Pomegranate and Wild Rice Pilaf (with roasted acorn squash)

I'm sorry in advance for all the pictures of these bowls of bright, lemony, nutty, pommy goodness. I apologize for filling your computer screen with autumn incarnate and leaving you on the side of it where you can't smell the perfection of roasted acorn squash and fresh pomegranate arils and perfectly-cooked rice. But I'm not sorry enough to stop, so you'll have to take it like a man.

 I tried to keep in mind all those toffee-nosed concerns of recipe development, such as brightening the rice while complimenting its nutty flavor, making it savoury while not neglecting to acknowledge the innate sweetness of wild rice and pomegranate arils. Who realized "snobbery" actually does have its place in the world? This recipe calls for high-quality olive oil and I used one infused with lemon, which gave the rice and squash the most exquisite flavor of barely-there citrus. If you cannot find a lemon-infused olive oil, I would recommend grating some lemon zest into the pilaf after the rice is finished cooking. Just so you don't miss out on the little punch of sunshine it adds.

Pomegranate Wild-Rice Pilaf (in roasted acorn squash)

For the pilaf:
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 cup wild rice grains
3/4 cup brown rice grains
3 bay leaves
1/2 onion, diced
salt & pepper
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon high-quality olive oil (recommended: lemon-infused oil)
For the squash:
1 acorn squash (about 1 pound), washed and halved, pulp scooped out
1 pomegranate, arils separated from rind
1/2 cup high-quality olive oil 
salt & pepper

  1. For the pilaf: melt butter in a large saucepan. Add olive oil and saute onions until translucent. Add water, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and rice. Boil until rice grains are tender, about 45 minutes. The wild rice will be slightly crunchier than the brown rice; this is okay.
  2. While rice is cooking, prepare squash by brushing olive oil over the flesh and skin, then sprinkling with salt and pepper. Roast at on wax-paper at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
  3. Assemble pilaf by draining rice and mixing with pomegranate arils, a pinch more salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm in squash "bowls," or remove skin from squash, cube, and toss with pilaf.
I love the ease of this recipe. I love the flavors, the colors, and the fact that you can have it for breakfast (which I what I did) or lunch or with dinner or even  with Thanksgiving dinner. My mom cut up a tart apple and mixed it with hers. I'm dreaming of feta crumbles. If hard-boiled eggs are your thing, you could try mixing that in. Roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Chopped pecans or almonds. Dried cranberries. Basically, have at it and enjoy the heck out of autumn's bounty. You won't regret this. And because I love it so much, I spazzed on video for you. Enjoy, darling things. 


Scrambled Eggs And Perfection

(The giveaway for Queen's Pantry is finished now and the winner chosen. Congratulations to Anna Meng. Now the rest of you, go buy that tea you've been craving...)

Have you ever met a person and thought that an hour with them must surely be more therapeutic than owning Louboutin pumps? I love those people. I’m a laid back girl but I am also exuberant and not terribly sure I know the meaning of talking slow. When speaking, I move my eyes, hands and sometimes my entire body. Quickly. This propensity has led to sucker-punching a stranger in Starbucks as he made his way innocently past me down the hall.
“I’m sorry, random citizen. I just got carried away with enthusiasm. No sir, it is not a rare happening. Yes sir, I’ll try to take care. Thank you, sir.”
Fabulously, adorably awkward, I’m told. Now that I’ve spilled those beans, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise when I tell you that I’m not exactly Ina Garten when it comes to kitchen demeanor. Let’s combine Ina’s gentle optimism with Gordon Ramsay’s energy, simmer it on medium-low for five minutes, and you have Rachel in the Kitchen. I’m good at multi-tasking. Have to be when you cook with kids hanging onto your pants pockets (which I do not mean figuratively). I bustle around (and around and around) and make three trips to the pantry where one ought to suffice. This is usually because I’m talking (shocker), or listening to Ella Fitzgerald. In the latter case, I actually tend to slow down and turn smoothly graceful because, tempo.

I love to watch people cook. It fascinates me how calm some of them are. My friend Joanna comes from a long line of country people who bake like they’ve got two-hundred years to make these scones. I kid you not: it’s almost like watching a ballet or a tank of tropical fish to watch them make a Philly cheesesteak. The roux whisks itself, the knives glide through green and red peppers like a hot blade through butter, and before you know it you’re blinking as you come out of a cooking-induced trance to find dinner on the table. They seem to work slower than city traffic but somehow the work is done with complete efficiency and minimal noise. To be given the honor of slicing onions in their kitchen is tantamount to being allowed to enter the inner chamber of some great temple without offering an animal sacrifice. I almost feel it a sacred duty and I’m always on best chopping-behavior. Death to those who slice the onions too thickly. Not only has my favorite scone recipe come from Joanna’s family, but an old-faithful pizza crust, How To Brew Hot Tea, and...well...the world’s best sweet iced tea. Look, I know I’m from the South and I’ve basically thrown a gauntlet here, but once you’ve tasted Thompson tea you have sipped from the cup of royalty. Strong, the perfect shade of dark brown without being too dark. Slightly sweet. Always with a peculiarly-cut wedge of lemon, please.  I’ve been carefully instructed by Mrs. Thompson more than once how to brew iced tea the way she does. It doesn’t work. I swear. Thus, I resort to carefully-timed trips to the Thompson house in the heat of the summer and a casual and affirmative shrug when asked if I’d like a glass of tea. I’m one blessed girl: two of the daughters have married and moved into homes of their own. Yay! Thompson tea available in three locations and two states! I am not certain God was thinking of tea when he asked us to be fruitful and multiply, but there have been worse side-effects. Now I’m craving a glass. Enough about tea.


I find that watching other people cook always teaches me something new. I’ve stood in the Thompsons’ kitchen countless times watching the progress of a chicken roasting, or watched Mr. Thompson in his close-to-perfection garden drawling out the merits of butter beans while straddling a row of cabbages. The lesson they teach is always the same: there are precious few things in life worth rushing for.
From Katie, the official other half of my brain, I’ve learned something slightly more humorous: perfection in scrambled eggs (and other things) is actually quite relative. I remember the last trip I took to visit her down in Georgia. We stayed in her Nana’s spare room, slept very little, hashed out every detail of life (which, at that point, needed hashing) and ate at Georgetown Cupcakes, pizza, and barbeque at random times. Katie begged to be allowed to fix scrambled eggs for breakfast because, she said, she had a very particular way she liked them and only she could cook them to that stage of perfection. I stood by her side, having heard from of old about these scrambled eggs, and watched as Katie fixed them to her gold standard. As the sun streamed into that old Southern house and Nana and I looked on, the dearest girl in the world scrambled those eggs....exactly the way I would consider a ruination. She served mine up before hers were done (glistening, moist, large chunks), then cooked hers to a sad state of dryness, not neglecting to absolutely mince the chunks till they looked almost...I cringe to say it...almost pre-chewed? Look, Katie, I love you to death but your idea of perfection and mine are poles apart when it comes to eggs (now, men we agree on).


Sometimes I look closely at the universe and realize how little I know of all there is to know. And then I smile because if I could always learn lessons by standing at a dear friend’s elbow and watching her butcher the egg-making process, it would be a merry world indeed. Always, always watch people cook and always take opportunities for learning from someone else. God created each mind to be so intricately different that there no end to what we can teach each other.

Now excuse me, I’ve got to go make an inferior glass of iced tea.

Aigo Bouido: Garlic Soup

It's the time of year for what one of my little girls dismissively calls, "snissles." Whether you've got allergies, the common cold, or a sinus infection, having a plugged up nose is not what anyone would call fun, yet we all seem to be plagued by it at one point or another through the fall and winter. I've been blessed with a shockingly hardy immune system, but despite that fact, there are moments when even I fall prey to a head-cold and soup is just about the only thing that can manage to soothe what feels like the world ending. I've never eaten soups as delicious as those we were treated to in our travels through Romania, but I am making a point this winter of learning how to make soup at least somewhat like them. My life is as busy as the next twenty-something's and I don't have much time for cookbook-perusal, so I've taken to reading through Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking during breakfast. In the morning of one of my more recent days off, sans makeup and the more negligible bits of clothing, I sat on my bed to browse that relaxing bit of cookery-reading. I was forging my way through the soups section and whether it was because I had just gotten over a bout with allergies or because I was feeling fallish, I grabbed onto the idea of making Julia Child's recipe for Aigo Bouido (garlic soup).
"Enjoying your first bowl of garlic soup, you might never suspect what it is made of. Because the garlic is boiled, its after-effects are at a minimum, and its flavor becomes exquisite, aromatic, and almost undefinable,"
Julia Child says. Keep talking like that, Ms. Child, and I'm going to be not only making the soup, but wearing it like perfume. Besides, think of all the nourishing, amazing antibodies going into you when you drink a bowl of straight up garlic soup! I rushed to the store (after getting thoroughly dressed) and bought the garlic, made the soup, and felt the satisfaction of going cookbook-to-lunch without ever having picked up a technological device. Boo-yeah. Here's the soup with a heckalotta health benefits masked in its delicate, aromatic flavor.

Aigo Bouido
(based off Julia Child's recipe in Mastering The Art of French Cooking)

1 separated head or about 16 cloves whole, unpeeled garlic
2 quarts water
2 teaspoons salt
pinch of pepper
2 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
6-7 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 egg yolks

1.) Drop garlic cloves into boiling water and boil thirty seconds. Drain, run under cold water, and peel.
2.) Place the garlic and all ingredients (EXCEPT 3-4 Tablespoons olive oil and the egg yolks) in a 3-quart saucepan and boil slowly for thirty minutes. Correct seasoning to taste.
3.) Beat the egg yolks in a soup tureen if you have one. I did not, so I beat them in a glass bowl. Beat for a minute until they are thick and sticky. Drop by drop add the remaining olive oil until incorporated.
4.) Just before serving, beat a ladleful of hot soup into the egg mixture by droplets. Gradually strainm in the rest, beating and pressing the juice out of the garlic cloves. Serve immediately, topped with finely grated parmesan and crusty bread, or bagel chips.

Tea With Terroir: A Review of Queen's Pantry + Giveaway

Welcome to the first installment of "Food With Stories," a quasi-journalism series I hope to continue on this blog. First stop: Queen's Pantry, Leavenworth, Kansas.

It had been three years since I’d talked to Zach Gentzler. We’d met working a three-week-long shift on a political campaign in quiet Newnan, Georgia and, since he’s a Kansas kid and I’m from Virginia, hadn’t seen each other since. Still, I clearly remembered his level-headed positivity, old-world manners, and the fact that he liked books (hurray), running (meh), and tea (yip-yip!). When Zach contacted me a few weeks ago about reviewing tea from his family’s shop, I quickly accepted. Tea and a chat with an old friend? Is there even a choice?


On a Wednesday, inside a crowded Starbucks, I dial the store and wait through the phone ringing. When he answers, I jump. In three years, his vocal register has taken a plunge.
 “Hey, this is Queen’s Pantry, Zach speaking.” It takes me a moment to realize that the intelligent, energetic kid who’d run beside me through a Georgia summer is now full grown, pursuing one of his several passions as a career.
“Is now a good time to talk?” I ask, hoping it is but not wanting to intrude.
He laughs. “I’m sitting here stalking another tea store on Instagram. Now is a great time.”  Zach’s tone is slow, drawling. The words almost steep in his voice and you can see why this guy chose the tea field for his first love.
“I really, really love tea,” he tells me with a laugh. “There aren’t many teas I don’t like. We sell around a hundred and seventy different blends in our store, and I’m always looking for new teas, learning new intricacies. What makes it taste that way? What is this blend’s history?’
‘A well-grown tea has a…well this probably isn’t going to mean a thing to you, but it’s a wine term: a good tea has a terroir, which is French for ‘a sense of place.’ You can almost taste the location of a well-grown tea. I love learning things like this.”

Zach has traveled here and there in his quest for further tea-knowledge and grew to love rooibos (not technically a tea, due to the absence of tea leaves in the blend) while on a trip in South Africa. “Every evening we had this space of time and you’d either drink terrible instant coffee or a cup of rooibos, so I fell in love with it. Partially for the tea, partially for the memories and friendships surrounding it.”
To listen to him, you’d think he was an art professor lecturing on a beloved Degas. And that’s what I love about Zach: he’s out to show the world that tea, far from being the fussy beverage of frilly parties, is simultaneously an ancient art-form and everyman’s drink. With so many varieties of tea becoming available the US—both new varieties and high-quality examples of the classics—, come more opportunities for Zach to help his customers find the perfect tea for their life. He lovingly describes the possibilities of the newer teas:
“It’s pretty cool.” He laughs.  “At least for Americans. I want to show people what tea can be. I mean, there are huge varieties of flavor profiles, like teas with jasmine and orchid tones, or a smoky flavor.”
 I ask Zach if he has a pet peeve, one thing he would correct about peoples’ way of thinking about tea. Again, the well-known chuckle:
“Oh gosh. So many. So many I want to correct. But the main one  I should correct: brewing times. The wrong brewing time really negatively effects tea. So many people have a mental taste profile for tea as being really, really bitter and if a tea is properly brewed, it’s almost never bitter.”
I can tell it’s a major issue for him because the back of his Queen’s Pantry business card includes a brewing time-chart for the varieties of tea they sell. In my package he also includes a second magnet-backed chart for the fridge. It won’t be Zach’s fault if you brew your tea bitter. You can come crying to him—he loves talking tea over the phone—but you can’t blame the staff of Queen’s Pantry.
But Zach didn’t always know he was destined for a drinkable career. Queen’s Pantry was originally operated by an American couple and managed by the wife’s elderly British mother. Over time, the Gentzler family formed a relationship with the store and Zach’s sister, Sarah (Gentzler) Kirby, became an employee.
“She got home one night and told us they were going to sell the store and, totally joking, said we should buy it. Over dinner that night we jokingly chatted about what it would be like to run a tea-store: the changes we’d have to make, the logistics involved.” I can hear his easily-provoked smile through the phone. “Actually, it was really, really terrible timing,” he tells me. “Dad had just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and the family was dealing with that on top of normal life.”
But good ideas often pester one till they get a hearing. After much prayer, talking, and consulting wise friends, on the essentially British Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), the Gentzler family became the owners of one little tea shop. They moved the store across town and on November 11th of the same year, re-opened Queen’s Pantry.
“We tease and say Leavenworth held a parade for us,” Zach laughs referencing Leavenworth’s annual Veteran’s Day Parade. For the Gentzlers, ownership of the store has come with many perks, such as relationships with other Leavenworth merchants who will often drop in to “talk shop” and discuss local news. There have also been challenges:
 “Advertisement is a big one. It’s kind of hard to get the word out.” After all, not many people move to a new town and Google “tea shops near me.” I ask Zach about that.
“Tea shops can take a little digging to find,” he says. “Because, like us, most of them don’t have a huge advertising budget. But if you dig, you’ll find ‘em.”
 Victories and challenges aside, Zach, who has been both Queen’s Pantry’s retail and office manager for the past four years, is in it for the pure joy of tea.

“There’s this wrong idea that tea is a feminine thing and coffee’s masculine. One reaction I often get is, ‘Oh, tea is a girl job. Why’s he doing that?’” I can sense his brief frustration and picture the old Zach with his brow furrowed, blue eyes snapping. But Zach shrugs it off with his signature good humor. “Actually, second to water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. In some cultures tea-making is strictly the man’s job.” He pauses, then continues with a wry grin in his voice.  “There have been a lot of great men who’ve drunk tea…”
A lot of great men, as customer-favorite blend, “Churchill’s Toddy” attests.  Zach sent a couple ounces of “Churchill’s Toddy” along with a selection of other teas in a package from Queen’s Pantry which I have no shame calling the best thing to show up on my doorstep this year.
Sampling the tea was like Christmas morning…over and over again. I greatly enjoyed all the teas, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to highlight my favorites. First is a fragrant brew more Earl Grey-ish than any Earl Grey you’ve ever sipped. “Earl Grey Cream Tea” not only tastes beautiful, but is a pretty, blue-flecked blend. “Carrot Cake Rooibos,” the second tea, is perfect for an early morning treat.  Like Zach, I’d never before been a fan of rooibos but my first cup left me simultaneously delighted and fighting disappointment that I didn’t actually have a slice of carrot cake to eat. Queen’s Pantry mixes six to nine tea blends in-store and, serendipitously, one called “Rachel’s Evening Blend” is among them. “My blend” as I have taken to calling it, is a decaffeinated green tea with spearmint and lavender. The latter flavor softens the identity of spearmint, turning it into an almost floral flavor ideal for relaxation at the end of a tense day. For a perfect black tea (cream, no sugar), you’ll love “Glenburne Autumn Crescendo” which Zach orders from the American-based branch of an Indian family that farms at Glenburne in Darjeeling, India. And last but not least is the “Organic Long Island Strawberry” green tea. Though I loved it hot, I can’t stop thinking how excellent it would be iced. The slight sweetness of dried strawberries compliments the brightness of the green tea, leaving one with a drink perfect for summer, or for conjuring summer in the chilly off-season.


Since receiving the sample teas from Queen’s Pantry, I’ve become a ministering angel of “the brew which cheers without inebriating,” pressing on all my friends and family a sip from whatever cup I’m drinking.  They’re probably sick to death of me, but I can’t help it. I want the rest of the world to be able to experience real tea. Not the massacred versions from the grocery stores but tea carefully sourced and learned by someone who, above all, wants to educate the world about an intricately simple drink. That’s the mission of Queen’s Pantry, and I’m a fan.

To help spread the love, Queen’s Pantry is giving away a tea-lovers package including an tea infuser, and 2-ounce packages of three teas: “Glenburne Autumn Crescendo," “Carrot Cake Rooibos,” and “Organic Long Island Strawberry Green Tea.” To enter, use the Rafflecopter form below. And while you wait to see if you will be the (very luck) winner, pop over to the Queen’sPantry website and browse their beautiful selection of teas/imported foods. In an age when we routinely plunk down five dollars for an insipidly-made latte, spending the five dollars on several ounces of long-lasting tea-leaves is so much a better deal, it’s nearly laughable.  I know one thing: as soon as I run out of sample teas, I’ll be restocking my own pantry to bring it back to a queen’s level of classiness.
Enter the giveaway below, then head off to goggle at some teas!

This was not a paid promotion. I was not under any obligation to give a positive review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Salt & Vinegar Oven Fries

I've had this blog post set to go for ages now, but never got around to posting it because other things kept pressing their way in front. To the point now: fries. Salt & Vinegar fries. I first conceived the idea for these things when I walked into the spice and tea shop on Prince George Street in Williamsburg and saw the bottle of vinegar powder on the shelves. It's no secret to my friends-and-relations that I love salt & vinegar chips. Kettle-cooked are ideal, and for a nice toss-up there's nothing yummier than Utz Kettle-Cooked Maui Barbeque which is basically the love-child of salt & vinegar and a good, high-quality BBQ chip. So when the spice-shop owner told me that people have tossed vinegar powder into their mashed potatoes, it got me thinking. But I didn't want mashed potatoes in August, thanks. Instead, I decided to dedicate my pouch of vinegar powder to salt n' vinegar fries. And though the vinegar is a major component, the real star of this show became my pouch of fleur de sel, also purchased from the shop.  I'm a sea-salt girl and this French gray sea salt is the most flavorful, amazing thing I think you'll ever put on fries. Completely delicious. As an aside, searching "uses for vinegar powder" on Google comes up with surprisingly few results. Internet world, today I bring you an answer: salt and vinegar fries. I hope you become as addicted as I am.

Salt & Vinegar Oven Fries:
for two

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1/2 cup good quality olive oil, separated
1 teaspoon fleur de sel or sea-salt of your choice
1 Tablespoon vinegar powder (can be purchased online or in specialty stores)

1. Start by prepping your trays with a generous drizzle of the olive oil. Sprinkle trays with a little of the salt to keep the potatoes from sticking. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a small bowl, combine remaining salt and vinegar
3. In a large bowl, toss potato matchsticks with remaining olive oil. Spread out on trays, careful to keep each slice well apart from the others. If they cook to close-together, they will steam instead of crisp and come out floppy and pale.
4. Dust potatoes generously with 2/3 of the salt and vinegar powder mixture and place trays in oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip with the grain and bake another ten minutes, until a dark, golden-brown. I like my fries darker than lighter, but if you have a preference for lighter fries, take them out a few minutes early.
5. Shake remaining salt and vinegar mixture over cooked fries and serve hot with malt vinegar.

 Have a lovely, lovely day and let me know if you give the fries a go! These will definitely go in my "frequently used" repertoire, never to be removed. Because really, what's better for the very end of summer than a french-fry with pizazz? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Le Diplomate: A D.C. Must-Visit + Recipe

Can it be possible that things are sometimes exactly as we imagine and wish them to be? As an idealist I live my life assuming that it is a possible and even probable outcome: that more often than not, life will look as it should. This hope is often disappointed, but in the matter of a French café, idealism paid off.

We metro’d into one of my favorite cities in the world: Washington D.C. I get a D.C. craving the way pregnant women get Chinese food cravings: at random, in the middle of the night, so strong that for a time I can think of little else. Perhaps it is the City itself that gets to me: the complex blend of cultures, wealth, power, history, poverty, fragile lives, vibrant lives, metros and taxis, common people and diplomats. D.C. satisfies all the parts of me I struggle to fit into other places. The thrill of a huge city, important decisions being made on every corner. The lure of history and world wonders. I walk into the Capitol and lore, architecture, style, art, society, and politics collide. One-of-a-kind food can be found on every corner, courtesy of pioneering minds and a hundred ethnicities. There is always something going on. I can walk for free into a museum and see the Hope Diamond, and head a small distance away to a famous portrait gallery. Or I can sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and people-watch. D.C. has something for everyone. Each time I go, I come away with a pocketful of random encounters and stories to take with me. I also know that my love of D.C. has stemmed from something quieter; from the fact that I have always entered that city surrounded by uncommonly good friends. And anyplace experienced through the lens of shared friendship takes on its own glow, doesn’t it?

Regardless, I entered D.C. this time with a posse of excellent women. We were missing the grand architect of this surprise-for-Jill jaunt, due to untimely health problems, but we were still seven-strong. After an accidental confusion in the Chinatown metro, we found our destination for a late brunch reservation: Le Diplomate. The name alone excited me because, honestly, it’s French and anything French and food-related wins automatic decency points. We entered, skirted past a knot of trim, laughing waiters, and my happy-bounce started because….oh, because France.

The floor is tiled with tiny ceramics: white, cream, blue, butter-yellow. The ceiling fans are blue – dedicated blue!—as is the main entryway. There is a yellow bicycle on the wall behind the bar, a display of the most delicious breads nearby. Each table wears a paper cloth and no one tells you not to doodle on it. Every detail of the interior from the lighting to the gorgeous ceiling to the antique radiator near the side door soothes the soul. Another soul-soothing note is the fact that the hostesses wear navy sheath dresses with thin red belts and red cardigans (more points) and matchboxes are free. A place that gives out free match-boxes is classy, darlings. Classiness extends to the menu, which is mind-boggling and unpronounceable to those, like me, who can’t speak French. You can order half a chilled lobster, and oysters for heaven’s sake! Not to mention cheeses, pastries, and any wine you could imagine. Various and sundry of our number chose the French toast (macerated strawberries, Chantilly cream, limes!), Quiche Lorraine (the most excellent quiche made with Gruyere and spinach), a hamburger and fries (complete with miniature French and American flags adorning the bun), and a baguette sandwich composed of butter, ham, and comte, served with cochines (tiny, amazing pickles). Someone asked for a bread-basket and it arrived: whole-wheat sourdough, crusty baguette, cranberry-nut bread, and a tiny pot ofwhipped butter. As far as drinks go, one of my friends and I ordered a “Lune Parisienne” each, which sparkling rosemary-limeade I’ve replicated below.

“You were almost in your own little world in there,” my friend Jill said later, laughing.

I was. Completely distracted by the sun shining through the enormous windows and the people eating at the tables nearby; by the efficient waiters signaling each other and the plating of everyone else’s orders passing by; by the outdoor guests and those indoors, by the gentleman with the rose-gold newspaper and the woman with the kind smile; by the chic couples sauntering in and ordering Mimosas, by the bartender shaking someone’s drink and the guest who walked by dressed (accidentally) like the hostesses in a navy sheath and red cardi. Distracted, but also completely happy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like moments such as this: surrounded by friends in a bright, warm atmosphere sharing good food and much laughter. Le Dipomate is equal parts elegant and comfortable. We felt we could be ourselves there, dressed as we were in nice jeans and comfortable shoes. But at the same time, Le Diplomate elevates the grace of those who enters its doors. I left feeling more cultured, graceful, and experienced than I’d entered, even if we’d just butchered the pronunciation of half the menu and ticked off the waiter by asking for bread.

(shamelessly stealing Alia's picture for this.)

I can’t wait to return and bring more friends to Le Diplomate and repeat the pleasant afternoon spent lunching on the dais. And as a parting gift before presenting the recipe for making a Lune Parisienne at home, let me warn you that the women’s bathroom is the left-hand option of the two. Apparently it is written in French in the stained glass panel on the door, but I couldn’t see it. Just a heads-up, darlings, lest you begin to wonder if a line of urinals in the ladies’ room is a European tradition or something, like a bidet.
“Let us not say ‘farwell’ but as the French say, ‘Au revoir!’”

Sparkling Rosemary Limeade
In the Style of Le Diplomate's "Lune Parisienne"
(serves 2-4)

Simple Syrup:
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Zest stripped from one lime
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Juice of 4 limes
Soda water
Crushed ice
Rosemary spikes for garnish, if desired.
1.) To make the simple syrup, bring sugar and water to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Turn heat to medium low and add strips of lime zest and rosemary. Simmer for 5 minutes until syrup is golden yellow, then remove from heat. Allow to cool.
2.) Fill glasses with crushed ice. Pour two tablespoons of rosemary-lime syrup over ice. Add a quarter cup freshly squeezed lime juice. Top off glasses with soda water and garnish with rosemary.

Hashtag Live Authentic

Oh, perfection.
I have never considered myself a perfectionist. I am “an idealist who believes if she practices her art long enough, she could be the next great fashion designer or children’s book illustrator.” An idealist who thinks if she “had time to network better and painted her kitchen white and invested in a marble cutting board and a stone backdrop and a linen tunic and architectural jewelry, she could be the next big food blogger.” An idealist who feels that if she “could arrange the schedules just so, she could be an excellent nanny and blogger and stylist and illustrator and author and cooking-show host and event coordinator and baker and bookstore-owner and extra on a film set because, hey, why not?”
“I’m not a perfectionist,” I say. “I’m an overachiever who fights against natural law to feel that she can be everything if she just works a little harder or longer or reads up on art history.” That is the promise and trial of being my kind of Rachel. I want to be everything and, far from taking the realistic route, my determined view of the world tells me I can be. And maybe I can, taking them one at a time. My idealism puts a lot of optimistic, enthusiastic pressure on me to follow those rainbow dreams. But for the last several years I’ve committed to something intentional and I want to explain:
I am not and never will be perfect. So I am not and will never pretend to be perfect in my social media presence.

// bananagram //

My photos are not all shot at “golden hour” with beautiful backdrops and inspirational quotes dancing attendance. The lighting in that photo isn’t ideal but I will put it on Instagram because it captured a moment in which I was supremely happy. I haven’t been to Paris and I certainly haven’t been to Iceland and taken mind-blowing photos in a field of lupine….I’ve been to DC…if that counts. In that same vein of thought, I paint but I don’t paint very well. Yet I still share the fruits of my efforts because it keeps me humble. Am I Kerrie Hess? No. Will I ever be? I’m not sure, but painting gives me pleasure and I am not going to hide the result because it is not on par with a Degas.  I am not a super-model. I don’t pose well and I never know where to look and arms? Where the heck do I put my arms?! Behind? In front? One behind and one in front? Above my head? What is the  purpose of that “arm-pit pose?”  I see the allure of being one of those women on Instagram. I get “Pin-vy” as quickly as the next girl and I drool over the chic-ness of these strangers’ highly-edited, uber-classy facades. Often, I’m willing to believe they have attained that level of class in all areas of their lives, not just in this carefully-selected, filtered, and airbrushed set of photos in a blog post.

//art attempts//

My boss subscribed me to Elle Magazine for my birthday, and I’ve sincerely enjoyed getting the fashion magazine in the mail every month and browsing it. But while flipping through page after page of perfect-looking women, reading article after article of perfectly successful people, smelling sample after sample of perfect-smelling perfumes, lusting ad after ad over perfect-sounding lipsticks, I shut the magazine with a smile. This is an editorial. Editorial. Changed, altered, airbrushed. Not the total picture of anyone between its covers. But every ad and most of the content is published to help women who seek to gain the standard attained in a single snapshot of a beautiful actress. Who, by the way, had an entire team of men and women helping her reach that peak…and then a team of artists to tweak the image post-op.
“You know you want to be her. You know you can be her. If you were more ______.”
I think of Stanley Tucci’s role in The Devil Wears Prada, his smirk and sarcasm perfectly timed as he verbally slaps Anne Hathaway’s character:
“That’s what this multi-billion dollar business is really about, isn’t it? Inner beauty.”

This inane desire for perfection comes to all of us because deep down, we know  that by ourselves we’re incomplete. As a Christian, I have the treasure of knowing that my wholeness will only be complete in Christ and I pray that each one of you will realize the same thing. Christ is the only one who acknowledges your imperfection and doesn’t ask you to perfect yourself before approaching him.  The editor of Elle might want you to be thinner or get a nose job. The Instagram community wants you to wear more Toms and buy a Polaroid camera and fill your bedroom with succulents you are able to keep alive only because they don’t require the maintenance time you’ve devoted to getting beachy waves in hair that hasn’t seen a salt-breeze in six months. The Pinterest users rate your success by giving or withholding likes and re-pins on the photos you slaved over in hopes they’d push “like” or “pin”. The bloggers check to see if you’ve used matcha recently or bought Valentino shoes and if you haven’t, pass you by. Your success in their eyes is directly related to how many followers you have or don’t have. And if you don’t have enough followers to be popular, they aren’t going to stick around long enough to help make you so. Perfection is an empty game of Blind Man’s Bluff with everyone blindfolded, fumbling about to catch the seeing players of whom there were none to begin with.

// using the "arm-pit pose" //

So I’m committed to showing my flaws. I value presenting the best version of myself to the world. You know I do. It’s clear to people who know me that I try to live life with grace and care in my appearance, pursuits, and accomplishments. Showing the world the best version of you...it can be an act of worship if you are doing it in the right spirit, i.e. of glorifying God and adorning His temple within your body. I don't argue against or disagree with the pursuit of beauty. In fact, I wholeheartedly support it. But the best version of me is the true version, and she is far from perfect. 
There are bags under her eyes and a dim light bulb illuminates in her bedroom. She has never owned a Kate Spade purse and has to buy extra-wide  boots to fit her calves. She isn’t very good at hand-lettering and can’t draw a pair of focused eyes. She doesn’t speak a second language and can’t play an instrument and if you mention Sigmund Freud, all she knows about the man is that he talked a lot about sex and left his name as an adjective for ironically serendipitous moments. She can tell you what a macerated strawberry is, but guesses how to pronounce “sauvignon blanc.” She follows politics as well as she can but takes most of her information second-hand from cleverer friends. She accidentally bleached her brand new jeans this afternoon.
She’s imperfect.
And you love her better for it.
Please don’t be afraid to show your imperfection because the world needs a lot more humility than it currently has. It does give pride a blow to allow the general public to know your eyebrows run to seed and you broke out after resting your chin in your hand for ten minutes. It stings. And God forbid you ever admit you wash your hair every day. Isn’t there a coconut-oil routine for that?


Let down your hair from its carefully-piled messy-bun and pull off the fake eyelashes and the uncomfortable doesn't-quite-fit Lily dress you bought because 12 was the only size on sale. You’ll be okay. I promise. You’ll probably be more okay than you imagine. Also, just so you know, your #liveauthentic is showing. 

Truly-Banana Pudding Cupcakes

Growing up Southern, I'm good friends with banana pudding. And though I love the really homemade stuff my sister-in-law can whip up, I'm also a fan of the straight-up box-pudding and cool-whip version. It's one of those things that you know isn't good for you and you can't even tell why you find it so yummy but...hey, it's banana pudding. You don't argue with banana pudding.

I'm a nanny to two little blonde girls and it has become canon for me to take hold of their ponytails and twirl them in my fingers saying, "You know what your hair reminds me of?"
"What, Miss Rachel?"
"Banana pudding."
"You're silly, Miss Rachel."
So when Lila turned six, I decided I would create cupcakes inspired by banana pudding in honor of the birthday girl. My common procedure for recipe-development is to come up with an idea, Google it to see who's done what, scrap most of their ideas and craft it my way. Too many of the existing recipes for Banana Pudding Cupcakes relied far too heavily on cake mixes, pudding mixes, and the like, or were downright strange, like crumbling Nilla wafers into the icing. I'm not saying that doesn't taste good, but I don't like soggy crumbs in my frosting. It reminds me of so many failed birthday cakes. I also knew that I wanted a banana cupcake without the cupcake turning into a sad little frosting-clad muffin. There is a distinct line between a cupcake and muffin and I was afraid adding banana would blur that line, which I was not okay with. So I weaseled a compromise by choosing a richer sour-cream cupcake recipe, rearranging some of the ingredients, substituting mashed banana for a little of the butter, and accidentally doubling the sour-cream and thus omitting the milk. Turns out, that was the best possible accidental-brilliance that could have happened because these cupcakes are, to quote the Uggs-wearing, PSL-drinking "typical white girl," on point. A delicate, moist truly-banana cupcake filled with pudding, topped with tart cream-cheese frosting to balance the sweetness of the other components. What's not to love?

Banana Pudding Cupcakes
(makes 18)
For the cupcakes:
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup (1 medium) mashed banana
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
For the filling:
1 small box banana pudding, mixed to directions
For the frosting:
Nearly 2 pounds powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
Additional Ingredients:
1 box Nilla wafers

1.) To make cupcakes, cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Add mashed banana and eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add sour cream. Add flour and stir till just combined. Don't over-mix! Line cupcake tin with wrappers and lay one Nilla wafer in the bottom of each wrapper. Spoon batter into tins and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool.
2.) While cupcakes are baking, mix pudding according to instructions on the box and allow to set in fridge.
3.) Whip cream cheese with butter. Add most of the two pounds of sugar and the milk, beating until whipped into the desired consistency. In a separate bowl, crush a cup or two of Nilla wafers.
4.) When cupcakes are cool, cut a small plug out of the center of the cupcakes and fill the resulting cavity with banana pudding.
5.) Pipe frosting to cover and decorate with Nilla wafer crumbs. Keep refridgerated until you are ready to enjoy the brilliance of your Banana Pudding Cupcakes!

Happy 6th Birthday, Lila!