April 23, 2012

St. Louis Part 2 - The Food

If you've read my blog for a while, you know that when we take a trip we search out the food specialties in that area.  We will often look on Urbanspoon, or Yelp, or TripAdvisor for suggestions and ratings.  We have also followed the advice from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, sometimes with varied success, to be perfectly honest!  Our first stop, literally, was for a couple of plates of soul food.  Definitely not something you can find just anywhere, so we didn't want to miss it!

Luckily for us, this suggestion from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives was right on the money!  Sweetie Pies Restaurant has been featured on other shows as well, and there were plenty of people like us who were snapping photos!  The fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and the friendly service were every bit as good as the hype promised.  Our soul food quest was very rewarding!

We ended the first day's food quest with a visit to this well-known candy shop.  Crown Candy Kitchen has been around since 1913 and makes all their own chocolate candy.  Not wanting to miss anything good, we chose 4 kinds to "sample"!  Very good, and the ice cream choices at the nostalgic soda fountain looked terrific too.

There are a number of distinct neighborhoods in St. Louis, and "The Hill" provided our most extensive food adventure.  This area is packed with Italian restaurants, delis, and grocers. There are several places online that give details of a walking tour of this area, but as it was raining that day, we hopped in and out of the car more than we wanted to.

 We stopped first at one of several well-known coffee shops on The Hill.  Shaws roasts their own beans on site, and that proved to be a delicious reason to go. Great coffee, but service and friendliness - not so much.  Can't win 'em all!

This was our next stop, and my favorite of all our stops on The Hill.  Viviano & Sons was a wonderland of Italian specialties!

 Pasta anyone?

Pasta sauce anyone?!

Or, how about a little something from the deli? They had a few choices here!  Notice the sign in the corner that says "no talking on cell phones while ordering"!! There were several of these posted around the store. I love the fact that they will insist on good manners if you want to do business with them!  There is a cheese called Provel on the board, and it's popular in St. Louis delis for sandwiches and pizzas.  It tastes like a cross between Provolone and American Cheese to me. We had never seen it anywhere else and I liked how "melty" it got.

And then the perfect after-dinner accompaniment - gourmet antacid!  Placed right in the middle of the shelves with all the sauces - ha!

This place on The Hill held the promise of some amazing handmade raviolis.  The smell of their sauce was intoxicating when we came in the door.  We had a tip that they sell frozen ravioli ends - imperfects that they won't serve the customers.  These are said to be perfect for soups for example.  We purchased some on impulse, but had a major fail in our efforts to keep them frozen until we got home.  NOT appetizing when thawed!

Three more stops on The Hill - Volpi meats is a well-known supplier of all kinds of salamis, prosciutto and other Italian cured meats. "Salumeria" means Italian delicatessen by the way.  Di Gregorio's was another Italian market and we chose some locally popular Italian wines at this shop.  And finally, our lunch came from Gioia's.  And yes, one of the sandwiches we ordered was another St. Louis favorite - the hot salami!  Not spicy hot, but an ample, baked sandwich with thickly sliced salami - yum!  Oh, and they just happened to have some gelato in the little freezer near the checkout - pistachio for me!

This was a little break from the Italian scene!  Just down the block from the conference center was one of several Irish pubs in St. Louis, The Dubliner.  The place was packed and we were in a hurry, but we still managed to have an absolutely delicious plate of bangers and mash, which is sausages on mashed potatoes with a gravy/sauce on top.  It's classic pub grub!

Rooster was one fabulous place for breakfast!  It took a while to get in, but so worth the wait.  It's one of those unexpected places in the middle of a big city.  They serve local, organic, family farm-raised, and fair trade foods.  They also bake all their own breads.  We chose French toast with caramelized bananas and nuts, and an asparagus crepe - and did what we normally do, which is eat half and swap plates.  I'm sure it's totally bad etiquette, but it works for us!  I know it's an odd thing to photograph, but I was so excited about this huge glass of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice that I couldn't help myself!  I'm used to seeing fresh-squeezed orange juice, but this was a great treat for me!

Some of our deli bounty. The lupini beans in the foreground are native to Italy, popular with the Romans of old, and often served pickled.  Apparently you eat them most often as a snack, by popping the inner bean out of the skin.  I think I may have gotten myself into a more complicated prep than I bargained for!

And finally, here's our selection of Volpi meats, which we have been enjoying with some great cheese we bought in St. Louis as well.  It feels like we extracted every drop out of the food scene while we were there, but I'm sure there is still more to explore.  I can't say this was one of my favorite cities to visit, as it was a little rough around the edges, but we certainly never went hungry, and we obviously enjoyed the rich culinary culture!

April 17, 2012

St. Louis Part 1 - The Sites

Another field trip!  We spent several days in St. Louis last week. We saw a good deal of the city and the Gateway Arch is without a doubt the symbol of the city.  It was a gloomy day, but the park path that leads down to the arch was really beautiful, with the river running along one side, still full of barges and some steam boats.  The arch was impressive as always, symbolizing the gateway to the west which was opened up in part, thanks to Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase. You can learn about it in the Museum of Westward Expansion, located under the arch. My hubby took the two artsy shots of the arch on the left above, and I really like them!

I first saw the arch as a kid, but had never gone up to the top.  As we purchased tickets for the ride up, we were asked whether or not we had trouble with steps or claustrophobia - hmmmm??  Well...the little cars that take you up are teeny weeny, and each one holds five people in cozy style. Think of the rides at an amusement park that are little cages going around like a Ferris wheel and you'll get the idea.  It's just that it's all inside this enormous arch.  It's still the original cable car system, and quite an experience! Once at the top, you crawl out of the car and get wonderful views of the river and the city.  Notice that sea of red in the stadium???

That arch view from the top is of course Busch Stadium, another classic symbol of St. Louis.  This past weekend was their opening day at home,  plus two more games, all being the classic Cards vs.Cubs games.  It made for a lot of chaos in the city, but that's not the reason we were there.

We were there to attend the 2012 NRA Convention.  A record 73,740 people attended.  There were a number of reasons we wanted to attend, but the best result of being there for us, was the encouragement that came from being among like-minded, deeply patriotic citizens that say the same prayers for our country that we say.  The conference was very emotional at many times, and no more so than when a number of the military widows from the Black Hawk Down tragedy were on stage for recognition, as well as several military heroes, to whom we owe an amazing debt of gratitude. At the prayer breakfast on Sunday, we had the great privilege of seeing three disabled vets and their wives receive the blessing of new homes.

There were a number of well known presenters offering political inspiration and entertainment.  My personal favorites were Ann Romney - you know the one who's stayed home to raise her children and not work a day in her life, and Larry the Cable Guy, who might be the most "un-PC" comedian around.  A belly laugh and a dose of common sense does wonders for a person!

We enjoyed the architecture on our Kansas City trip so much, and St. Louis had some beautiful buildings as well, but they also had a lot of this...

Other than driving through the city of Detroit, I don't think I've seen another city with so many abandoned, collapsing buildings.  Everything from old schools to homes have been left to cave in on themselves. Quite a sad and disturbing site.

A very pleasing site was the Soulard Farmer's Market.  This is quite an historic market, with it's beginnings in 1779 when farmer's came to this site (a field then) to sell what they grew.  It now spans two city blocks and has two main buildings plus outdoor area for warm weather vendor expansion.  There was an inspiring array of beautiful produce, meats, seafood, eggs, cheese and baked goods.  Of course we indulged at the Soulard Bakery to sample a St. Louis classic - Gooey Butter Cake - oh my!! But now I'm getting ahead of myself because St. Louis Part 2 will be all about the food.  Stay tuned!

April 12, 2012

Abundance of Spring

We had the most lovely Easter and I hope you did too!  We had a big group out for Easter dinner after a fantastic church service, and what glorious weather we had! These kiddos are strolling the property, and later a few of them fished at the pond.  All together they pulled out 5 fish!

We had lots of great food...

And lots of great eaters too!  We were so blessed to have these people in our home.  Our daughter was home for Easter too, and as always it was wonderful to have her with us for a few days.

After dinner was the big hunt.  We had enthusiastic hiders!

And energetic hunters!

Even our tiniest hunter kept looking until he had all 18 of his eggs - with a little help from Mom and Dad!

Spring has also brought a few nippy temps.  We had freeze warnings for several nights, and some of our plants ended up looking like the lilac bush - a little mummified!  Our biggest concerns were our fruit plants - peach tree, blueberry bushes, and strawberry bed.  All came through fine, with the biggest annoyance being the wind trying to whip the coverings off.  Gave my hubby a great work out more than once!

Our garden preps continue.  These sweet potatoes have been suspended half-way in water, and little roots are forming on the bottom of both.  Next will be the growth of  green shoots from the top half, and these will then be rooted in water.  Those little plants will be our sweet potato "slips" which will be planted in the garden - at least that's the plan!

 And here is the real garden gold!  My husband has successfully planted and transplanted our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant - yahoo!  Summer is on the horizon!

April 5, 2012

Really Eating from the Garden

Our first asparagus of the year!  Roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper - nothing more needed, and it was wonderful!  However, if you should want to do something more complicated and also wonderful, you could try this asparagus, tomato, and feta salad that I made for Easter a couple of years ago.

 Asparagus Salad with Feta Cheese and Dijon Vinaigrette
2 lbs. fresh asparagus
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced or 1/8 C minced white onion
1 Tbs. Balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
About 1/2 C olive oil (add until dressing is the consistency and taste you prefer)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of sugar (optional and depends on your vinegar)
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped (cherry tomatoes don't need seeding)
1/3 C feta cheese, crumbled

Trim tough ends from asparagus, cut stalks into 2 inch pieces, blanch in hot water or in the microwave, and then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. You want them to be tender but still crisp. Remove asparagus from the ice water and dry thoroughly by wrapping in paper towels.

To make the dressing, whisk together all remaining ingredients except for tomatoes and feta. You can also make the dressing in a shaker jar or a small food processor.

Toss together asparagus and tomatoes; drizzle vinaigrette over top and mix gently; sprinkle feta over top and serve. Makes 8 servings.

 Not eating from the garden, but eating from the pasture behind us, are two new mares.  They're looking chic in their fly masks here.  Way at the top of the hill in this shot, is the fence for the farmer that has the adjoining farm.  They have a mare as well, and watching them all try to figure out how to get across the fences and field expanses so they can meet each other has been quite entertaining!

A little spring in a galvanized tub.  Our early spring is, in fact, going to give way to some colder nighttime temps, so we may be getting out the sheets and tenting a few things, especially my beautiful lilac bush.

As Easter approaches and we anticipate the arrival of our girl for the celebration, plus a lively bunch on Sunday, the beauty of this spring takes on a much deeper meaning.  As we enjoy the miraculous return to life, the budding, blooming, greening - how can we look and see this God-created world without hearing the message loud and clear?!

Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring,
All fresh gifts returned, with her returning King:
Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,
Speak His sorrow ended, hail His triumph now.

April 2, 2012

102 Birthdays

My lovely, lovely grandmother turned 102 this past Friday!  What an amazing blessing to celebrate it with her.  Three of her four children were there to celebrate with her, plus their spouses. My husband came with me, her oldest grandchild.  Various cousins, nieces, etc. were there too, as well as life long friends.  They love to tell how long they've known her and share memories of times past.  My grandmother has lived in her tiny Iowa town for 98 years!  When I think of how many places I've lived in half as many years, I wonder which of us had the right idea!

Isn't she beautiful?!  In her quiet, determined way, I know she has touched many people over the years.  She started out as a teacher in a one room school house, raised 4 successful adults, largely on her own after she was widowed at a very young age. She worked many years at the local K-12 school, and had a loving second marriage of 25+ years before being widowed again.  I have so many cherished memories of visiting Grandma when I was growing up.  To my siblings - remember fishing in cow ponds with her, Archway cookies in her cookie jar, bologna sandwiches always on hand, and everyone in town knowing our names?!  I am so blessed to still be making memories with her.  When I was leaving the party she told me she loved me, then she paused and so earnestly said "and I've always loved you".  I've always loved her too.  I thank God for her 102 amazing years.