nuts!

Tips & Tricks: 

Baking powder should be light, fluffy, & seem nearly weightless. A sure sign to know if you’re baking powder is bad is if it is difficult to get a spoonful. A good rule of thumb is to write the date right on your can and replace the powder once a year. 

My cousin Tas prefers a denser brownie so he only uses 1/2tsp baking powder, and the darkest cocoa he can find. 

My grandmother *loved* the icing and always doubled the recipe. I, however, hardly ever eat icing and have actually left it off entirely on several occasions… it’s good either way! 

*Originally, this recipe came from a newspaper clipping my aunt sent WooWoo from New York so it is worth noting that this recipe has been passed down in our family; even if we weren’t the first to come up with it.