Today was the best of St. Louis summer (a cool morning thundershower) and the worst of St. Louis summer (the subsequent 100 percent humidity afternoon). It probably wouldn’t have felt so bad except that I was helping a friend move furniture. And a washer. And a dryer. From her basement to the second floor.

I avoided most of the heaviest lifting, thanks to the one man among three women who was determined not to be outdone by any two of us combined, but I still worked up quite a sweat. I cannot imagine having done that or any job outdoors today.

And yet after I read this post for the blog I help edit, St. Louis Kids Magazine’s SmartParenting, I was oh-so-tempted to give blueberry and blackberry picking a try.The farm she writes about, Huckleberry Hollow, is only about an hour southwest of St. Louis off I-44.  Some friends who picked blueberries a couple of weeks ago raved about the experience too, telling us it was magical to just hold out your hand and have blueberries practically fall into it.

I think what I have to do is imagine how good those frozen berries will taste come December …

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I did my civic duty this week: served on a jury for three days. What seemed on Monday to be a huge inconvenience had by Thursday become sort of a pleasant routine — so much so that when our case ended early that afternoon, some of my fellow jurors took the rest of the day off from work. The pressures that had seemed to urgent Monday had faded even with a few days of enforced separation.

I’m left with many memories of the case, but my most tangible reminder will be the recipe a fellow juror brought in for me one morning after we’d been talking about feeding our kids.
Her son is nearly my age, and one of his favorite childhood foods was the White Castles his mom used to make and feed his friends. I’m no particular fan of White Castle, but my brother is, so I’m well enough acquainted with the odor that I’ll be able to call Kathy and tell her whether or not I agree with her son, that these knock-offs do smell just like the real thing.

White Castles

2 lbs. lean ground beef, browned
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
1/2 cup water
1 cup dill pickle relish (drained, liquid reserved)
1/2 cup dill pickle juice
2 Tbsp. flour
Mix all the ingredients together and simmer for 20 minutes. Chill overnight. The next day, form into patties and heat. Serve on dollar rolls with slices of pickles.

I love, love, love morel mushrooms. I love them sliced, battered and fried. I love them diced and cooked with mixed vegetables. I love them baked onto savory onion tarts. I love them with a creamy sauce over pasta. And lo and behold, my kids actually kind of dig them too.

Apparently my neighbors think I’m a sucker for paying a gazillion dollars an ounce for them at the Soulard Farmers’ Market when I could just, you know, drive over to Illinois and get them myself.  Yeah, if I knew where to look …

And now someone’s going to tell me. For free. The Spring & Mushroom Festival at Pere Marquette Lodge is Sunday (Apr. 11) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. An actual hunt begins at 12:30 p.m.  Woohoo!  There will be other stuff going on too, like live music and artisan crafts for sale. For details call 618.786.2331.

I hope my brother’s not reading this blog, because I just ordered him a wake-up call for IHOP’s National Pancake Day next Tuesday (Feb. 23). I was thinking of having it be from Miss America, but I decided instead to go with former NFL quarterback Steve Young. There’s only so much stimulation a single guy can take at 7:05 a.m.

The fun thing about the “holiday” is that from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., all participating IHOPs are offering free short stacks (three pancakes) and requesting that customers consider donating to the Children’s Miracle Network or another children’s hospital nonprofit in the local area.

The sign went up across the street on Sunday, as we were still cleaning up from the Mardi Gras party. FISH FRY! S. has been asking for weeks when the fish fries are going to start — he’s only 3, so apparently last year’s events made quite an impression on his 2-year-old brain! — and I was delighted to be able to show him the sign and tell him that this week, it’s on.

There’s another family eagerly scouting out the local fries, and they kindly commented on my blog with a link to their site, Friday Night Fish. I see that they don’t have St. Agatha’s Polish fry in the reviews yet, but they really should.  If I had three kids under age 7, as they do, I’d definitely be making a beeline to the church basement where you can get Tyskie and Zywiec (or similar Polish lagers) for a song.  Then again, I get to walk home …

As it happens, another St. Louis fish fry blog, No Meat for You!, will be descending on St. Agatha’s this Friday (Feb. 19) to do a review.  I suggest you come early — it opens at 5 p.m. — to beat the rush, because if the good Polish folks staffing the fryer run out of fish and you have to wait, you may be tempted to drink your calories from a bottle of 8-percent-alcohol Polish piwo.

Are we back to beer again?

Such is the hectic state of my life that I missed National Ice Cream for Breakfast day on Saturday (Feb. 6). Why someone chose to place this holiday smack in the middle of winter I’ve no idea … but I like to think the proximity to my birthday had something to do with it! What goes better with ice cream for breakfast than cake, right?

Actually, my family does occasionally eat ice cream for breakfast in the winter, because it’s absolutely delicious on top of a steaming bowl of oatmeal. If you’ve not tried it, I suggest you plan your own National Ice Cream Day tomorrow. The recipe we use for the oatmeal is this one from Eating Well magazine. Ignore the part about yogurt and top it with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. (Substitute raisins for the dates if you prefer.) Besides feeling totally decadent, the ice cream has the additional benefit of cooling the oatmeal off quickly, always a plus on school days or, as it happens, tomorrow may turn out to be a snow day, in which case the oatmeal will give your kids extra endurance on the sledding hill.

My family has a fondness for almond bark. Yes, it’s just candy coating made with vegetable fat instead of actual cocoa butter … and yes, it’s deathly sweet. But I can’t imagine Christmas without almond bark pretzels. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make — it cracks me up that there are recipes for it — and this weekend, I taught M. how to melt it up, coat pretzel rods till they’re draped in just enough goo, and then dip them into mounds of sugary sprinkles.

He lost interest after 47 … then came back around 75 to count my progress … but by 118, when I finally finished my fifth bag of pretzel rods, he wasn’t even particularly eager to lick the bowl. Who knew he even had a sugar saturation point? Of course, then S. woke up from his nap, took one look at the counter top, and breathlessly asked, “Oooooh, Mama, what is this?”

We packaged up most of the pretzel rods to give as holiday gifts, but I have a stash reserved for the relatives who’ll be arriving later on this week. Whether any make it that long is an open question.

I’m trying to keep with the holiday spirit, so I won’t tell you my reaction to the first snowflakes (more like sleetflakes, actually) hitting my windshield on the way home tonight. Maybe it was the mild summer and rainy fall, but this is the first time in my eight years of St. Louis residence that I’m not looking forward to winter.

It’s a good thing we baked some cookies today (The Blue Owl Bakery’s Gooey Butter Balls, very yummy!) or I’d not be in the right frame of mind at all to tell you about the Holiday on the Plaza event in the Central West End on Saturday (Dec. 5). It’s billed as a multicultural event but there don’t seem to be a whole lot of details on that part of the event, aside from the trees variou ethnic communities will be decorating.  What I can tell you is that there’ll be lights and Santa and Bob Kramer’s Marionettes and an indoor (no sleetflakes!!) workshop with “a fun and culturally enriching interactive experience for children of all ages.”  The elves taking part include The Magic House, The Saint Louis Science Center, Bowood Farms and Home Depot.

Instead of paying the $5-per-child admission, bring a new, unwrapped toy. (Proceeds and donations go to the Salvation Army.)  Adults get in free.  It all happens on Maryland Plaza from 3 to 5 p.m.

If you happen to be hitting the Justin Roberts concert at Off Broadway today at 3 p.m. — not free, but at $10 per person it’s worth it for hard-core Yellow Bus fans like my boys! — consider coming over to Cherokee Street before or afterward. From 1 to 7 p.m., the annual Dia de los Muertos festival will be taking place, centered around the Cherokee-California corner. This year the organizers have set up a cemetery so we anglos can see how a traditional commemoration of the dead might look. You can learn more on the Riverfront Times blog post here. Even if you can’t stay long, it’s worth stopping by the many bakeries on the street for the sweet and delicious pan de muertos.

Spirits and Boos (Oct. 31)

October 28, 2009

Here’s the most clever promotion I’ve seen this Halloween season: The Fountain on Locust is promoting its Spirits and Boos (yes, as in alcohol – gotta love a good pun!) with a special creepy cocktail menu and “appendage appetizers” all day on Saturday (Oct. 31), 11 a.m. to midnight. The staff will be in costume, so I think it’s only appropriate that the customers be in costume too, right? And although the Fountain has great drinks, it’s a very kid-friendly joint in an old-fashioned soda fountain sort of way. Also, let me note that if you’re concerned about your kid getting too much sugar on Saturday, the servers are so well trained that they know better than to upsell you on dessert without first whispering to ask permission to mention the I-word.

Be sure to visit the homepage for various coupons and special offers, including a free soup with the purchase of a meal.  (I vote for the dill pickle-potato. Mmmm.)