Tranquility Tea

DDB3D630-7ACE-4E70-BA82-6C1DF2BC7A68
Last night, I went to Tranquility Tea at my yoga studio, Yoga in DeMun. My teacher, Yoga in DeMun owner Christy Lin, first guided us through a series of stretches, and then Rachel Elizabeth Maley, founder of Cha Dao Chicago, led the class through a live soundscape and tea ceremony.

The event came at a perfect moment. I’ve been very stressed out at work the last few weeks, to the point where I feel tired when I wake up in the morning. Yesterday was a particularly stressful day with a bigger event, so I kept picturing the tea ceremony to get through the day. I really didn’t know what to expect, because I’ve never attended a tea ceremony or a live soundscape before.

The experience turned out to be even better than I expected. The stretching we did at the beginning of class was similar to a regular yoga class. Then, Christy asked us to lie down and get comfortable for a 20-minute meditation. I’ve never meditated for that long before, and so I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Would I start counting down the minutes until I could move again? Would I be uncomfortable and feel awkward moving? Christy cleared up the latter question when she told us that if we felt uncomfortable, we could feel free to move and readjust. You’re not really relaxing if you feel like you can’t move.

During the meditation, Rachel played the flute and crystal singing bowls. The music was very relaxing and pure. It was so relaxing, in fact, that one person in the group fell asleep and started snoring loudly. Even though this wasn’t ideal, I’m glad they found the rest and relaxation they needed. Also, in a weird way it helped me better concentrate on meditating. I closed my eyes and focused on the beautiful sound of the music.97F12B9E-8FC2-4144-AE13-85C0CE616A03After the meditation came my favorite part of the evening: The tea ceremony. I’ve had tea in many cities and venues, but I’ve never experienced a true tea ceremony led by an expert. Rachel started by explaining a little about the rituals of tea. Tea ceremonies are typically conducted in silence, so the class watched quietly as Rachel prepared the tea. Tea preparation is almost like a dance. Rachel’s movements were very graceful and poised. Her partner, Doug, brought cups to attendees sitting in the back of the circle. We sipped our tea in silence. Even though no one was making a sound, there was distinct feeling that everyone was enjoying the experience.
1A67CCC9-6461-4240-8A43-2AF1442B317A
IMG_12336BEDAB9D-5288-4DD6-9542-8A135CA92F6BAfter we had our first cup of tea, Rachel started telling us about ceremonies and stories about tea. We attend so many ceremonies with rituals, including weddings and baby namings or christenings, but do we actually celebrate our everyday life? Rachel encouraged us to consider this question. She said that one way to cultivate a small celebration or ritual is to prepare tea for ourselves for a little every morning, and to only concentrate on making the tea, not multitasking.

There’s a story about a student seeking wisdom from a wise teacher. He traveled from far away to find out the teacher’s secret to life, and the teacher told him, if you can prepare tea step-by-step and drink it, and do only this, you will have learned the secret.

You might say to yourself what the student said to the teacher: That’s crazy. Why did I travel hundreds of miles for you to tell me to make a cup of tea? But if you go deeper and think about the lesson, it makes sense. Most of us know how to get through our day-by-day life. In fact, we’ve found many ways to do it as quickly and painlessly as possible, oftentimes with lots of distractions. But how many of us actually know how to slow down and savor the present moment? It’s a difficult lesson, and one that takes time to put into practice.

Rachel told us the saying, “Only pour tea when your heart is still.” I almost started to cry, but I held it in because I didn’t want to be the only person in class crying. Still, I was very moved by this saying. I think I’ve been rushing around a lot the last few months, partly for work, and partly to distract myself from some painful events that happened over the summer.

The best changes comes when we are at peace. I feel very grateful to Rachel and Christy for sharing this lesson with me, and inspiring me to cultivate more moments of quiet reflection in my life. I hope that wherever you are, you can do the same, whether it’s through making tea or other rituals that bring you peace.IMG_1268

Posted in Thé Time, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

IMG_0307

Catching my first trout at Bennett Spring State Park. Photo by Notley Hawkins.

Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

This week was an exciting one because I had my first story published in Missouri Life Magazine. Back in June, I went to Bennett Spring State Park in southern Missouri to catch a trout and write about it for the magazine. The only problem was, I had never caught a trout before in my life. Lucky for me, my boyfriend Jim is a semi-expert fisherman, so he helped me navigate the (somewhat tumultuous) waters. Notley Hawkins, a Missouri photographer, captured the wonderful photo above, and many more including two that were published with the story.

Having the story published brought the experience trout fishing to the forefront of my mind. You’ll have to read the article to find out what happened, but suffice it to say, it took a lot of time and effort to try to catch a trout. There were multiple points throughout the day (including the morning when it started raining, I was waist-high in water, and got a fly bait caught on my neck) when I thought that it might be easier to give up.

I guess the lesson I learned that day was one of patience and determination. I didn’t want to leave the river without a fish, partly because I was worried about how the story would turn out, partly because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. It’s not easy to try something new, but if you persevere, you’re usually rewarded.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

This great article came to me late last week from my friend and local chef Rob Connoley. I sent Rob a picture on Twitter of some strange, sharp fruit on a tree by my house, and he offered a few ideas of what it was. He also sent me this story about a man who singlehandedly is trying to bring back an almost extinct tree, chinquapin, in the Ozarks. Check out the full story in National Geographic.

Anyone who wants to pursue an internship at a French restaurant should read this story first. Eater write Samuel Ashworth talks about his time working in a Michelin-starred French restaurant, or “staging,” and how this experience broke him. As a result of the rigorous training in France, many cooks are choosing to go elsewhere for their culinary education. Read more about it in this Eater story.

As I mentioned before, I had my first story published in Missouri Life and I’m pretty excited about it. Here’s a link to the article. You can also pick up the magazine at stores and newsstands in Missouri including Barnes & Noble.

 

Anyone who eats brunch in St. Louis knows about Winslow’s Home, a favorite haunt for local food and pastries. Now, the restaurant is changing ownership. “Winslow’s Table,” as the restaurant will soon be called, is now owned by Michael and Tara Gallina of Vicia, a vegetarian-centric restaurant that exploded onto the St. Louis dining scene a few years ago. Read more about the upcoming changes to Winslow’s Home in this Feast story.

I really enjoyed this review of a Los Angeles Cheesecake Factory. Yes, you read that correctly. I actually worked at the Cheesecake Factory to earn money the summer before I moved to France, so I have an insider’s perspective on the restaurant. I thought the writer nailed the vibe and food. I’m not sure if I agree though that the Cheesecake Factory “is also America, with all its promise and flaws.” Decide for yourself after reading this Los Angeles Times article.

I’m about to leave for New Orleans to attend the Online News Association conference, so it was fun to see this first-person narrative from Rick Bragg. Bragg loves New Orleans so much that he’s drifted in and out of the city for years, sometimes staying permanently. Read more about his experience in this Garden & Gun piece.

Can we talk about how good the morning bun is at Carte Blanche? I just got one from the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market yesterday morning and it hit the spot. If you’re in St. Louis next Saturday, I’d highly recommend getting one for breakfast.64F84D25-0842-4C21-83B8-DDC5DA04D29E

This story about barking dogs in Washington, DC, is truly horrifying. But it makes sense, given what I know about Chevy Chase, Maryland. Basically, a bunch of residents of the village outside DC, where the average income is $460,000 a year, want to shut down the dog park because the pets are making too much noise. It’s hard for me to write about it, so I’ll just leave you the Washington Post story. Also, A+ to the writer for the dog puns.

This advice column from my St. Louis Magazine editor, George Mahe, made me feel a little better about some of my restaurant habits, especially the week before payday. I don’t necessarily try to order the cheapest thing on the menu. In fact, I often sway in the other direction, for better or worse. But we’ve all had times when we purposely get the least expensive item. Apparently, restaurant owners believe that it’s still better to have a small check than an empty seat. Read more in this op-ed.

Last but certainly not least, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she’s feeling okay after cancer treatment, which comes as a huge relief. Ginsburg in a recent appearance said that the Supreme Court has kept her going through radiation treatments, and that she’s “on my way to being very well.” I think I speak for everyone when I say, hold on, Justice Ginsburg. Read more in this Washington Post piece.

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

Posted in Dimanche (That Means Sunday), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Easy Zucchini Bake

A94B43FB-15E7-4D40-BD22-F741BC9450C8.JPG
I’m a sucker for a good lattice weave topping, so when I saw this recipe for “Zucchini Lattice Lasagna” online the other day, I knew I had to make it.

I’m usually not a fan of dishes that make substitutions for carbs because I love carbs, but this recipe is a special exception. The zucchini acts like noodles, and for the most part, it succeeds. It’s not as tender as regular noodles, but it is pretty soft, and it works the same way as noodles do in standard lasagna. It holds everything together and forms a sturdy base for the sauce and cheese layers.

A few words to the wise about this zucchini bake: One, it gets better on day two or even three. Similar to lasagna, the dish needs time to set before it truly comes together. It gets easier to slice, and it tastes *really* good heated up in the oven or microwave. I’ve been eating the leftovers all week.

Second, it requires a little leg work. It’s easy to make, but you have to make sure you sweat the zucchini before you include it in the dish. What’s sweating zucchini? you might ask with trepidation. All it is is tossing some zucchini slices with salt in a colander, letting it sit for 30 minutes, and then patting it dry with paper towels. You might be tempted to skip this step, but don’t. If you skip it, your zucchini bake will probably turn into a watery, goopy mess.

Third, broiling the zucchini bake before it comes out of the oven is a great idea. It makes the cheese bubbly and brown on top, and gives the dish even more flavor. Just make sure you watch the zucchini after you turn on the broiler, because it could easily burn.

I hope you enjoy this zucchini bake as much as I did! Here’s a song to get you started.

Posted in Dinner, Gluten-Free, Uncategorized, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

034A7371-0165-4A05-BAA5-FF13A376348F 2.JPG
Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this week.

It’s been a while since the last time I’ve written a Dimanche post. I want to tell you why, but it still feels awkward talking about it. So let’s just say, it’s been a difficult summer, one that took me to a really dark place for a while and completely broke my heart. I lost someone I loved very much, and I still have trouble believing that he’s gone.

The good news is, things have started to get better recently. I used to think the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” was a hoax, but now, I’m starting to believe it. There are times when you question whether or not you’ll be able to get through another day, but if you focus on getting through one of those days at a time, eventually, your weeks start getting a little easier. After a while, you’re still grieving, but you can find the joy in life again. That’s where I am today, and I have to tell you, it’s a relief.

It’s difficult for me to give you advice about dealing with these feelings, as I’ve only just experienced a painful loss and I’m still working through it. But if I had to tell you anything, it’s to hang on. Try to find things that make you happy (even if it feels like nothing does), and spend time with the people you love most. Healing happens by itself, but having distractions and good company helps.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

This story could also be filed under, “Why have Americans given so much to restore Notre Dame, but not to fires in the Amazon?,” but nevertheless, it’s an informative read. Most of the donations to repair the cathedral, which caught on fire in April, come from the U.S. Apparently there are a lot of francophiles across the pond. Read more about in this story from The Guardian.

I can’t wait for the latest “Little Women” film remake, and this article about the book caught my eye last week. I knew that the book was semi-autobiographical, but I didn’t realize that Louisa May Alcott’s father basically drove the family into destitution. Read more about Alcott’s past and get links to some books on the topic in this New Yorker piece.

This article about white supremacy at an Indiana farmer’s market was interesting. A husband-and-wife team who were longtime sellers of organic produce at the Bloomington, Indiana farmers’ market were accused of being white nationalists, and controversy ensued. It makes you think twice about who is selling your vegetables. Read more about the allegations in this New York Times story.

I love Maya Angelou, so it was a joy to read this story about her cooking for Toni Morrison. A lot of people don’t realize that Angelou was an accomplished cook. I like the quote in the story from Angelou about how cooking is an extension of autobiography. Learn more about Angelou and her cooking in this Guardian piece.

Speaking of cooking… We all have to start somewhere. I really enjoyed this piece about Chef Preeti Mistry’s early experiences as a private chef. Mistry tried to bake a cake for one of her gigs, and it crashed in the oven and split all over. It reminds you that even talented cooks have their trials in the kitchen, and that most (but not all) disasters can be fixed. Read more about Mistry’s cake debacle in this Eater article.

And for a baking success story… Look no further than these sea salt chocolate chip cookies. They’re one of the best things I’ve baked recently. This is my new go-to cookie recipe. Check it out in a recent blog postA4922956-2922-46BE-A832-04F87556CB30

I love that a French woman came to America and loved cornbread so much, she turned it into a cookie. Apollonia Poilâne, a French baker and head of the famous Poilâne bakery, studied at Harvard and fell in love with cornbread. When she got back to France, she started creating more baked goods with corn. She shared this recipe for corn cookies with Dorie Greenspan. Check it out in this New York Times article.

Mental health is not often discussed in the restaurant industry, but it should be. Kudos to Chef Gerard Craft for shedding light on this very important topic. Read Craft’s op-ed about success and mental health in the industry in this Plate story.

Last but certainly not least, Louisiana is embracing its French heritage and recruiting more international teachers for dual-language schools. This change comes after a steep decline of French speakers in the state, primarily due laws and customs that encourage Anglophone assimilation. Read more about in this New York Times story.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started. It comes from my friend LeAnn, who just released a new country album. You should check it out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

(Almost) Perfect Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

A4922956-2922-46BE-A832-04F87556CB30.JPG
I refrain from calling things “perfect,” partly because nothing really is, and partly because I think that perfect is a dangerous word.

However, I am completely comfortable with calling these sea salt chocolate chip cookies *almost* perfect. They are light and fluffy, soft and chewy, sweet with melted dark chocolate chips, and slightly salty from flaky sea salt. I’m getting emotional even writing about them.

I baked these cookies at an ideal moment because my best friend Rachel just came into town. If anyone can distinguish between a real and a poser chocolate chip cookie, it’s Rachel. We both agree that the ideal chocolate chip cookie should be soft, not crispy, with a tender middle and slightly brown outside. If a cookie doesn’t meet this description, we don’t want to mess with it.

I’m looking forward to getting Rachel’s expert opinion on these cookies. I already ran them past one taste tester, my boyfriend, who said, “These are good,” in an appreciative but also surprised tone. I think it’s because he thought they looked like scones from the picture I sent him, which to be honest, they kind of do. But it’s only because I took the picture right as the cookies came out of the oven because I was so excited.

ANYWAY. Make these cookies as soon as possible. If you’re searching for an ideal chocolate chip cookie, these will satisfy your needs. Even if you’re not, they’re delicious as a treat or all-day snack. I think I had about five yesterday without feeling like I was having a sugar overload.

Here’s a song to get you started on your sea salt chocolate chip journey.

(Almost) Perfect Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine salt
2 cups dark chocolate chips
flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Beat the sugars and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium high until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat the mixture on medium until the ingredients are incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and fine salt. Add the flour mixture to the bowl of the stand mixer, and mix on low speed (working up to medium) until your dough comes together. Mix in the chocolate chips (you can also do this with a spatula if you prefer).

Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Drop a rounded tablespoon-full of dough onto the tray, spacing the balls about two inches apart.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they’re slightly golden brown on top and set in the center. Do not overbake. Remove the cookies from the oven and sprinkle them with flaky sea salt. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for a minute before removing them to cool the rest of the way on a wire rack.

Cookies will keep for a few days (or more) in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Posted in Cookies, Dessert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fudgy Flourless Brownies from Dolly and Oatmeal

C3AEDEBF-48DC-4DB9-B259-CC0BE04821EF.JPG
I made these fudgy flourless brownies a week ago and I’m still thinking about them today. That probably means I should tell you about them.

I’m usually wary of recipes that turn standard baked goods into something else. For example, a recipe that subs in spelt flour, xanathan gum, and agave syrup for all-purpose flour, baking soda, and sugar, will probably result in a pastry that does not taste like the one you ate when you were five. It’s the cold, hard truth.

However, I do stay open-minded about recipes that make small substitutions with more or less recognizable ingredients. Cue: these brownies.

This is one of the best brownie recipes I’ve tried, and I do not say that lightly. The brownies are fudgy, rich, chocolatey, and all around delicious. They taste great on their own, but they’re even better with a scoop of ice cream on top and some hot fudge. I guess the hot fudge and ice cream kind of defeats the purpose of the gluten-free, dairy-free aspect of this recipe, but I’m totally okay with that.

Some tips for making these brownies: Make sure to grease the bottom of the pan. This is key for removing the brownies later once they’re done baking (and not having one of those, “let’s use a butter knife to dig the brownies out of the pan,” situations…although that wouldn’t be the end of the world).

Also, make sure to take the brownies out of the oven when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out mostly clean. It took my brownies a little longer than the 20-22 minutes the original recipe called for, but it could just be my oven. Check and see to get the best results.

Here’s a song to get you started on your fudgy flourless brownie journey.

Posted in Brownies, Dessert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Okra, Corn, and Tomato Sauté

4651A14F-B981-4411-A05E-BD835E3EE6D0.JPG
This is my favorite time of year at the farmers’ market–well, my second favorite, after strawberry season. Three of my favorite produce items, okra, tomatoes, and corn, are all in abundance, and I love thinking up new ways to combine them.

This dish was a product of walking around the farmers’ market and picking out what looked and smelled good. I already had the tomatoes from Tony White, my friend and a tomato supplier in St. Louis, but I found okra, corn, onion, and basil the market. The basil smelled so good, the guy who sold it told me he wanted to buy some. Hopefully he gets it for free.

I guess in many ways, this dish is similar to succotash, a Southern recipe with tomatoes, okra, and corn. The only difference is, I left out bell peppers and beans. If you want a heartier dish and you have some extra bell peppers and beans, you could go all the way and make succotash. Or you could opt for this recipe, which is super easy and relies on fewer ingredients.

A lot of people shy away from cooking with okra because of its tendency to become slimy. You can avoid this by being very gentle with the okra. Minimal cutting and stirring is key. The more you stir or toss the okra in the pan, the more of a chance you’ll end up with a slimy mess.

This sauté is delicious on its own, but it’s also good as an accompaniment to another dish. I could see it working really well with a good piece of fish or chicken.

If you’re not a basil fan (and if this is true, who are you, really?), you could always sub in another herb. I bet thyme would also work really well in this dish.

Here’s a song to get you started on your okra, corn, and tomato sauté journey.

Okra, Corn, and Tomato Sauté

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound okra, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 corn cobs, corn kernels cut off
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until it’s tender and almost translucent. Add the okra and corn, season generously with salt and pepper, and stir, trying not to stir too much because then the okra will get slimy.

Add the tomatoes and more salt and pepper to taste. Stir again, being careful not to disturb the okra. Cook for a few minutes more until the okra is slightly tender. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the chopped basil. Serve warm over rice. Enjoy!

Posted in Dinner, Gluten-Free, Lunch, Uncategorized, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment