Mushroom and Spaghetti Squash Soup

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This is one of those soups that will make you feel like you’re not eating soup. Does that make sense?

Even if it doesn’t, maybe you’ll understand what I mean when I describe it to you. It’s full of cavatelli noodles, which are little shells that soak up broth, chopped mushrooms, roasted spaghetti squash, and lots of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. It has all the flavors of a delicious pasta dish, with the added bonus of having rich, warming chicken broth.

It also gets a boost from a sprig of sage, which you toss in as you cook the soup. The flavor infuses the broth and pairs well with the salty cheese and mushrooms.

My favorite part about this dish is the roasted spaghetti squash. In the past, I think I’ve under-roasted spaghetti squash, which is easy to do. You usually roast it face down on a baking sheet, so sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s done or not.

When it doubt, err on the side of more time. The squash will get slightly caramelized and tender, and it will break easily when you pull it apart with a fork. It kind of looks like a pile of hay. Then, you put some in a bowl and pour on the soup with the mushrooms and noodles.

I ate this for almost every meal for two days straight, and I wish that I had more. That’s saying a lot, because I usually get sick of leftovers after about a day, and I want to throw everything in the trash. It has to be really, really good to satisfy me.

This soup is especially good when the weather turns and it suddenly becomes unbearably cold outside. It will keep you warm if you need to go out, but it’s also the perfect excuse to stay in. I may or may not have eaten a bowl wrapped in a blanket curled up on the couch.

Here’s a song to get you started on your mushroom and spaghetti squash soup journey.

Mushroom and Spaghetti Squash Soup

Ingredients

1 pound spaghetti squash, halved and seeds discarded
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 pounds mixed mushrooms, stems discarded and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
1 sage sprig
1 cup cavatelli pasta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Rub the cut and seeded squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast for about 35 minutes, or until tender. Scrape out the insides with a fork into a bowl. Cover with a tea towel to keep warm.

In a large pot, melt the butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the golden. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden. Add the chicken broth and sage, season the mixture with salt and pepper, and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta, stir, and cook it about 10-12 minutes, or until it’s tender. Take out the sage sprig and stir in the freshly grated cheese.

Fill bowls with spaghetti squash and top with the soup and more grated cheese. Enjoy!

 

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Pain aux Raisins

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The last time I was in Paris six years ago, I stopped by one of my favorite bookstores in the city (and honestly, the world), Shakespeare and Company. Located in Paris’s Left Bank neighborhood, it’s an English bookstore that once attracted some of America’s best expat writers including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In addition to being quaint and historic, it also has a resident cat that has very discerning tastes in people (it did not like the guy I met up with in the city), and it has a wonderful selection of books. When I saw Will Torrent’s “Pâtisserie at Home,” I knew I had to get it.IMG_1855.jpg
I sat on the book for a couple years. I loved to page through it; it has beautiful photos, as you can see from the cover, and everything looked amazing inside. I used it once when I lived in D.C. to make macarons with a friend.

But the real thing I wanted to use it for was making pain aux raisins. When I lived in France, pain aux raisins was my favorite pastry. It’s made out of snail-shaped croissant dough and full of plump raisins. My favorite part is the middle. I used to unroll the pastry and eat that part first. Picture a biscuit made out of buttery, flaky croissant dough, and slightly sweet, and that’s what eating the middle part of a pain aux raisins is like.

However, I doubted that I could pull it off at home. Will Torrent makes it sound doable in his cookbook, but I read through all the steps (there are many), and thought, this is a lot. That’s saying something for me, because I’m usually not afraid to invest a lot of time in a recipe.

Also, I had multiple people discourage me from doing it over the years, including a French baker who told me that croissants are impossible to make at home. A friend of mine from my old work told me he tried to do it, and they can’t compare to the ones you buy at a real bakery.

Still, I had a burning desire to make pain aux raisins that wouldn’t go away with time or discouragement. So yesterday, I impulsively decided to fulfill a years-long dream and make them. I read through Will Torrent’s recipe multiple times, assembled my ingredients, and decided to go step by step.

It’s going to sound corny, but making pain aux raisins is like life. You have to go slowly and focus on one step at a time to be successful.

Also, as with anything in baking, it helps to follow the recipe to the letter, especially if it’s your first time making it. I found myself wanting to cut corners and deviate, especially when I realized that it was almost 11 PM and I was locked in to the baking process until at least 1 AM. But I persisted.

All in all, the process was not bad. In fact, it’s easier than making other bread-like pastries such as Swedish cardamom buns. There’s a lot of rolling out dough and waiting, but you’re not twisting or tying anything with dough, which can often end in disaster. To make pain aux raisins, you follow the croissant recipe and then you roll the dough up, much like you would do for cinnamon rolls, cut the dough into 1-inch pieces, and wait for them to rise.

If you don’t want to wait for them to rise after you cut the dough, you can proof them in the refrigerator. I read about that technique on this helpful blog after I decided to stay up all night making them. Oh well; at least I know for next time.

Or, you can freeze the little cut pain aux raisins and proof them on a baking sheet overnight. I do this a lot with Trader Joe’s chocolate croissants. (If you’ve never had those, you might want to change that, soon.) It’s easier than waiting around for the dough to rise because you can set them out and go to sleep. For impatient people like me, this is important.

Also, another tip that Will Torrent didn’t have in his book, but I found on the aforementioned blog, is to spray the oven before you put the croissants in and once after you set them on the racks. You can do this using a spray bottle. I happened to have one from my watercolor class, so I filled it up and used it. It makes the croissants even more flaky and crisp on the outside.

The smell of these pain aux raisins while they were baking was other-worldly. I wanted to bottle up the smell and have it forever. It took me back to times when I would go into the bakery in France early in the morning to buy bread for lunch, and they would have all the glistening viennoiseries set out. The smell of fresh pastry filled the air. I would stand there for a few minutes, taking it all in. It’s one of the best smells in the world.

I’m not going to tell you these pain aux raisins are as good as the ones I had in France. I realized after the fact that Will Torrent’s recipe did not include crème pâtissière, which is found in most pain aux raisins, and it did not have the sugar glaze that most traditional bakers add to the pastries after baking them. It also had cinnamon, which I thought was weird because I didn’t remember that from traditional pain aux raisins. As it turns out, a more standard pain aux raisins calls for fresh vanilla beans and rum in the cream filling for flavoring.

Still, for a recipe that you make in your own kitchen without the added step of making crème pâtissière from scratch, it delivered. The croissant dough especially was delicious. It was buttery and flaky, and came close to what I remembered eating when I lived abroad. The raisins were juicy and slightly caramelized from baking, and the cinnamon paired well with the raisins, even if it wasn’t the taste I remembered.

I ate a pain aux raisins straight off the baking sheet at 1:30 AM, when I took them out of the oven. I fell asleep to the smell of fresh pastry, which is better than any scented candle or incense.

I’m glad that I finally took the plunge and tried a croissant recipe from Torrent’s cookbook. Next up? Pain au chocolat.

Here’s a song to get you started on your pain aux raisins journey.

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Apple Cake

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This apple cake may be one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. I am not exaggerating.

I made it last weekend after I got back from New Orleans. I’ve been eyeing the recipe for months, maybe even years, but for some reason, I never got around to it. When I saw an abundance of apples from the farmers’ market in my fridge, I realized the time is now.

This cake is pretty easy to make, but there is some prep work involved. Namely, the bundt pan. Is your worst nightmare making a cake that sticks to the pan, so you have to try to carve it out with a butter knife or hammer on the bottom with a spoon? Trust me, I’ve been there.

For this cake, make sure to butter AND flour the pan generously so it doesn’t stick. I like to prepare the pan over the sink so flour doesn’t fly all over the kitchen. If you tap the edges as you rotate the pan, you can ensure the best butter/flour: pan ratio.

If you’re not a fan of red raisins, you can sub in golden raisins. I’d highly recommend keeping the walnuts in the cake, though. They are dense and buttery, and they bake well into the cake.

I served the cake for dinner last weekend as a pre-birthday celebration for my boyfriend, Jim. After he ate a slice, I asked him what his favorite cake of all time was. He said that the apple cake I made might be it. He is an honest critic of my baked goods, so I took it as a high compliment.

Then, I gave pieces to my whole family, and to Jim’s mom when she came in town. Everyone talked about how the cake was not too light or dense. My mom told me twice how much she liked it.

If you need a good apple cake for fall or Rosh Hashanah, this is it. I bet it would also pair well with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Here’s a song to get you started on your apple cake journey. It’s also good to drown out your next door neighbors when they start sounding like frat boys on a Sunday.

Apple Cake

Ingredients

unsalted butter for greasing pan
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups peeled, cored, and thickly sliced tart apples
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and butter a bundt pan. Combine the vegetable oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix on medium for about five minutes. In the meantime, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.

When the oil and sugar are done mixing, add the eggs. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is creamy. Stir in the flour mixture. Then, stir in the vanilla extract, sliced apples, walnuts, and raisins. Don’t worry if the apples fall apart a little in this stage. Make sure the batter is uniformly mixed.

Put the batter in the prepared bundt pan and bake the cake for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan before inverting the pan or lifting the cake out. I’d recommend inverting it onto a plate. Enjoy!

 

 

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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

This week was all about catch up. I got back from New Orleans on Monday night, and I was busy the rest of the week with full-time work and freelance writing.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready for a break. I spent the weekend meeting up with family and friends, reading, and pursuing some new hobbies.

See: the dried flower cloche at the beginning of this post. My friend Carly suggested taking a dried flower cloche class at Bowood Farms, a local nursery that offers arts and crafts classes through the year. I was wondering how it would go, but as it turns out, I love making cloches. I forgot how much I like designing things and working with my hands. It’s very relaxing.

It also involves more instinct than thought, as most creative activities do. It’s good to turn off my mind every once in a while and make something beautiful. I hope at some point this week, you can do the same.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

I saw this archived New Yorker story a couple weeks ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I love Jamaica Kincaid’s writing. In this story, she writes about her time living in New York in her twenties. It’s extremely relatable. I like the part when she loses her hat and then cancels her plans with her friends because she’s so disgusted. I think we’ve all been there before. Read the full story in the New Yorker.

Xoco is one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, and so it was fun to read a profile about the chef. You might know Rick Bayless best for his restaurant Frontera Grill, or for his salsas and chips in most supermarkets. I liked what he said in the interview about how he cooks something from beginning to end every week. I did not identify with his love for extreme yoga, though. Check out the Q&A in Chicago Magazine.

I almost spit out my tea when I saw that there’s a new Elena Ferrante novel coming out in November. I’m a big fan of Ferrante’s novels, especially the Neapolitan Novels. Apparently, the new book is also set in Naples. Get more information in this piece from The Guardian.

I usually always get a doughnut at KNEAD, but at lunch today, I decided to try their new oatmeal cookie. I’m so happy I did. I’d highly recommend getting one if you’re in or around South City and you’re craving delicious baked goods. The bakery is open every day except Monday. D67CDD1D-B00D-4F3F-9B87-FAF883D0137D

I’m very excited that Balkan Treat Box made Bon Appétit‘s list of 50 nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants. It’s well-deserved. Savage, an upscale restaurant in St. Louis that I haven’t been to yet, also made the list. Check out all the nominees on Bon Appétit‘s website.

Seeing news like this makes me wish I still lived in D.C. There’s a new mural of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on U Street, a commercial and arts thoroughfare in the city. For now I’ll settle on seeing it in a photo, but I can’t wait to see it in person on my next trip to D.C. Read more about the mural in this CNN piece.

One of my favorite WashU professors, Rafia Zafar, is teaming up with St. Louis Metro Market’s “Food Bus” on a community cookbook project. Professor Zafar, along with many community partners, will create a cookbook based on local food narratives and “treasured family recipes.” I can’t wait to buy one once they’re published. Learn more about the cookbook project in this statement from WashU.

Last but certainly not least, Merriam-Webster is expanding its food and drink vocabulary. New entries will include “tallboy” and “matcha.” Not sure if this is a high point or a low point for society, but you can be the judge. Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started. I heard it in an Uber in New Orleans and it’s been stuck in my head since.

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New Orleans

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Friends have told me for years that I should visit New Orleans. “It’s your ideal city,” they said. For the most part, they were right. Good food, a laid-back vibe, French influence, and beautiful architecture: New Orleans is definitely a place that speaks to my soul.

I headed down last week for the Online News Association conference. While I was in town, I got the chance to explore by foot. I primarily spent time in the Garden District, Downtown, French Quarter, Touro, and Uptown, but my last couple days in the city, I got the chance to see Bywater, a quaint neighborhood across town by the Mississippi River. My experiences in New Orleans painted a picture of a city that’s vibrant and lively, but still very aware of its traumatic past.

For example, I rode the bus most days, and when I did, I noticed that they play evacuation videos that show people how to make it to key check in points during a hurricane or a flood. People on the bus didn’t seem fazed by the video, and why should they be? They probably see it everyday, and they’ve already confronted the realities of the city they call home.

For me, though, it was scary to imagine New Orleans covered in water and possibly wiped off the map. It was also confusing to see beautiful buildings and homes that were in more-or-less great shape, despite Hurricane Katrina and other storms that have passed through the city. My friend Lyndsey, a journalist who covers ecology, culture, and justice in the South, told me that other parts of the city including the Ninth Ward reflect more damage from the hurricane. People who once lived in the neighborhood can’t afford to move back and rebuild their homes, so there are lots of vacant properties. Lyndsey also told me about how little the federal government does to help these areas.

Still, as a whole I was impressed by New Orleans. It’s clear that it has a fighting spirit. That, coupled with its joie de vivre and fun-loving nature, makes it an ideal place for anyone who wants repose from the daily grind, or for people who appreciate a good time. This extends to food and cocktails, but also encompasses music, taking in beautiful buildings, and wandering around and seeing where the city takes you.

Here are some of the highlights of my trip. They include food but also sights, because a trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without some walking tourism. I almost passed out one day because it was so hot and humid, but then I rallied, because that’s what you do in New Orleans:

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Magazine Street is one of New Orleans’s main commercial corridors. It runs from downtown all the way across town through Audubon Park. There are lots of good places to eat, shop, and drink, but some of my favorites are:

Molly’s Rise and Shine Molly’s Rise and Shine is a cute diner from the people who started Turkey and the Wolf sandwich shop (more on that later). They have inventive takes on classic diner fare and Southern food, and delicious pastries. See: this carrot marmalade yogurt and chai almond roll.0F905CD2-C944-4F20-B0EA-3FEB75060D969C46F8F8-6578-4A15-BEF9-14CBD500ABA6

Guy’s Poboys – You can’t leave New Orleans without getting a poboy. The sandwich comes with many fillings, but I would recommend the fried shrimp. Also, when they ask you at Guy’s if you want all the toppings, say yes. There’s a spicy sauce on the sandwich that takes it to the next level. 0F746D5E-5641-423F-9F2D-236B71A5C2F9

La Boulangerie – For a cute French-style café with good pastries that makes you believe you’re in France for a few minutes, visit La Boulangerie on Magazine Street. I got a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino and sat out on the patio and people watched. 7F2485B5-7878-4516-A641-21BA214D524D

Levee Baking Co. – While we’re on the topic of pastries, I wanted to tell you about the best ones in New Orleans. Levee Baking Co. truly blew my mind. I went with Lyndsey one day, and then I came back a few days later by myself. The sweet and savory pastries are delicious, and they’re not too big, so you can have two or three without feeling like you’re on carb overload. 2C0802D0-7A6B-4C99-883E-229BAFA70D1A

Cavan – Cavan was one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. It’s in an old mansion, and the interiors are so ornate and beautiful. The food matches the aesthetic; it’s artfully prepared, and delicious. I got zucchini beignets that made me want to permanently relocate to New Orleans, fried oyster puttanesca, and key lime pie for dessert on the recommendation of my waiter. The service is also excellent here. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had dining alone, because the hostess and waiter were so warm and attentive.

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Saba – My friend Rachel and I went to Saba late at night after going to a conference event. I had my favorite meal in New Orleans there. The brussels sprouts hummus was next level, and so were the small plates. I ordered halvah for dessert and it was a great end to the meal. Halvah tastes kind of like peanut butter. It was set atop a brûléed banana, which was perfectly soft and caramelized. I wish I could eat it again right now. I don’t have pictures from this dinner, partly because it was dark inside and partly because I was completely in the moment enjoying my food, but trust me, it was good.

French Truck Coffee – French Truck Coffee is a chain in New Orleans, but you wouldn’t guess that from its artful interiors and next-level service. I went in as I was walking down Magazine Street and ordered an iced tea, and the cashier was so friendly and attentive. I’d highly recommend stopping by to get work done, or just for a break while you’re shopping or sightseeing. 96B0CFCA-CC0B-459A-B856-9071D2A0C083

DeVille Coffee House & Crêperie – Last but certainly not least, DeVille Coffee House on Magazine Street has one of the best crêpes in the city. I went with Rachel for lunch and I got a spinach, roasted red pepper, mushroom, and cheese crêpe, and it was so light and delicious. I would go to the coffee house everyday if I could. FB880373-6856-40F2-8DA0-5E5AC01BFA9A

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Café du Monde – A trip to New Orleans is not complete without a stop at Café du Monde. Yes, it’s touristy, but it lives up to the hype. The beignets are hot, sweet, and soft, and the café au lait is perfect for dipping small pieces of doughnut. 50FA08F1-70CA-4620-AD9B-C5D5A87BC8E7

Napoleon House – Napoleon House has been around for a while in New Orleans. When you walk through the doors, it feels like stepping back in time. They’re famous for their muffuletta sandwiches, and I’d highly recommend ordering one. Also, don’t leave Napoleon House without ordering a sazerac, a specialty cocktail in New Orleans. Lyndsey made sure I ordered mine with absinthe. I’d encourage you to do the same. 07F7B41C-704D-4418-9F9F-FFC30C2E6121

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral – You will probably have to deal with throngs of tourists at these destinations, but it’s worth it. The square and cathedral (pictured above) are very photogenic, and it’s worth it to read the signs and discover the history of the space.

UptownB97313C1-7A43-4F86-9248-3ECEA14B3A74Creole Creamery – Creole Creamery is a must-visit spot for anyone who loves ice cream. I think it’s the best ice cream I’ve had anywhere, and I do not say that lightly. I got the black chai and oatmeal cookie molasses flavors, which I’d highly recommend. The ice cream is light, sweet, and delicious. It’s perfect to cool down after a hot summer day.58ED5FB2-5088-4490-94F3-DEA524D99685

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz – Hansen’s is a New Orleans institution. Visit the small shop uptown to experience snoballs, or fluffy ice desserts with flavored syrups. I got an ice cream flavor snoball with bananas foster topping, and I can’t even find the words to write about it. It was that good.
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Audubon Park – Nature lovers will enjoy a leisurely stroll through Audubon Park. I stopped by twice; once to see the Tree of Life (pictured below), and another time to take a long walk. Admittedly, this is hard to do on a hot, humid day, but bring plenty of water and it will be worth it.
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Pizza Delicious – Pizza Delicious was rated the best pizza in New Orleans, and for good reason; the slices are large and fresh, with melted cheese, perfectly seasoned sauce, and a crispy crust. Also, Pizza Delicious has delicious salad, which is the mark of a superior pizza joint. Stop by if you’re in Bywater, and then walk to the nearby Crescent Park afterward. 196574FF-F746-4366-8137-60EE3E36DF5DC20E5F21-C387-4313-89AA-60A6DCC55308

Revelator Paloma Cafe – I went to Revelator Paloma Cafe for breakfast my last morning in New Orleans, and it did not disappoint. The service was excellent, and so was the food. I’d recommend the horchata chia pudding and breakfast sandwich with avocado. The latter comes on a buttery biscuit that will make you dream about biscuits for weeks.E9EC7F71-AE16-47C9-9580-3C18ED24B828B53F0EFB-F5D5-44D9-BFD4-1CC696E8E765

Bacchanal Wine Bar – This hip spot in the Bywater is perfect for enjoying bottles of wine or custom cocktails while enjoying live music under string lights. The night I went with my friend Rachel, they had a three-person jazz band playing.

Irish Channel
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Turkey and the Wolf – As I mentioned before, Turkey and the Wolf is one of my favorite sandwich shops in New Orleans, and maybe the country. Stop by for innovative sandwiches spanning meat and vegetarian, including the sweet potato sandwich pictured below. Save room for soft serve!3B4ED70D-DA97-44B4-A2ED-079FC0E094A8

Antiques on Jackson – While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Antiques on Jackson, a funky antiques shop steps away from Magazine Street and Turkey and the Wolf. A local artist makes French-inspired signs (pictured above), and there are plenty of fun souvenirs for friends and family.

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Although I’m sure there are many good places to eat and drink in the Garden District, I primarily stopped by to ogle beautiful houses and see local art. It’s an interesting part of the city because it’s so steeped in history, but there are still signs of modernization (see the hand sculpture graveyard above). I’d recommend blocking off a few hours at least to walk through the neighborhood. You can probably find a good walking tour if you don’t want to go alone.

Conclusion

New Orleans challenged and surprised me, which is the mark of a good travel destination. It also satisfied some of my longings for France. There’s a lot of French influence here because the area was once owned by France before the Louisiana Purchase. Although some of that influence was muted over the years (see this article about French speakers in Louisiana from the New York Times), there’s still genuine pride and celebration of French culture. Also, there’s an international influence in the city that’s obvious through its excellent multicultural dining scene. I’d highly recommend visiting New Orleans for its history, architecture, art, good food, and fun-loving vibes. I hope I can visit again, soon. In the meantime, I plan to laissez le bon temps rouler.FFCAF76D-5936-4CCA-BCB1-57B79C433128F32A6C64-C2D3-4E51-8F24-1DBCBF73B183C9AA5477-E005-49D4-BBDF-B92613EBBB82

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Thé Time: Tranquility Tea

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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.
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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

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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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.

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