A Weekend in Barcelona Spain

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Travel

My trip to Barcelona was taken somewhat on a whim. After plans to go to Norway to try and see the Northern Lights failed, the hubs encouraged me to enjoy a weekend in Spain instead. I had long talked about going to Spain and was itching for a visit to somewhere warm. Knowing that Jacob couldn’t travel anytime soon, I happily took him up on his suggestion and started researching my options. A few hours later I had purchased my plane tickets, and not long after that, I was on my way.

Having never been to Spain before, and having never taken an international trip alone, I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my long weekend away. I wasn’t nervous about traveling by myself, more so just anxious about whether I would get lonely or bored, and if I am being totally honest, concerned about just how many tapas I could realistically consume on my own. ūüėČ

I am happy to report that I never found myself longing for company, and I had absolutely no trouble at all putting away countless plates of food. My time alone was exhilarating and refreshing, and Barcelona had a certain charm that made me never want to leave.

My trip started with a visit to La Boqueria, a massive covered food market which is truly any foodie’s dream. I spent a few minutes wandering through a maze of cured meats, colorful juices, and fresh fruits and vegetables, before grabbing a spot at the bar at El Quim de la Boquer√≠a for my first round of tapas.

Struggling to keep my Spanish and French (and English for that matter…) straight, I ended up with a plate of patatas bravas that I didn‚Äôt mean to order (this wasn‚Äôt the only time that I would order incorrectly), but in the end, this was totally okay. I ate quite a few spuds that weekend, and those were certainly the best I had, so good in fact, that I can‚Äôt even remember what it was I was trying to order initially.

Alongside my patatas bravas were a plate of fried artichoke hearts, which are easily one of the best things i’ve eaten since moving abroad. I nearly cried tears of joy after my first bite. As I washed them down with a ‚ā¨3 glass of local cava, I couldn’t help but to think how coming to Spain was definitely a really great idea.

After picking up a bright pink juice from one of the stalls nearby, I rushed off to the next stop of my journey where I toured Antoni Gaud√≠’s eccentric and unfinished church, the Sagrada Fam√≠lia.

There is a lot that I can say about Gaud√≠’s unique masterpiece, but i’ll just leave it at this: Sagrada Fam√≠lia is an interesting church, and indeed beautiful in many ways. However, in short, it’s not my cup of tea. There’s something about Romanesque and Gothic churches that really inspire me, and I just couldn’t find that same sense of awe in Gaud√≠’s modern design. The construction probably had something to do with it, as well as being asked more than once to move for someone’s selfie, but hey, that’s not Gaud√≠’s fault‚Ķ

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I found it slightly ironic that I left for this trip same day as International Women’s Day. To me, International Women‚Äôs Day represents many different things, but this year, it was a time to celebrate aloneness. So often I think women associate being alone as being a bad thing. We’re not complete without a significant other, we’re not capable of exploring a new place without a companion by our side, we’re not as strong of a leader or an influence on our own, etc.

As I wandered around Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people, in a country where I don’t speak the language, and in a town where I knew no one, I didn’t feel alone. In fact, I felt very much in the warm company of the 1.6 million Catalonians who surrounded me. I didn’t pity myself as I sat alone at a bar with enough tapas to feed three, or as I drank half pitcher of sangria on my own (the second occasion where my Spanish ordering abilities failed me). Instead, I felt exhilarated. I was visiting a place I had always wanted to visit, and enjoying something I truly loved. Why should being alone prevent me from doing that?

As I walked back to my hostel from the Sagrada Familia, I stumbled across thousands of other women as they celebrated all that International Women’s Day means to them. With the march taking place right in front of where I was staying, I first watched for a while from the street, and then spent my evening, alone, in the hostel, celebrating from the window. Again, something was telling me that coming to Barcelona was a really great idea‚Ķ

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Sagrada Familia 

I started the following day with a visit to Park G√ľell, another Gaud√≠ project. Though I enjoyed the main part of the park (the paid area), I loved the free trails and natural gardens that surrounded this area even more.¬†Much of Gaud√≠’s work takes a naturalist approach, and what better way is there to experience nature in a large city than with time spent in a park? Being a perfect 70 degree day, I found a secluded bench with a great view of the city and relaxed in the sun until my next appointment.

Next came what was quite possibly my favorite experience of the trip – a paella cooking class in a lovely private garden just down the street from Park G√ľell. Originating from Valencia, a town about 200 miles south of Barcelona, paella is a regional dish that‚Äôs approached by Spaniards much the same way that Americans approach a backyard barbeque. ¬†It is meant to be leisurely prepared over a glass of wine or sweet vermouth, and enjoyed alongside family and friends.

This “class” was actually called a “cooking experience,” and appropriately so, as an experience was exactly what it was. There was no formal training, per se, just 10 or so strangers who quickly became new friends, enjoying wine and tapas together, and learning a bit about paella along the way.

Our wonderful host shared with us her grandmother’s recipe, and we all cooked together in the backyard of her childhood home. We ate tapas, shaved fresh slices of Ib√©rico and Serrano ham, and learned the art of drinking from a porron, all before enjoying the fruits of our labor with a large plate of paella. I look forward to taking what I learned from this experience and to one day enjoying a backyard, paella barbecue with family and friends back home.

Full and sleepy from so much delicious food, I enjoyed a leisurely walk down a lovely route recommended by my cooking experience host, and then spent the next couple of hours resting at my hostel before venturing out to the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona to see what I could discover there.

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Jacob and I have this thing when we travel in big cities where we will go out of our way to “get lost.” We intentionally take roads which aren’t the main route, and more often than not, our efforts pay off. Taking that same approach as I wandered around this historic part of town, I found myself in a number of quiet squares, and discovered many quaint streets. Eventually, I stumbled across the beautiful 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, and settled in at a fantastic little wine bar across the square. Making friends with the bartender, I tried two fantastic Spanish wines, and jotted notes about my day on the back of a receipt while I let my phone charge behind the counter.

After a quick tour of the church, I stopped in for more tapas at a recommended spot down the street for yet another memorable meal. As I took a seat at the bar, the server‚Äôs first words were “I have just the perfect meal for one person.” After I made it clear that there aren’t really any foods I don’t like, the plates started coming…and it took a long while before they stopped. Some plates of tomato bread, clams, patatas bravas, fried squid, and a couple of other unidentified things later, I left overly full, but again, so happy for yet another great experience.

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Gothic Quarter and Playa de la Barceloneta

The last day of my journey started with, you guessed it, more good food. Having read about a place known for their croissants, I figured I would give it a try. I had been outside of France for three days at that point, and had started missing my favorite breakfast pastry.

Having the bar set pretty high after seven months in Paris, I was skeptical and only purchased one pastry. However, after just one bite, I regretted not buying two. Glazed and filled with mascarpone cheese, my croissant from Hofmann Pastisseria was one of the best things I ate all weekend. Half way through my first one, I had already made up my mind to go back for a second…

To burn off my pastries, I spent the next couple of hours walking around a new area of the Gothic Quarter, and toured another beautiful gothic church, the Barcelona Cathedral. Though there was a short line to get in, this cathedral was quiet, and evoked that sense of awe I couldn’t find at the Sagrada Familia. A ‚ā¨3 elevator ride to the roof made me love it all the more. Offering a fantastic view of the city, and no crowds, I spent half an hour or more on the roof enjoying the views and sunshine, and thinking about how I wasn’t ready for my weekend in Barcelona to end.

Growing hungry, I left the roof with plans to head back to La Boqueria for another round of tapas, but ended up stumbling in to a very Austin-esque coffee shop and decided to enjoy lunch there instead. I don’t know exactly what it was that I ended up eating (story of my life that weekend in Spain), but it was some sort of Asian rice bowl that was utterly delicious, and the kombucha I washed it down with also wasn‚Äôt bad.

Energized and ready to finish my off my weekend strong, I made my way to the beach to dip my toes in the Mediterranean Sea. After half a pitcher of sangria (I swear I only ordered a single glass – and no, I did not drink the whole thing), I headed back to my hostel to get ready for one last memorable Spanish meal.

I think my first meal in Barcelona was probably my favorite, but what I loved about my last was the fact that many of the tapas served were actually meant for one person. Because of this, I was finally able to try a large variety of things without feeling like a total glutton (but really, what did I care?). After one more plate of fried artichoke hearts (which didn’t hold a candle to my first plate from El Quim de la Boquer√≠a), I toasted myself with one final glass of cava to commemorate a such great solo weekend away.

10-Minute Chicken Coconut Soup

Food, Recipes

I’ve been quiet on here lately as i’ve truly not had the time, nor the energy, to write.¬†

After a lovely trip to Spain (post coming soon), I unexpectedly had to head home to Arkansas just two days after returning to France. Four days later, I came back to Paris where I was greeted by my mother-in-law, a dog with a sprained tail, and a hubs with a hurt ankle. Before I could even recover from jet lag I had to prepare the best that I could for my upcoming French proficiency certification exam (which I passed Рyay!), and then hit the ground running again showing my mother-in-law around town. My mother-in-law left Saturday, on Sunday the hubs and I visited Disneyland before our gifted tickets expired, and then on Monday, just when I thought I could return to normalcy, you guessed it, I woke up sick. 

The best way to test if I am truly sick is to assess my appetite. If I have been awake for four+ hours and still don’t feel hungry, you can pretty much guarantee there’s something wrong with me. Returning from class just after noon, I skipped lunch, and headed straight to bed.¬†

After a three hour nap my appetite returned, and I woke up craving something comforting. With nothing to eat in the fridge besides carrots and some stinky cheese, I sent the hubs on a quick errand to pick up a few ingredients for homemade soup. 

While I like chicken noodle soup as much as the next person, it’s not something I ever feel like cooking when I am actually sick. There’s too much chopping involved, and I find it really has to simmer a while for the flavors to richly develop. Therefore, homemade chicken noodle soup in this household is usually reserved for days when others are sick. Chicken coconut soup¬†(Tom Kha Gai)¬†however, is something that requires very few ingredients, minimal preparation, and can be ready in under 10 minutes – making it one of my very favorite sick day soups.¬†

There are dozens of recipes out there for chicken coconut soup, but truth be told, I don’t think I have ever followed any of them. Therefore, I can’t tell you exactly how authentic this recipe is. I believe I first saw a¬†Tom Kha Gai¬†recipe in a magazine and then just whipped up what I could with the ingredients I already had on hand. Apparently it worked, as the recipe below is how I have made this soup ever since, and furthermore, it tastes mighty similar to the¬†Tom Kha Gai¬†from my favorite Thai restaurant back home.¬† It’s simple, quick, and tasty, and it always leaves me feeling better than I did before.¬†

coconut chicken soup - 1

10-Minute Chicken Coconut Soup

Yields four bowls 

1 tbs coconut oil

8 oz mushrooms, sliced*

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 stalks green onion, sliced

crushed red pepper

salt

1 tsp fish sauce (optional)

rotisserie chicken**

1 13.5 oz can coconut milk

32 oz chicken stock or bone broth 

lime wedges, for serving

In a large pot, melt coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until slightly softened. Lower your heat to medium and add garlic slices and a pinch of crushed red pepper. I like a large pinch (or two) as I find spicy soup to be great for a cold. Cook until fragrant, or about 1 minute. Add sliced green onions (reserving a few pinches to use for a garnish), add a pinch of salt, and cook for one minute more. 

Next, stir in fish sauce, and then add coconut milk and chicken stock to pot. Simmer for 5 minutes before adding 1-2 cups of pulled chicken.** Heat for 2-3 minutes more, add salt to taste, and serve with lime wedges, green onion, and a crispy baguette. 

*I almost always buy whole mushrooms as they’re typically the better value. However, slicing mushrooms is time consuming, so when I am sick, I am happy to spend a few cents more for some pre-sliced mushrooms.¬†

**You can certainly boil your own chicken, however, I find that a rotisserie chicken makes a great alternative as it saves time and energy, and makes a great meal for those who are not sick, and who do not want to eat soup for dinner. I just remove the skin from the breasts and tear pieces into the pot. I’m usually a dark meat fan, but with this recipe, I feel as the broth keeps the chicken nice and moist.¬†

Bon appétit! 

Where to Drink Hot Chocolate in Paris + a Recipe

Food, France, Recipes, Travel

The first of March usually has me thinking about spring, especially when we lived in Austin¬†and I knew that intolerable heat was just around the corner.¬†However, here in Paris, the first of March greeted us with snow, and there’s no sign that spring is on its way.

February was a bitterly cold month. The last week or two featured highs that were barely out of the 20s, and though the sun finally came out, it was really still too cold to enjoy being outdoors. With that said, I often found myself perched in caf√©s, either with my journal or a good book, and enjoying Paris’ best cups of hot chocolate.

Ever since I had my first cup of Parisian hot chocolate a few years ago, I haven’t quite felt the same about hot chocolate in the states. It never lived up to that richness and quality that I found in that first cup abroad.¬†When we lived in Boston, L.A. Burdick always came close, but in Austin, nothing even compared, which really was also okay since there aren’t many good months in Austin to enjoy hot chocolate anyway…

Drinking hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud, or simply chocolat, as the French say, has been one of my favorite things about being in Paris this winter. An afternoon cup of chocolat here is just like drinking a cup of coffee, and is totally acceptable for adults and children alike. Not that I needed an excuse.

While you can get a cup of¬†chocolat¬†in almost any caf√© in Paris, they’re not all created equal, and some spots will leave you sorely disappointed. For a truly good cup of¬†chocolat,¬†I find that tea salons, and naturally, chocolate shops, are usually the best bets. Typically (though not always)¬†chocolat¬†in caf√©s and brasseries is thinner and easier to drink, while¬†chocolat¬†in tea salons and chocolate shops is more of a delectable treat.

I have to first say that many of these spots are not unique finds. Most (all besides La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac and Claus) I found on other “where to drink hot chocolate in Paris” lists. I did drink several cups outside these list suggestions, but they didn’t stand up against what’s mentioned below. I also left off several places that were recommended on said lists, as I didn’t think they were worth the honor. I can however attest to the fact that every place i’ve mentioned makes a mean cup of chocolat,¬†and I would highly recommend a visit to any one of these spots (though some more than others) on your next trip to Paris.

La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac 

Cyril Lignac is a very well-known name in France, and while his restaurants, and more so his¬†p√Ętisseries,¬†are likely known to some tourists, his¬†chocolateries¬†probably are not. La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac was the first and last place I visited in my research, and I am tempted to say it was my favorite.

Each cup of¬†hot chocolate¬†I had during my quest tasted slightly different, though I would never be able to say which one was best without tasting them all side by side. However, I found my Cyril Lignac cups to be slightly more memorable, because of the fact that they were a bit creamier, and a little sweeter than the rest. Though still rich and full of flavor, I’d say Cyril Lignac is probably the best choice for those who don’t like their hot chocolate too dark or intense — I do — which is why I hesitate to declare it the best.

The main shop is located on a cute corner in the 11th¬†arrondissement¬†and is a very nice place to spend an afternoon. The atmosphere inside is bright and welcoming, and the small heated patio outside is perfect for a warmer day. There’s also a small location in the¬†Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s neighborhood in the 6th, which is great for a quick break or for takeaway.

25 Rue Chanzy, 75011 Paris ; 34 rue du Dragon, 75006 Paris

 

Mamie G√Ęteaux

Again, I am not picking favorites, but Mamie G√Ęteaux also received multiple visits. At Mamie G√Ęteaux, it feels like you’re dining in your grandma’s kitchen, and therefore, is a very comfortable space to call home for a morning or afternoon.

The¬†chocolat¬†here is great, and is made even better with a serving of their homemade whipped cream, or¬†chantilly.¬†They also have a large selection of fresh-made cakes (which I still haven’t tried), and incredible quiche. This is a great spot for lunch or an afternoon pick me up, and is conveniently located just down the street from one of my favorite gourmet food stores, La Grande Epicerie.

66 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris

Claus

Claus is a very cute and popular breakfast spot, especially for those who need more than just coffee and bread in the morning (the standard French breakfast). I’ve only eaten there once so I won’t judge their food based on my one experience (my eggs were cold, but my croissant was one of the best I have had in this city), but I will say their chocolat chaud¬†was one of my favorites on this list. The Palais-Royal location is usually really busy, but on the morning I visited the¬†Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s location with my mom, we basically had the place to ourselves. I look forward to returning on a quiet afternoon one day soon for another cup of chocolate, and for sure another croissant.

14 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris; 2 Rue Clément, 75006 Paris

Café de Flore (and Les Deux Magots)

Two of the oldest caf√©s in the city made famous by their high-profile¬†clientele (think Hemingway, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso…), these caf√©s are no secret. Caf√© de Flore and its rival neighbor Les Deux Magots are located in one of the prettiest sections of the Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s neighborhood, and are very popular with tourists.

Though I have only actually enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate from Caf√© de Flore, I felt that at least mentioning Les Deux Magots was necessary, as I have been told by trusted sources that both offer an almost identical experience, and one¬†‚ā¨9 cup of hot chocolate is enough for me.

Despite it being touristy, if you can plant yourself in a comfortable spot on the patio on a nice day, I still recommend visiting Café de Flore at least once in your lifetime as it offers prime people watching, and though expensive, a really solid cup of hot chocolate.

172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris ; 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris

Angelina

Angelina is another very touristy spot, but it was here where I fell in love with European-style hot chocolate. I think Angelina’s hot chocolate is best described as “melted chocolate cake,” or at least that’s what I said the first time I had it. In all honestly though, good French hot chocolate really does just taste like a melted chocolate bar with a splash of cream, which as you’ll see in my recipe below, is essentially how it’s made.

Though I have never dined in I can only imagine the tables are 100% filled with tourists, and there’s usually always a line. I advise grabbing a cup at the stand outdoors if it’s there, or from the counter inside instead. Then you can enjoy your¬†chocolat¬†on a walk through the Tuileries Gardens, or while admiring the nearby Place Vend√īme.

There are a few locations, but I know for sure that it is easy to get a cup for takeaway at the main tearoom, which is located at 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. 

Un Dimanche à Paris

Though I wasn’t crazy about the interior of Un Dimanche √† Paris, it’s located on the loviest little street, so if you can get seat by the window, the rest won’t really matter. I hear this place can get really busy, but when I was there in the middle of the week it was relatively empty. However, on that note, be aware that the tearoom is only open from 15h-18h (3-6pm).

The¬†chocolat¬†here is delicious, and I really liked the pot in which it was served. They serve pastries here as well if you want to visit for more than just something to drink, but I can’t comment on their quality, as the¬†chocolat¬†was enough of a treat for me.

4-6-8 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, 75006 Paris

Carette

Located on one of my favorite squares in the city, the Place des Vosges, Carette has the perfect patio for spending a good portion of your day. I spent a very cold January afternoon here, but you’d never know how cold it was outside thanks to the restaurant’s powerful heaters. With my small pot of chocolat, I¬†stripped off my coat and cozily settled in, people watching, and reading nearly all of Hemmingway’s¬†The Old Man and the Sea.¬†If you’re lucky, you might even hear an accordion playing nearby, adding to the charm of this already charming city.

There are two locations, but I have only ever visited the one in the Place des Vosges, and highly recommend that you do too. However, the second location might offer you a glance of the Eiffel Tower, which wouldn’t make a horrible view either. 2 Bis Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris;¬†

La Charlotte de L’Isle

I spend a lot of time on and around the¬†√éle Saint-Louis walking Heidi, but it’s rare that I actually stop anywhere except for an ice cream cone at Berthillon, and then on a bench along the Seine. However, one chilly evening instead of wandering about with the dog, I changed things up and wandered around with the hubs, stopping in at La Charlotte de L’Isle to warm up along the way. La Charlotte de L’Isle is a cute and cozy tea room with an impressive tea list, and a very delicious¬†chocolat chaud.¬†There’s no patio so I won’t return here with Heidi, but maybe I’ll make it back solo, or with the hubs again one day.

24 Rue Saint-Louis en l’√éle, 75004 Paris

La Maison du Chocolat

La Maison du Chocolat makes fantastic chocolates, and though they don’t have a tea room, their location in the Carrousel du Louvre does offer¬†chocolat chaud¬†for takeaway. Being a chocolate shop, I expected their hot chocolate to be really thick and rich like everywhere else on this list, however, I found it to be a bit more “drinkable.” By that, I mean it’s something I can see myself having more often, as opposed to the other options on this list which are a once in a while treat. It wasn’t my favorite as I prefer a thicker cup, but it was certainly still delicious, and really the perfect way to warm me up as I walked around one freezing cold day last week.

Carrousel du Louvre, 99 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Jacques Genin

I am actually mentioning Jacques Genin as a place that I do not recommend. Come for their fantastic chocolates and¬†p√Ętes de fruits,¬†but don’t stay for a¬†chocolat chaud.¬†This shop pops up on a lot of lists, which is why I chose to bring it up. I left other places off as well, but since Jacques Genin seems to appear often, I figured it was worth mentioning.

Don’t get me wrong, the flavor of the¬†chocolat chaud¬†was fantastic, but after about three sips, it was way too much to drink, and once it started to cool, I could only “drink” it with a spoon. I am one for rich hot chocolate, but my cup here was almost overwhelming. Furthermore, I really didn’t dig the space. It felt like a dated, modern hotel lounge, and there was an awful draft that didn’t encourage me to stay long. However, my¬†p√Ętes de fruits¬†were worth every penny, and I will definitely return on occasion for a special sugary treat.

133 Rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris


If you’re traveling to Paris soon, I sure hope you’re able to try a cup of¬†chocolat¬†from one, or several, of the shops listed above. If you try them (or have tried them before), comment below to let me know what you think!

Meanwhile, to tie you over until your trip abroad, or to keep you warm for the remainder of this chilly winter, i’ve included my go-to hot chocolate recipe below for when I really want to enjoy a good cup at home. It’s not quite as rich as what you’ll find in some shops in Paris, but it’s still delectable, and is always a very nice treat.

French-Style Chocolat Chaud

Yields two mugs

16 oz. whole fat milk

1+ bar of high quality chocolate, ideally 60% cacao or more*

Homemade whipped cream (recipe)

Finely chop your chocolate, and with your milk, add it to a small saucepan over low heat. Continuously stir until chocolate is thoroughly melted and well-blended with your milk. Continue to cook over low heat until warm. Be careful not to rush this as you don’t want your milk to scald. Divide evenly between two mugs and top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

*Don’t cheat yourself here. For a really good cup of hot chocolate, you’ll want to use a ¬†high quality bar. I usually don’t use anything too fancy (like chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat or a bar from Cyril Lignac), but I will always use something solid, like a good 70% cacao bar from Lindt, or something like that. French hot chocolate is usually pretty dark, and often, places will serve it with sugar in case it’s too bitter for your liking. You could always set out sugar cubes when serving if you don’t like your hot chocolate too rich, or you could choose a lower cacao percentage. I would do this before adding less chocolate.

For a thicker, richer hot chocolate, add a bit more chocolate to your pot. For two cups of hot chocolate, I will use anywhere from one full bar to a bar and a half. If you don’t want it too thick though, stick with just one bar. If you want it really thick, go crazy and use a full two bars.¬†

Bon appétit!

Caramelized Onion “Camemburgers”

Food, Food Photography, France, Recipes

Life in our 193 square foot apartment seems ages ago, even though we’ve only been in our new home for less than a month. Or for me, just one week…

Last month, living in that tiny flat, Paris felt like an extended vacation. Now, in a slightly larger space, and with Heidi asleep next to me on the couch as I write, Paris feels like home.

On those nights where we felt somewhat displaced and homesick, what helped us to feel rooted were the meals we cooked in that little apartment almost each night. With a kitchen smaller than most people’s pantries, and a fridge similar to what you’d find in a college student’s dorm room, daily trips to the market were required, but honestly, that was half the fun. Each day I would walk around the corner to the organic market, or one block over to¬†Rue Montorgueil, one of Paris’ best market streets. When I wanted something that felt a bit more familiar, I would walk just a bit further to the British grocery store, Marks & Spencer, a place that felt much like Trader Joe’s, and sells the most wonderful flavors of crisps (the cornish cruncher cheddar and pickled onion, and the chicken mustard and worcester sauce crisps are where it’s at).

IMG_1088.jpgWorking with just two small burners, a microwave, and a toaster, I couldn’t get fancy with what I cooked, but each night that we ate at home, we ate well. With meals like French onion soup, bangers and mash, pot roast, pasta bolognese, and I kid you not, one of the best burgers I have ever had in my life, we didn’t go hungry. For dessert, we’d drink wine and eat chocolate, or enjoy a treat from one of the incredible patisseries nearby. Who needs to bake when you live in Paris?

Heidi and I returned to Paris a week ago today, but unfortunately, I came down with a horrible cold from all of my recent traveling, so while I now have a larger kitchen to cook in, I haven’t yet had much time to play. I made ratatouille earlier this week, and a delectable, buttery quiche the night after that, but since then, it’s been homemade chicken noodle soup and cup after cup of hot tea. Tonight, I think i’ll move on to a spicy curry, and then as soon as I feel 100%, these “camemburgers” will definitely find a place on our dinner menu.

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A play on the word hamburger and camembert, the hubs thought calling these burgers “camemburgers¬†” would be appropriate and cute, and I fully agree. Rich and gooey, these burgers melt in your mouth, and definitely require the crunch of a cornichon and deserve to be washed down by a good red wine. Though we try and limit how often we eat red meat, we ate these guys twice last month, and I can’t wait to get over this cold so I can fully appreciate another one soon.

Cornichons, which are basically just little baby pickles, should be available in your local grocery store, and are for sure available at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods if you have one nearby. If you can’t find camembert cheese, or find the flavor too strong, brie cheese would work wonderfully as a replacement. And while we love a good strong camembert, for this particular recipe, I recommend a milder one as the strong flavor could overpower the taste of the caramelized onions, which no one wants to miss. If you do use a strong camembert, cut off the rind before melting the cheese on your burger.

Caramelized Onion Camemburgers

Yields two burgers 

1 lb ground beef

Brioche buns*

Camembert cheese (or brie if you prefer a milder flavor – see note above)

Cornichons

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

Butter

Mayonnaise

Dijon mustard

Sugar

S&P

Melt a pat of butter in the bottom of skillet over moderately low heat. Add the onion, and stir until your onion slices are well coated in butter. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to very low and let the onions steep for about 10-15 minutes.

After about 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly, and stir in a pinch of salt and sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for about 30-40 minutes, until they have turned an even, light golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare your burgers by forming two patties and sprinkling each with salt and pepper. Next, add a little butter to a skillet and cook your patties until they reach your desired doneness. For this recipe, I like the burgers to still be a bit pink. I believe our burgers were probably cooked to medium. Before you pull your burgers from the heat, top them with a couple of slices of cheese, and cover the skillet so your cheese can quickly melt. If your onions have finished caramelizing, you can top your patty with onions before adding the cheese to help everything nicely meld together. Otherwise, you can add your onions later.

Once your patties have finished cooking and your onions are done caramelizing, it’s time to assemble your burgers. Spread both buns with a bit of mayonnaise, and one side with a little dijon mustard. Add your burger patty, your caramelized onions (if you haven’t already), and a few cornichons. You can either slice your cornichons in half (long ways) or add them whole. The cornichons we buy here are rather small, and we love the acidity and crunch that they add, so we don’t bother cutting ours.

Serve with some herb seasoned fries and fry sauce (we love saut√©ed garlic and herbs mixed with mayonnaise) and a bottle of red wine (really, most reds will go great with this, but we particularly love a good Pinot Noir or¬†C√ītes du Rh√īne) and¬†bon appetit!

*Sure, you could use regular buns, but really, I don’t recommend it. I used regular buns the first time I made this recipe and the burgers were good, however, the second time I made them, with brioche buns, they were GREAT.¬†

Dordogne France and Anniversary Waffles

Culture, Food, Photography, Recipes, Travel

To think that Dordogne almost didn’t make it on our¬†itinerary is a shame. Protected by its relative inaccessibility,¬†the region of Dordogne is full of unspoiled beauty and sites unlike anywhere else in France.¬†¬†Filled with prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages,¬†and the best foie gras in Europe, Dordogne was an easy area to fall in love with, and the perfect place to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.

A near five hour drive from Amboise, we took our time getting to Dordogne, enjoying the views and stopping for a roadside picnic lunch of baguette sandwiches with pork rillettes, whole grain mustard, and cornichons, and the best market strawberries on earth for dessert.

Arriving in the region in the late afternoon, we started our Dordogne adventure with a scenic drive through the eastern part of of the area, wandering through the sleepy towns of Carennac, Loubressac, and Autoire, and pausing for a Belgian pint in the well-preserved medieval town of Martel. After our drive, we made it to our bed and breakfast nestled near the river in Castelnaud, and it was there where the true magic of our Dordogne adventure began. IMG_0224IMG_0280IMG_0227

IMG_0260IMG_0303IMG_0339Our stay at La Tour de Cause was nothing short of perfect, and it’s partially because of this inn that Dordogne will forever have a spot¬†on our itinerary each time we visit France.¬†Our room and the grounds were lovely, the food was impeccable, and the inn owners¬†had a gift for making us feel right at home.

After forcing¬†ourselves from the too comfortable beds, we’d start each day with freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe cheeses, buttery croissants, homemade jams, creamy yogurt, decadent¬†hot chocolate, and some other French or Belgian delight perfectly prepared and served¬†by Igor and Nico, our¬†hosts and new friends.

We’d sit around in their stunning ¬†kitchen long after we’d finished eating, sipping our coffee and chocolate, chatting, and finalizing plans for our day. After breakfast, we’d slowly get ready and enjoy some time on the patio, before venturing out into the countryside to explore the best sites this part of France had to offer.¬†IMG_0717IMG_0706.jpg

IMG_0795IMG_0772On our first full day we explored the nearby town of Sarlat-la-Canéda where we shopped the stalls at the bustling Wednesday market. As one of the most important market towns since the Middle Ages, not only did the Sarlat market offer us a wonderful culinary tour of the area, but it also offered a downtown rich in architecture and history, a great introduction to this historic region.

At the market we bought cheese and cured meats, tasted walnut liqueur, and spoke to the merchants in broken French. We stocked up on foie gras and terrines, and purchased fruit, wine, and baguettes for lunch. When it started to rain, we ducked into the church to sit and pray, before heading on to the more adventurous part of our day.

Once the rain passed, we headed down the road to start our nine-mile, lazy canoe ride down the scenic Dordogne river. Paddling at a relaxed pace, we took in views of lush forests and towering limestone bluffs, and then of castles and cliff-dwelling villages.

IMG_0389churchIMG_0445IMG_0420IMG_0466IMG_0541IMG_0594Docking our boat at the foot of the first village, we stepped onto dry land to explore the beautiful town of La Roque-Gageac, a quaint little place where we later returned for our anniversary dinner. From there, we paddled on past Castelnaud, where our bed and breakfast was located, before ending our excursion with a tour of one of my favorite castles, the mighty 12th century fortress of Beynac.

Hiking to the tip top of town, we enjoyed our walk up the narrow cobblestone roads, surrounded by historic homes and rose covered buildings, before being rewarded with sweeping views of the river valley area below.

Nestled 500 feet above the Dordogne River,¬†Ch√Ęteau de Beynac was used as a defense fortress by the French during the Hundred Years’ War, and having been¬†recently restored, ¬†gave us a great glimpse into what life might¬†have looked like in this area during that time. Much different than the newer, more luxurious palaces¬†we saw in the Loire, the fortress of Beynac was one of the coolest ch√Ęteaux we visited in France, and is perhaps one of my favorite ch√Ęteaux ¬†I’ve seen in all of Europe thus far.¬†IMG_0671

IMG_0621IMG_0617IMG_0645IMG_0659IMG_0656IMG_0629Winding down from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to our bed and breakfast¬†where we had one of the best meals we had during our entire stay in France.¬†Starting with aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres on the patio, I knew right away that our decision to stay in for dinner was the right choice. Igor and Nico serve up a lovely breakfast, but it’s dinner where their talent is truly able to shine.

Gathered around the¬†kitchen table with Igor and Nico and two other guests, we enjoyed herring crostinis with creme fraiche and fresh dill, duck¬†p√Ęt√© croquettes topped with fried parsley and lemon, sausage stuffed quail with a wine and fruit reduction, sauteed zucchini, and a melt in your mouth polenta. The wine flowed freely, the conversation never stalled, and before we knew it, we were no longer a table of strangers, but instead, a table of friends.

After dessert, more wine, and then a pot of tea, we collapsed into bed, happy and full, and never wanting to leave. france wafflescave

tree.jpgDay two of our Dordogne adventure was another special one as it was also the day of our 5th wedding anniversary. As if dinner the night before hadn’t already been perfect enough, we were greeted at breakfast that¬†morning with cheers and music and special, anniversary waffles. With¬†Frank Sinatra’s¬†Love and Marriage¬†playing in the background,¬†we celebrated with our new friends, feeling loved, and so happy to be in France.

Though maybe not the most romantic way to celebrate an anniversary, we¬†continued our day and our Dordogne adventure¬†by exploring¬†the region’s¬†biggest attraction and touring two of the hundreds of prehistoric caves that are scattered¬†around the area.

The first cave we visited, Lascaux II, is¬†an exact replica of the area’s most famous cave, Lascaux. Just feet away, the original cave was closed to the public in 1963 to help preserve the art. After being discovered in 1940, changes in the environment caused by human visitors¬†did¬†more damage ¬†to the art in the 15 years it was open to the public than in the estimated 17,000-20,000 prior. This cave is most famous for The Great Hall of the Bulls, a section of the cave which depicts colorful paintings of bulls, equines, and stags, as well as the largest painted animal discovered so far in cave art, a 17 foot long bull. Next we saw original and newer (though certainly not new! est. 13,000 years old…) cave art at Rouffignac, which is well known for its engravings and drawings of mammoths, bison, horses, and other large animals. Our visit to these caves was¬†a highlight of our trip, and though maybe not romantic, was a wonderful way to celebrate¬†our anniversary.¬†

After our cave excursion we enjoyed a late picnic on a quiet riverbank next to an 11th century Romanesque church, before heading back to our bed and breakfast for a nap, and then on to another memorable French meal.

While I would be happy celebrating marriage anywhere on earth with my dear hubs, our 5th wedding anniversary is definitely a day I will never forget, and it’ll take a lot to top this year’s¬†memorable¬†celebration.¬†IMG_0864IMG_0844IMG_0817IMG_0849On our third and last day in Dordogne, we cracked open a bottle¬†of Chimay before noon, and enjoyed one more¬†chat with¬†Igor and Nico¬†gathered around their kitchen table. We talked politics and about our work, and most importantly, about food. I shared with them some of my favorite recipes, and walked away with some of theirs. Too quickly the bottle was empty and the hour was late, and we still had one last castle to visit before leaving for¬†our next town. Sadly saying our goodbyes, we packed the car and went down the road¬†to visit¬†Ch√Ęteau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle before heading on our way.

I cried a bit when leaving, sad to move along so soon, but also excited for what was next to come. I read the paper Igor had given me, ¬†a recipe for the waffles we enjoyed on our anniversary, and smiled knowing we’d forever be able to have a bit of Dordogne in our lives, wherever we may go.

My new go to waffle recipe, these are great for breakfast, dessert, or a late night snack. Though I call them anniversary waffles, they’re really just a great Belgian waffle recipe that came from some amazing Belgians in France, perfect for anniversaries, or any weekday or weekend meal. We like them best warm and very crisp, served¬†with a smear¬†of apricot jam, and washed down with a chilled glass of champagne.

Anniversary Waffles 

Makes 9-10 Waffles 

2 cups flour

1 cup milk

3/4 cup water

3 eggs

10.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1.5 teaspoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

dash of vanilla (optional)

dash of salt

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, water, and yeast, then mix in all other ingredients, except for the salt. Loosely cover batter and rest in the fridge for 12 hours.

After your batter has rested, mix in a dash of salt, and cook waffles according to your waffle maker instructions. I like to cook mine on the hottest setting, allowing them to become extra crisp. Serve with powdered sugar, syrup, or my favorite, a high quality jam.

 

A Weekend in South Haven Michigan

Culture, Food, Photography, Travel

There’s something incredibly soothing about the faces of old friends. When life and career paths pull you so far away from those people you mesh with best, little can beat sweet reunions, where your paths cross once again, and where conversations ignite like no time has¬†passed between you.

Two weekends ago, the hubs and I caught an early flight to Chicago, where we were greeted by Sam, the first friend we made upon moving to Boston. Coming from Michigan, Sam arrived bright and early, excited to show us around his home state. We drove north, chatting and laughing at his silly puns, as if we only saw each other just last week.

Our day started right with a delicious lunch and a pint at a southern Michigan brewery. After filling our bellies with delicacies and laughs, we continued our reunion with another round, in the beautiful, sunny 75 degree weather, playing cornhole and enjoying¬†each other’s company.¬†pup
The reunion quickly doubled as we welcomed friends from Wisconsin, and said hello to the newest member of their family. Cornhole and drinks continued, as we enjoyed the sun, running around in the grass with Francis, our friends Matt and Sophia’s adorably handsome son. And again, just like with Sam, it felt as nothing had changed. Our conversations still flowed just the same as they did in Boston at the local pub at 1:00 am, but this time, we just had another Von Rueden there to love.

That night, the last of our group made it to town, along with their pup who made me wish desperately  that our Heidi girl were small enough to fly. We sat outdoors wrapped in sweatshirts and blankets, chatting until late into the night. My heart was full, and the weekend had only just begun.

beach

Saturday morning we enjoyed coffee and donuts scrunched in on the living room couch, watching the pup and babe play. After a lazy morning, we walked to farmers market, where we picked up local treats and food for dinner that night. From there, we made our way into a little pizza shop near the water, where we ordered some pies to go, and enjoyed them together watching the boats in the marina sail by. We continued our day with naps and books on the beach, and splashed in the cool Lake Michigan waves. Time moved slow, but ever too quickly, as I savored those moments on our much needed weekend away.

That night we cooked together and ate blueberries by the handful and drank cocktails and local Michigan beer around the fire. We played games and shared stories and celebrated milestones and announcements. We reminisced about our time spent in Boston, and laughed about that things that happened that day. I cried a little when I went to bed, feeling exhausted but grateful for the weekend, and excited for the moments that were still ahead.

sunset

Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated the best way I knew how. I slept in and ate brunch and sipped spicy Bloody Marys as I watched the rain. We visited a cidery, and then another, and then ate a bagful of cider donuts to soak it all up. We ate Mexican food and drank margaritas and then watched the sunset from the pier. I ate birthday cake ice cream from Shermans and went to bed before midnight, feeling overwhelmed with love and grateful for such a wonderful day.

Monday, our last full day in town, we ventured into Grand Rapids where we visited Founders, a french bakery, and then had another round in a local micropub. We ate truffle frites and pickled vegetables, and again laughed until it hurt. We spent our last night together circled around the table, and then again around the fire. We stayed up way too late, enjoying the cold air, and the good company.¬†I knew that tomorrow our trip would end, and I sure wasn’t ready.

founders

On Tuesday morning¬†after saying our goodbyes, I spent the next two hours reflecting on our weekend on our drive back to Chicago.¬†In her books, one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist (who ironically spends her summers in South Haven, a fact I knew but didn’t realize until long after booking our trip), discusses the importance of doing what you must to make your way to friends around the country when life spreads you far apart.¬†Recently listening to her discuss this, I found myself in tears as I mourned¬†over the fact that many of our closest friends are so far away. Though sad for that short moment, my pain quickly turned to joy, as I eagerly thought about how soon¬†we’d be able to follow Shauna’s advice, and gather with dear friends in a place that she calls home. I thought about this on¬†our drive to the airport, realizing what a beautiful time the weekend was to reconnect¬†with familiar faces, igniting something in¬†my¬†soul, and satisfying my¬†deepest longing for familiarity.

You may have noticed I’ve been absent from this blog for far to long. Part of that has been an issue with time, as I’ve struggled this year to balance work, fun, and settling into a new city. A greater reason though was inspiration. My traveler’s heart sat too still this year, and I found myself in a downward spiral. Every time I would sit to write, the words I wanted to say wouldn’t come. It wasn’t until two Saturday’s ago, when I sat with friends in Michigan around a table, that I realized that my desire was still there.¬†I became a blogger among those friends, and it was them who reminded me that my passion for blogging never went away. It just took adventure and their familiar faces to get me there.

Until next time!

Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes, and a Very Special Birthday

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Recipes

Today is a special day for a couple of different reasons. For one, it’s Shrove Tuesday, meaning it’s a day for self-reflection, examination, and confession. Secondly, it’s my dear hub’s birthday, and boy, is he worth celebrating.

This morning we enjoyed banana pancakes together because they’re his¬†favorite, and because it’s Fat Tuesday, and I will take any excuse to eat pancakes. After breakfast, I wrapped his gift and got an early start prepping for dinner. Tonight, we won’t be out for a¬†crazy Mardi Gras/birthday celebration, but instead, we will enjoy a nice dinner together at home, relaxing, finding rest and peace, because during this lenten season, that’s just what we need.

The last six months have consisted of many changes. It was a season of transition and of adaptation. It was an exhilarating, emotional, exciting, and exhausting season. This year, for me, lent is serving as a fresh start. A beginning to the next season, a start to something new. Life finally feels a bit settled here in Austin, a little more routine, and not quite so exhausting.

I’m not sure exactly what I will be giving up this year, or if I will actually be giving up anything at all.¬†I am still trying to figure out what I expect from this season, and am still working¬†on my desires and goals. I long for¬†rest, both physically and mentally, and I desire to be really intentional with my actions. I do know that much. So today, instead of of exhausting myself with worry about how I will go about that, I am choosing to find peace and rest and celebrate the man that I love. Happy birthday, my dear hubs, I am so very glad that you were born!

The-Daily-Doss---Banana-Pancakes
Banana-Walnut, Sour Cream Pancakes

yields eight 4-inch pancakes

1 large egg

1 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of ground nutmeg

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

butter, for pan

1 large, ripe banana, chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream, vanilla, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Melt a pat of butter in the bottom of a large, heavy pan over medium-low heat. Ladle in 1/4 cup batter at a time, leaving 2 inches between each pancake. Sprinkle each pancake with a heaping tablespoon of chopped banana, and a heaping tablespoon of walnuts.

When the pancakes are dry around the edges and you can see bubbles forming on the top, flip each pancake and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes on the second side. Once cooked through, remove from pan, add another pat of butter, and cook remaining batter.

Serve with powdered sugar, additional walnuts, and pure maple syrup, if desired.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Peach and Sour Cream Pancakes

Back to the Basics: Homemade Whipped Cream and Pie Dough

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes

There is no dessert more classic at Thanksgiving than a pie, and no better topping for a pie than whipped cream. As many of us will soon be indulging in our favorite holiday desserts, I thought I would share a couple of recipes to help put your pies over the top.

It never fails to surprise me how many people can’t (or don’t…or won’t) make their own whipped cream. It’s one of the easiest recipes¬†I’ve ever made¬†and only requires ONE ingredient. It tastes much better than store bought whipped cream, and though I haven’t compared the prices, a container of heavy whipping cream is pretty cheap. If you can make a pie, I promise you, you can make homemade whipped cream.

While really, all that’s necessary is heavy whipping cream, it’s common to sprinkle in a little sugar to sweeten up the taste. Sometimes, I switch it up a bit and use maple syrup instead of sugar, or maybe add some vanilla or a splash of bourbon, but really, a classic sugar/cream whipped cream is hard to beat.

If you have a stand mixer, this is seriously the easiest recipe in the world. Just put your cream and sugar in your mixing bowl, turn your mixer on high, and in about two to three¬†minutes, you’ll have yourself a glorious bowl of whipped cream. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer works great as well. It might take a few minutes longer, and it’ll help if you freeze your bowl and beaters for about 15 minutes before you start, but¬†that is still a pretty simple recipe if you ask me.

If you are whipping by hand, you rock! You deserve a big spoonful of cream (and maybe a shot of bourbon) once you are done. If you choose this route, you’ll certainly want to stick your bowl and beaters in the freezer for a few minutes before you start. It’ll help you out and cool you down while you work.

whipped-cream


Homemade Whipped Cream

yields 1 1/2 – 2 cups whipped cream

Ingredients 

2 tbsp sugar

1 c heavy whipping cream

Directions

Whisk together cream and sugar in a mixing bowl until soft peaks form.


IMG_8134

Though slightly harder and a little more work, homemade pie dough is another simple recipe that every cook should know how to make. You have to plan a bit ahead on this one as your dough needs time to chill, but if truly in a hurry, a freezer usually helps to do the trick. Most recipes will ask you to chill your dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour (I recommend this as well), but I’ve been in a cinch a time or two where¬†chilling my dough in the freezer for 30 minutes worked.

Unlike whipped cream, there’s a bit of a deeper science to creating a great pie dough, so I will let the professionals walk you through this one. For galettes and tarts, I enjoy Bon App√©tit’s Basic Tart Dough,¬†and for flaky pies, I favor Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough all the way. If you are into graham cracker crusts, ole Deb Perelman also has a great recipe for that. It’s my favorite for cheesecakes and pumpkin pies!

As you prepare your desserts this holiday season, I encourage you to give your own whipped cream and pie crust a try. Intimated by the dough? Start small with the cream. It’ll put your dish over the top and leave your guests hungry for more.¬†If you feel a bit nervous about making your own pie dough, Christmas is still a month away. That leaves you plenty of time to practice!

Bon appétit and happy Thanksgiving!

Mexican Meatball Soup

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Recipes

When we lived in Boston, good Mexican food was hard to come by. It took over a year for us to find anywhere worth driving to (it was a ways out from the city center)¬†and it wasn’t until the night before we left town that we finally found an authentic taco joint. We craved it often and were so rarely satisfied. We missed pitchers of beer and spicy salsa with bottomless baskets of chips. We longed for Mexican white cheese dip and I always failed miserably at making my own. Each time we would head home to Arkansas, barbecue and Mexican food were always on the top of our list. We’d eat until we were miserable, but it was worth it every time.

IMG_7800

Now that we are in Texas, we have access to more Mexican restaurants than we could ever try in a lifetime. There are probably at least 10 trucks and restaurants just on our block, and a thousand more scattered about the city. The grocery store located just down the street greets you with colorful aguas frescas, and there are peppers there that I dare not try to identify. I love the Mexican culture that’s prominent across Texas and the delicious culinary inspiration that it brings.

This recipe comes from a new friend of mine who can cook Mexican food with the best of them. As we chatted about the weather turning cooler she made mention of one of her favorite Mexican soups. “I’d love for you to teach me how to make it,” I told her, and that is just what she did.

soup

Silvia, who was born in Mexico, has been eating this soup for her entire life. Her grandmother would make it when she would visit her in Tijuana, and she grew up eating her mother’s rendition in her home in Los Angeles where she grew up. Now that she’s in Texas, she cooks it for her fianc√© and for lucky friends like me.

It’s a simple soup, and really, the ingredients are rather basic. Feeling a bit surprised by this,¬†I had to ask what exactly made it Mexican.¬†“It’s just a soup that we eat in Mexican homes,” I was told. At first, I was a little let down by this answer. I was secretly waiting for that “special ingredient,” the exotic flavor that made it truly Mexican, but as we sat down for dinner, I realized that her answer couldn’t have been anymore perfect. It’s not just the¬†ingredients in a recipe that make it regionally authentic, it’s how you eat it and how you share it that’s important. Happy for the reminder, I finished off my last meatball, feeling glad for new friendships,¬†and full and comforted from this tasty soup.

Like any good cook preparing a family recipe, Silvia did not measure anything out. I jotted notes as we went along, but really, they are only guesstimates. Take these notes for what they’re worth, and have fun using your imagination along the way!

¬°Buen provecho!

IMG_7782

Mexican Meatball Soup

Serves 4

5 cups water

4 Roma tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 lb ground beef

2 tbsp rice

1 egg

2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 quarter of a large white or yellow onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 zucchinis, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tbsp olive oil

s&p

lime

tapatío hot sauce

In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil until soft. Meanwhile, blend tomatoes, garlic, water, and a good pinch of salt until smooth. Poor broth into pot, add carrots, zucchini, and potatoes, and bring to a low simmer.

While your broth simmers, mix together ground beef, cumin, mint, egg, rice and salt and pepper in a large bowl. With your hands,  pack meat into 1-inch balls. Gently place into your broth.

Cover pot and simmer soup until vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through, about 25-35 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and more cumin if desired. Serve with lime wedges, Tapatío hot sauce, and a side of charred tortillas.

 

Blueberry-Lemon Drop Biscuits

Food, Food Photography, Recipes

Though the first day of autumn falls on Tuesday of next week, here in Texas the air is still warm and wet. I see pictures from friends scattered around the country, sipping warm beverages and baking pumpkin treats. My friends in Boston are pulling out their sweaters, while I am here in Austin wearing shorts and a tank.

IMG_7629

Early last week the temps reached 100, but to my great surprise, Saturday was a chilly, 66 degrees. Imagine the joy for this girl who loves fall, as I got to wear pants AND long sleeves, and snuggle on the couch with open windows, and a cool, crisp breeze. I baked pumpkin-pecan muffins and simmered a pot of French onion soup, and though it was grey and dreary outdoors, I declared the weather to be perfect, a tease of fall and a break from the heat. Though Sunday wasn’t as cool, it only reached a humid 78. It wasn’t perfect, but still a welcome change from the high temps we had experienced all week.

IMG_7581

While I am longing for the weather to consistently be a little more reminiscent of fall, I am accepting it for what it is and learning to make due. Instead of baking with squashes and spices and whipping up hearty comfort foods, I am celebrating a few more weeks of summer with berries, and citrus and light, refreshing bites.

These biscuits were the perfect treat earlier this week, when I longed to bake, but needed something light to eat. Though I was craving roasted squash and a creamy hot chocolate, it was 87 degrees outside, and slightly warm in our apartment. The cold flour and butter smashed between my fingertips was soothing and therapeutic. The sweet smell of lemon lingered in the air refreshing my senses, while the butter in the oven sizzled, oozing from the biscuits.

IMG_7602

This recipe is very similar to that of a scone, just minus the egg and a little less butter. While I love a good scone, sometimes it’s hard to get them just right. If the shape isn’t funky, the texture is all off. I like my scones to be crumbly, but some recipes make them way too dry, and then there are those recipes where you wonder if you accidentally made muffins, as your final product is much too moist. Biscuits, in my opinion, are usually much easier, and while I love a good flaky, perfectly rounded, buttery disc of dough, drop biscuits are a cinch and take very little work. They are incredibly versatile and are great both savory and sweet. I make buttered biscuits for dinner often, but sometimes like to add fruit and enjoy them as a breakfast treat. The hubs enjoys them with coffee, I like them with tea. Either way, eat them warm out of the oven, for breakfast, or in my case, as a tasty afternoon snack.

IMG_7633

Blueberry-Lemon Drop Biscuits 

yields 8 biscuits 

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tbsp sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter

3/4 – 1 cup milk

1 cup blueberries

zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. I like to use my fingers so that I can make sure the butter is well blended. If your butter isn’t blended well, the consistency¬†of the biscuits will fall flat.

Mix in your lemon zest before slowly mixing in your milk. Use only 3/4 a cup for a dryer biscuit, or a full cup if you prefer a slightly moister biscuit. Gently fold in your blueberries.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons into 8 mounds on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until set and lightly brown. Sprinkle each mound with a pinch of sugar (preferably coarse or raw), and cool on a wire rack.