Strawberry Mint Rose Agua Fresca

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A week ago, I ran a poll on Twitter asking people what I should make with my surplus of strawberries. Everyone voted for strawberry agua fresca. I ended up making a strawberry buttermilk cake.

Flash-forward to this weekend, when I decided to follow through on the voters’ choice and make a strawberry mint rose agua fresca. I’m so happy that I listened to everyone.

This drink is equal parts tart, sweet, tangy, and refreshing. It’s the perfect drink to have made up in the fridge, so all you have to do is get a glass, fill it with a bunch of ice, and fill it up with strawberry mint rose agua fresca. You can enjoy it while reading on the couch, while watching TV, or you can even take it to go. I bet it would be good at your desk in the morning on a Monday when you don’t want to be back at work.

Feel free to get creative with herbs and fruit for this drink. If you’re not a fan of mint, you could sub in tarragon. I’m thinking about doing a blackberry thyme combo this summer. Stay tuned.

Also, you can omit the rose water in this drink but I think it’s a welcome addition. It adds a subtle flavor punch to the water so it doesn’t just taste like berry juice. Orange blossom water would also work well.

Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry mint rose agua fresca journey.

Strawberry Mint Rose Agua Fresca

Ingredients

1 pound of strawberries, hulled
¼ cup mint leaves, plus sprigs for serving
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp rose water
lime wheels for serving

Directions

Purée the strawberries, 1/4 cup mint leaves, lime juice, agave nectar, and rose water with 2 cups of very cold water. Place the mixture in an airtight container and chill it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Fill glasses with ice and pour the agua fresca into each glass. This recipe makes about four glasses of agua fresca. Top with springs of mint and lime wheels. Enjoy!

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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I’m starting to get that almost-summer feeling, which is one of my favorite feelings to get.

This year has been super weird weather-wise in St. Louis, with colder-than-usual temperatures and lots of rain and storms, but now we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I always know summer is here when I go to Tower Grove Park and see the lotus blossoms (see above). They’re especially beautiful after the rain.

With summer comes lots of new activities and travel plans, as well as new recipes. I’m heading down to Southwestern Missouri later this week to catch trout for a story I’m working on for a magazine. In a couple weeks, I’m probably going to make my own birthday cake for the first time in a while. I have a yellow cake recipe with chocolate buttercream frosting and I’ve already been scouting out sprinkles to go on top.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to more relaxation this summer. I was at yoga the other night and my teacher was talking about how summer brings a lot of energy, which is true, but it’s important to balance that with some downtime. I’m envisioning many more afternoons with a good book and strawberry rose mint agua frescas (more on the those later).

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

When I was at Tower Grove Farmers’ Market yesterday, I stumbled upon a pop-up stand from a New Orleans jewelry maker called Lux + Orleans. I saw the pair of earrings in the below picture, walked away without buying them, and ended up coming back and buying them because I couldn’t stop thinking about them as I ran errands. I can’t wait to wear them with everything this summer. A4429DD8-CA7E-48EB-80ED-359A237478C6

This story about tupelo honey is from a couple weeks back but I’m still thinking about it. Hurricanes and encroaching developments threaten the livelihood of the small group of beekeepers who are still producing the honey, but they keep at it, year after year. Read more about tupelo honey and honey makers in this New York Times story.

Everyone needs to watch “Always Be My Maybe.” I watched the movie on Netflix last week and I loved it from start to finish. Ali Wong was great as an ambitious celebrity chef but in my opinion, Randall Park stole the show as a stoner musician living in his dad’s house with no plans to move out. Check out this review of the movie in Eater.

I’m loving this “Writers’ Fridges” column from The Paris ReviewI laughed out loud more than a few times at this one about novelist Kristen Arnett’s fridge. Read the full article in The Paris Review.

I went to Nippon Tei for the first time last night and I was blown away. My boyfriend and I ordered bluefin sashimi and it was so good, I had tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to come back to the restaurant and order more sushi and sashimi soon. If you’re in St. Louis and you haven’t been yet, I’d highly recommend making the trip out to West County.
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This editorial about food delivery services is spot on. I’m all for companies being able to deliver meals to residences, but I’m definitely against the growing phenomenon of meal delivery replacing real cooking. I agree with writer David Tamarkin when he says in the article that the companies are trying to convince us that cooking is more time-consuming and complicated than it actually is. Read the full op-ed in The New York Times.

Now that I’ve made a strawberry mint rose agua fresca once, I’m going to be making it all summer. I riffed off a recipe I saw online and it turned out really well. Stay tuned for my recipe later this week on the blog. BAF79A54-FFDE-426A-8EAF-59D9806569E9

This story about chocolate companies using child labor broke my heart. I already don’t buy from these companies very often, but after reading this story and seeing the photographs, I don’t think I ever will again. I’d encourage you to vote with your dollars and do the same. Read the story in The Washington Post.

I stopped by AO&Co. for the first time yesterday morning and I’m already scheduling my next visit. The market is new from Ben Poremba, the owner of restaurants in St. Louis including Elaia and Olio. Check it out for gourmet food items, specialty products, and a wonderful tea and coffee shop next door that sells the best iced tea of my life. It comes with almond and orange blossom syrup. 58E868CE-03A8-411E-887D-2CE7650D2E9D

Last but certainly not least, ice cream trucks are having a meltdown in New York. The city is cracking down on numerous ice cream trucks that never paid fines for violating traffic laws. Read more about the situation in this CNN article.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

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This is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made, and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve made *a lot* of cakes.

It all started yesterday when I was thinking about what to make with a surplus of strawberries from the farmers’ market. I took a poll on Twitter and everyone voted for strawberry agua fresca, which sounded great, but I realized that I didn’t have any lime, mint, or ice at home. I had some leftover buttermilk from when I made shortcakes. I impulsively decided to make strawberry buttermilk cake when I got home.

This cake is one of the easiest things to make. You mix together some butter and sugar, combine it with flour and buttermilk, and sprinkle some fresh berries on top. Make sure you put the berries near the center of the pan because they might stick to the edges otherwise.

When you’re mixing in the flour and buttermilk, alternate the two but make sure you start and end with the flour. This will keep you from overmixing your batter and it will prevent the batter from becoming goopy at the end (for lack of a better word).

If you’re not a fan of fresh strawberries (and who are you if this is true?), you can always sub in other berries such as raspberries or blackberries. The tart, sweet berries pair well with the cake, which is light, fluffy, and fragrant with just the right amount of lemon zest.

I had a slice for breakfast this morning and I literally swooned. The crumb is moist and light and the cake is not too sweet, so you can have a reasonable-sized slice and not feel like you’re going to go into a sugar coma. The berries are juicy, tart, sweet, and slightly caramelized from baking in the oven.

Another trick to baking this cake is taking it out of the oven at the right time. Stick a toothpick or a wooden skewer in the middle and make sure it only comes out with one or two crumbs. The cake will keep baking as it cools on the counter.

You’ll notice that I put most of the ingredients for this recipe in grams. I’ve been baking with a kitchen scale more the past year and I’d highly recommend doing the same. A good kitchen scale isn’t too expensive (I bought this one) and it makes a big difference when you bake. It allows you to be more precise with measurements and the resulting cake or cookies taste more professional.

Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry buttermilk cake journey.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

Ingredients

84 grams/6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
200 grams/1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 large eggs at room temperature
209 grams/ 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
5 grams/1 tsp baking powder
1.5 grams/ 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup whole buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 oz fresh strawberries, halved

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch cake pan or skillet and coat it with flour. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the flour and the buttermilk to the bowl with the butter mixture, alternating between the two but starting and ending with the flour. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the strawberries on top and gently press them into the batter.

Bake the cake for about an hour, checking occasionally, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (or or two crumbs is fine). Allow the cake to cool on the counter. Leftovers can be kept for a couple days in an airtight container at room temperature. Enjoy!

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Bourbon Strawberry Shortcake

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This is one of many strawberry posts you’ll see the next few days on the blog. Consider yourself warned.

I have a weakness for strawberries this time of year. I go to the farmers’ market every Saturday morning and each week, the berries look more attractive. I like to buy the ones that you can pop into your mouth like candy. The best ones explode with sweetness and tartness. They’re slightly warm from the sun and humidity, but that’s okay. It makes the juice even sweeter.

A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went strawberry picking at Eckert’s and I got a bunch of the aforementioned berries. I made jam with four pounds of them but I still had some leftover. I decided to make bourbon strawberry shortcakes with the rest.

The strawberries in this recipe get a big boost from bourbon. It balances their sweetness and adds a rich, smoky flavor that normally you don’t get unless you roast strawberries in the oven. It also makes them even more soft and tender, so you can scoop them out and layer them over cake.

My other favorite part of this recipe is the mascarpone honey whipped cream. I was skeptical of using mascarpone because I thought the whipped cream would taste fine without it, and I hate buying one ingredient when I just need to use a little of it. But the good news is, the mascarpone adds a layer to the whipped cream AND it can be easily used in other recipes. It’s even good spread on toast in the morning with a little jam on top.

If you’re looking for a quick, delicious spring and early summer dessert that makes the most of seasonal berries, check out this recipe. Here’s a song to get you started on your bourbon strawberry shortcake journey.

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Strawberry Granola Crisp

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A national holiday and day off work means a fancier-than-usual breakfast. Yesterday, I decided to make this strawberry granola crisp first thing in the morning.

This crisp is technically breakfast but it could easily double as a dessert. In fact, it could also be lunch or dinner, but for the purposes of this blog post it’s breakfast and dessert. The strawberries are sweet and juicy, the topping is more on the savory side, and the whole thing is indulgent without making you feel like you ate too much. I had two large helpings for breakfast and I felt fine afterward.

Even though the strawberries are the star of this dish, the granola topping almost outshines them. I was thinking about making it my go-to crisp topping this summer because it’s slightly sweet, salty, and caramelized. It’s everything you’d want in a crisp topping and more. I’m wondering how a big batch of it would taste as regular granola stored in a container. I might explore this option soon.

I served the crisp with unsweetened Greek yogurt but you could get creative. Whipped cream, ice cream, and regular yogurt are also appropriate accompaniments. I’m thinking about serving some later with whipped mascarpone cream that I made to go with shortcakes last night.7F7A6A8E-D5B1-4914-BE08-47B4CBD45CDECheck out the recipe from Smitten Kitchen on Bon Appétit’s website. Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry granola crisp journey.

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Key West and Miami

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A long time ago, too long to remember when exactly it was, an old friend of mine and his family went down to Key West, Florida. His mom raved about the key lime pie and told me that you could even buy it frozen on a stick.

Some people might hear that information and store it away as a fun fact, but I’ve been thinking about it for years and forming an action plan. I needed to get down to Key West and try that chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick. Also, I needed to see Ernest Hemingway’s old house with the polydactyl cats. My dreams came true this past week.09F073C7-B39E-4DA3-A3A8-363D5F6BEEE8
I could go on and on about Key West and its attractions, but I’ll keep it moderately brief for the purposes of a blog post. Below are some of the food highlights from my trip and suggestions of what to do nearby. I also included a little bit about food and attractions in Miami because I spent time there at the beginning and end of my trip. I wish I could have spent more time exploring Miami but I’ll have to go back for a longer trip soon.

Miami Food

Like I said before, I only spent a little time in Miami, so this list is by no means exhaustive. Here are some spots to check out if you’re in the city, though:

Zak the Baker85BBA52D-E3E2-4101-8735-41468C64F39D
Anyone who is a fan of artisanal bread and pastries will love Zak the Baker. Located in the Wynwood Arts District, it has a nice variety of baked goods including one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever tasted (pictured above). Don’t miss their homemade bread and toast dishes.

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While you’re in the Wynwood Arts District, you’d be remiss if you didn’t stop by Coyo Taco. The hip taco spot is steps away from the Wynwood Walls. Their guac is outstanding and the tacos are next level. I’d recommend the pork tacos with pineapple (pictured above).

Mandolin Aegean Bistro

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I’ve wanted to try Mandolin Aegean Bistro for years after following them on Instagram, and their food did not disappoint. Mediterranean delights abound including an arugula salad with dates and pomegranate dressing, a Turkish spread sampler with eggplant dip, hummus, and tomato dip, served alongside pieces of warm homemade bread, and the best baklava I’ve ever had.

Key West

A&B Lobster House

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Located on the Key West Bight, A&B Lobster House is one of the best places to get seafood on the island. You can take in the harbor from a patio seat and enjoy cold beer and happy hour specials including oysters and beer shrimp. Go upstairs for fine dining and downstairs for casual dining.

Blue Heaven

You haven’t really eaten in Key West until you stop by Blue Heaven. The Bahama Village restaurant is known for its excellent seafood and its giant slices of key lime pie topped with *a lot* of meringue. I’d recommend the “Yellow Submarine” sandwich the grilled snapper and a slice of the pie. 6BEF704C-0C08-458C-AA1E-AD0DCC4ED4F55C3DEB56-00E7-4DD6-B30C-8219A8B13A89

Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe

Kermit’s serves the best key lime pie on the island, in my humble opinion. I got a plain slice and then on the way out, I remembered that they sold a slice frozen on a stick with chocolate on the outside. I went back in and got the chocolate slice and it was even better than the original. E01841BC-64B9-487B-BDA4-CBC750FE2B3A.JPG
Key Lime Pie on a stick

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If you’re looking for authentic Cuban food, stop by El Siboney on the southern part of the island. I got the shrimp enchilado that came with yellow rice and plantains, and it blew me away.

Cuban Coffee Queen

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Coffee lovers should stop by Cuban Coffee Queen. There’s a location near the southern side of the island and one on popular Duval Street. I got an iced cafe con leche with caramel and it was delicious. Check out the mural at the side of the coffee shop.

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For fine Southern food, look no further than Firefly. The restaurant, which is located in Bahama Village, has some of the best Southern dishes on the island including the shrimp and grits pictured above. I’m not always a big fan of grits but this dish changed my mind.

Moondog Cafe and Bakery2574BABB-7462-45CB-8110-D8281A91417ALast but certainly not least, Moondog Cafe and Bakery is a great neighborhood spot with a nice patio, and it’s right across the street from the Hemingway House (which I’d also recommend visiting). I got a mahi sandwich and a glass of the house strawberry sangria. The meal was simple but everything was cooked to perfection.

Conclusion

I wish I was still on vacation but I guess I couldn’t stay in Key West forever. I can’t wait to go back someday soon though and try more restaurants, enjoy the beach, and stop at a few more islands on the drive down.

Here’s a song that reminds me of Key West. I heard it one night as I was walking through downtown after watching the sunset in Mallory Square. 80C18EF5-494F-46B1-BD6A-B8922F0F579E

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Treatment of Single Diners

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I usually keep things light on this blog, but today, I felt a compelling need to take things in a different direction.

It’s been a rough week for me mentally and emotionally, so I was looking forward to Friday night dinner. I pulled up to one of my favorite comfort food spots in St. Louis, ordered at the counter, and took a seat at a communal table with my dessert to wait for my food. I mentally noted that I was happy I got there before the rush. A couple big families with kids and friends meeting each other for dinner came in behind me.

I always bring a book when I go out to eat alone so I got lost in the pages of a new novel I’ve been reading for a while. Then I felt like too much time had gone by. I checked my phone and it had been 30 minutes since I ordered.

I then watched as everyone who came in after me was served dinner, including couples who ordered to-go meals and dessert. I told myself that I’d wait a few more minutes. Who knows? Someone could be walking out the door of the kitchen with my food the moment I stood up.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. I forced myself to get up and say something to the cashier who took my order. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, sometimes it’s difficult to advocate for oneself. I told her that people who ordered behind me already got their food, and she mumbled an apology and went to check on my order. I waited another five to 10 minutes and finally, she brought my order with a plate for another table.

At this point, I thought about asking for a manager or the owner of the establishment, whom I know. Truthfully, I barely had an appetite anymore. Part of the pleasure of going out to eat is anticipating a delicious meal and being served that meal in a timely and respectable way. When all that goes out the window, you’re left with a bitter taste in your mouth.

When I summoned my appetite, the food was delicious. I finished most of it and the dessert, which I’d seen in an Instagram post by the restaurant earlier this week. But I’d already started mentally composing an email to the owner. I felt that it was important to tell her what happened, not as much for her knowledge but for my own peace of mind.

I wish I could tell you that this incident is uncommon, but unfortunately, it’s happened to me many times over the years as a single diner. For example, last year I went to one of my favorite restaurants in Kansas City, another place where I know one of the owners and usually have great experiences. I essentially drove to Kansas City from St. Louis for a day to eat at this restaurant again.

It turned out that the restaurant wasn’t taking table reservations for single diners anymore. If you were dining alone, you had to make a reservation at the bar. I was a little put off by this but I did it anyway because I really wanted to eat dinner there again.

When I got to the restaurant, I ended up waiting two hours to get seated. The hostess was extremely apologetic but said that me getting a seat at the bar depended on how fast people got up. As is common at a bar, no one wanted to get up. When I finally was seated at a chair in the corner, my food came out in four stages with 20 to 30 minute gaps in between. By the time I got to dessert, they were all sold out of the dish I wanted.

Contrast this experience with a year earlier, when the restaurant was still relatively new and accepted table reservations for single diners. I took a seat in the brightly-lit dining room and watched as couples and families ogled me as I dined alone. But I didn’t care. I was so immersed in the pleasure of eating, I didn’t care who looked at me. I talked to my waitress about the food, asked for recommendations, and lingered over the meal the way one should at a fine dining establishment.

I’m appalled by the treatment of single diners by restaurants and fine dining establishments. What makes a single diner less of a person than a couple or a family? Yes, that ticket will likely not draw in as much money as other orders, nor will it require as much attention. But the single diner is still a paying customer.

More than that, the single diner is a human being. I’d argue that the single diner is more human than a couple friends going out to eat or a mother and father sitting at table with two kids, picking at whatever their children don’t finish.

A single diner comes to a restaurant for the love of food. They run the risk of furtive glances, quizzical looks, or flat-out stares from other customers, plus inattentive or lackluster service, just so they can enjoy the dishes they like to eat in the places they like to eat them.

I’m not saying that people should shirk away from dining alone because of this reality. On the contrary, I think that dining alone is something that everyone should experience and enjoy. However, for people who are already scared to dine alone, restaurants provide a major deterrent when they treat single diners like second-class citizens. The fact that I’ve persisted over the years speaks to my unwillingness to comprise what I want. I will not stop dining alone just because restaurants, and I guess by extension, society, tells me that this is not something I should do.

As I’m reflecting on this phenomenon, it appears that the worst treatment of myself by a restaurant is actually at the places I value most, or the ones I’m most familiar with. Why would you go back to those places? you might ask. I have to answer honestly when I say, it’s the same reason you would go back to someone you love after a bad argument. You want it to work out. You have all the good memories but one very bad moment soured things for you, whether it was a restaurant forgetting your meal for an hour and serving all the couples or families first, or a fine dining establishment relegating you to a bar seat, making you wait far beyond what’s acceptable, and then delivering food to you after serving people in the dining room, which you’re no longer allowed in.

It’s time for restaurants to treat single diners with the respect they deserve. I don’t have an iron will, so it would be hard for me to give up on a place forever even after I’ve experienced bad service. However, I do have a lot of respect for myself and a strong sense of what I deserve, so I’m not running back to a restaurant that delivered shoddy service.

An acquaintance of mine in the restaurant business in St. Louis recently told me not to take mistreatment in the food industry personally. Everyone has experienced bad treatment now and again and the important thing is to let it roll off your back, he said.

I agree with this to an extent, but I think that the treatment of single diners by restaurants is extremely personal. It’s telling a single diner that they are less, they deserve less, and, whether they like it or not, they will get less. So, they better shut up and deal with it. I will not shut up, and I will not deal with it. I will enjoy my dinner in spite of the sometimes subtle, but often flagrant message that I don’t deserve it. I’d encourage single diners everywhere to do the same.

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