It was glorious today here in St. Louis, and I was stuck inside all morning, far away from even a window. I needed–absolutely needed–to get outside, on a rare 70-degree February day, and shake off the winter that’s been just sucking out my soul for the past 3 months.

Perfect weather, then, for The Royale, home of my favorite beer garden in the city (second, maybe, to Square One Brewery and their patio in the fall).

The Royale

Photo Courtesy of Bill Streeter, via flickr.

With sun on our faces, he and I ordered the brand-spankin-new Schlafly Vanilla Milk Stout. It’s the type of beer that makes you understand why Guinness used to advertise itself as a health-drink: rich, almost thick, tonic-like mouth feel.

With the sun on my (scandalously bare) shins, I ordered my usual: the Garlic Dippy Melt, and the sole reason I’m even bothering to post tonight. Let me tell you: if you haven’t eaten this, get thyself to The Royale. I’m not usually a one-item-orderer, unless that item is sliced roast beef slathered with garlic mayo, topped with melted cheese and served with a side of au jus. Then, I’m that girl that wants to stuff it in her face asap.

The beef was a little thick (remind me sometime to tell you how much I really don’t like an unbalanced meat-to-bread ratio on my sandwiches), but the lunch, the weather, the beer, the boy, were pretty much perfect.

And that, my friends, is my garlic dippy melt lunch. Go get it, St. Louis. Tell them Kathleen sent you.

Let’s pretend that I never left.

It’s winter, and I’m in my annual “try not to stuff my face” mode. Every January and February, the fear of bikini season kids in, and for a few fleeting moments I get ultra-motivated to exercise well and eat healthy food. That works in St. Louis, with there generally being nothing much else to do in January and February, and lasts me all the way until Fish Fry Season, when the siren song of jack salmon lures me to church basements and sides of canned green beans.

Problem is, I need salt. I’m not a normal female: chocolate I can leave well enough alone. But, I absolutely crave salty snacks and salty foods of all kinds. I headed over to Emily and Rusty’s house this past Sunday, to drink a bottle of wine, eat food, and watch the Grammys. Emily introduced me to Kale Chips, easy enough to make, full of good vitamins (I think), and plenty salty for me.

Kale Chips
(courtesy of Emily, courtesy of her sister, courtesy of ?)

Ingredients:

Kale

Olive Oil

Salt (kosher, I’d say)

Pre-heat the oven on broil mode. Like you’re preparing a salad, tear off pieces of the fresh kale into a large boil. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss. Spread on a cookie sheet, and pop them in the oven. Don’t let them burn, but if you do, do like Emily did and throw them out and start over.

Cook until just crisp.

Eat. If possible, eat while ridiculing a Justin Bieber and Usher duo.

I’m morally opposed to sitting at a computer after work hours when the weather outside is nice, thus the long hiatus. And, to be honest, my cooking took a bit of a break over the past few months. I grilled and I made salads, and generally tried to avoid getting hotter and stickier by slaving over a hot stove. But, its getting cold again, which means I’m back to cooking and by extension–blogging. Not that anyone has been waiting with bated breath.

Best Meal of the Summer: The Souder Family Annual Crab Feast Fest in Brigantine, New Jersey. 144 crabs, 8 children under the age of 11, 3 Yuenglings, and 1 very happy Kathleen.

Best Drink of the Summer: A cold beer on a hot summer night at Busch Stadium.

Best Dessert of the Summer: Angie’s freshly baked pie, cut and eaten on my front porch after dinner, with crickets a-chirping and lightning bugs a-glowing.

Now, bring on the baked goods, soups, and of course, the best biscuits you’ve ever eaten.

Why are they so darn delicious?

My favorite brand of all time (unavailable in the Midwest, and introduced to me by my Pennsylvania grandparents) is Grandma Utz, in the brown bag. Heaven, if heaven were salty and crunchy and cooked in LARD.

I know I’ve been on a long hiatus, brought about by my life getting much busier these days (always a good thing!) because of people and travel. I think I’ll be posting more frequently, although my grand visions for deep and insightful food-related posts, serious restaurant reviews, and witty commentary on daily meals might be left a little unfulfilled. But isn’t that how life goes most of the time, anyways?

Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have a large bag of Mystic Kettle Cooked Potato Chips stashed away in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet that’s calling my name. I’ll be back after I eat half the bag in one sitting.

And not even the alcoholic kind.

Mini Indulgences at Seasons 52

Just something I’ve noticed (and enjoyed): the trend for some restaurants to offer mini-desserts. Little mini parfaits/sundaes/layer cakes in shot glasses, for the low, low price of $2.50. Seasons 52 has a nice assortment, brought to the table on a nice tray (I had their Rocky Road). Applebee’s features their own version (Dessert Shooters), and I’m sure this isn’t just a two-restaurant trend. I think its brilliant; I never want more than a bite or two of something sweet after dinner and don’t usually make a full-dessert commitment.

Interesting, too, after a discussion with some coworkers about gargantuan meal portions after a session wrestling with our food at the Cheesecake Factory. Not a bad mini-trend, these dessert shots, at a time where our economy is shrinking and our waist sizes need even more help in that area.

So, being Catholic really has its upsides. One of them is that for every holiday/feast day/conferral of a sacrament, there’ s a party with food. Baptism? Party! Confirmation? Party! Last Rites? Party! Even Lent, a time of somber reflection, penance, and fasting gives us cause to throw pseudo-parties in the form of a fish fry. I’m not sure how our Catholic guilt gets around that one, but I think it involves the thoughts “we’re eating fish. Jesus ate fish. And he turned water into wine at a wedding, so he’s clearly fine with celebrations. Let’s go.” Sort of along the lines of my Nana making shrimp scampi and crab cakes for my grandfather on Fridays: the sacrifice thing is thrown out the window, but by golly, they aren’t breaking any rules!

So, being a newbie to St. Louis, my question to all of you is simple. Where are the best fish frys (fries?) in the city/county? And while you’re at it, take a look at the St. Boniface blog, which brilliantly features fish fry reviews each week.

Being a regular coffee drinker myself, many news items in the past few weeks have made my ears perk up (pun absolutely intended). Starbucks changed the face of a daily American ritual, changing how we think about–and drink–our coffee; as the pendulum of collective tastes swings from the $5.90 cup of hyped and hyper-personalized cups of joe, a few diverging trends seem to be emerging.

First, a New York Times article (somewhat misleadingly) reported the $20,000 cup of coffee.¬† A few days ago, I came across an NPR story on the $22 dollar cup of coffee, highlighting the price people in LA are willing to pay for a gourmet cup. Can’t say I’m too surprised, its about time someone felt the need to push the beverage to the elitist heights usually reserved for wines and microbrews.

But what makes this trend really interesting are the other coffee-related stories hitting the newswaves.¬† Starbucks, fighting declining same-store sales and falling stock prices, decided to test-run a $1 cup. McDonalds is even getting in on the reasonably-priced coffee trend, building coffee counters and hiring baristas in an effort to give Starbucks and other dominant franchises a run for their money. (I, for one, would be glad to see one open up in my neighborhood. I avoid Starbucks as much as possible, not preferring over-roasted, highly bitter, burnt drip coffee, and I’ve actually enjoyed the coffee I’ve had at McDonalds.)

I wish I had some profound insight to offer on the two disparate trends named above, but, I think its pretty evident what’s going on. Per usual, some people feel the need to rise above the Starbucks-gulping proletariat, spending their money as connoisseurs. Good for them. I, however, will follow the other path, happy to have a decent caffeine fix for less.

Or, I’ll just make it at home, with the lovely Bodum french press I got for Christmas, with my trusty mini-grinder and a canister of Trader Joe’s beans.

Now that I’m grown and out of the house, I can’t think of anything better to get for my 11-year-old brother for his next birthday. Mom will kill me, as might my other siblings that still live at home. But I say, what’s the point of being a “adult” older sister if you can’t spoil the younger ones?

P.S. Please note the formal place settings and table arrangement that serve as a backdrop for a gadget billed to “launch your lunch.” Interesting.

Thanks again to Geekologie, and World Wide Fred.

Burrito, chicken, black beans, mild, both, lettuce.

Take out, please.

Then (and this never gets old):

Look at my burrito baby!

(said while miming rocking motions, holding the foil-wrapped hunk of deliciousness)

I’d hate to see what would happen if someone gave Emeril this gadget.

¬†Designer’s own words: “spice gun is different from the other casters,it has more fun! when you pull the trigger to compress the air in the air bag. The handspike will push the bottom of the seasoning bottle to make the nozzle in the turntable to retract and spray the seasoning.”

More fun is darn right.

From Designboom, by way of Geekologie.

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