Brunch at the Mad Hatter’s

This past Sunday I decided with my friends to follow the Southern tradition of brunch and we felt no better place to go than to the Mad Hatter’s Tea House located in just downtown in San Antonio. This artsy local spot has been raved about for years after celeb Rachel Ray visited a few years ago and fell in love with The Mad Hatter.

Now what I love most about The Mad Hatter is its concern for detail yet simplicity. Fresh made in house bread, pies and cakes. English muffins made from scratch. Homemade sauces and sides all made fresh with local ingredients and inventive flavors.

I ordered a brunch classic and one of my favorite dishes at The Mad Hatter: toast with strawberry butter.  Now this doesn’t sound like much but I promise you this is a small plate not to be missed.  In house strawberry jam is mixed with butter to add the perfect sweetness and texture to what is just a plain piece of toast.

Dishes that aren’t to be missed include their scrams filled with all kinds of veggies and unique flavors. Also their potato hash is a best seller: a savory combination of sweet and russet potatoes seasoned perfectly and griddled crispy.  Their tea sandwiches come in a variety of flavors and are the perfect small plate and great to share with the whole family.

Now, what’s a tea house without tea? And the tea selection at The Mad Hatter’s is like no other. My personal favorites include the oolong tea and any of their blended varieties.  And the drinks don’t stop at tea. Sunday brunch offers a lovely opportunity for a delicious mimosa.

The Mad Hatter’s also provides a small grocery for locals. Milk, eggs, bread, and yogurt can be purchased for home consumption.  This is great for local foodies looking for a little extra freshness close to home.

The Mad Hatter’s is one of my favorite brunch spots in San Antonio, and my friends and family make a habit to visit here as often as possible. The lines can be long but it’s well worth the wait. It can be a little hectic and it does get crowded easily especially during brunch. But the patio outside is great when the weather’s nice. The service is always great and the owners are often around the restaurant and easy to talk to but the only thing you’ll want to say to them is praises. This place is a personal joy and one of San Antonio’s true hidden treasures. 

Chinese Food in America

Amanda here sounding off on what is one of my biggest comfort foods and one of my favorite things to cook at home: Chinese food. Now I love Chinese food all from the gourmet type at upscale restaurants to the greasy MSG-heavy deep-fried orgy that lines each shopping center and mall in America.  But what is it about Chinese food that has become such an important part of the American vernacular? I think it stems from comfort. To the mall-centric generation that I grew up in there was no better afternoon spent that going to Panda Express for their candy-coated orange chicken that we admit to being oh so bad but oh so good.  Fumbling with the chopsticks and the cryptic and nearly psychic fortunes from the cookie chambers that held them in.

It’s taken a few years and my love of Chinese food hasn’t change. I’ve mastered the chopsticks, collaged the fortunes and do my best to recognize the kanji of each dish. Americanization? Forget about it! I’m not one to be bothered by the fact that I have no idea who General Tso is or why we eat his chicken (but the real story is pretty interesting) and why those candy-like sauces that cling so desperately to meat just seems to make my heart sing. What is it about fried rice that just seems to make any meal better? Why does adding a little sriracha and soy sauce make almost any flavor pop? I’ve spent my life searching for umami, the elusive epitome of flavor, and I found it within Chinese food.

When it comes down to it, unlike every other culture of food within the states Chinese food and the other tastes of Asia brings with it mystery, spice and wonder that we can’t find in our usual bag of tricks. With its strong flavors, rich traditions and exotic spices and ingredients there’s a stigma that it’s nearly impossible to create good Chinese food at home without shelling out lots of money on expensive equipment and special ingredients only to be used once.  

The truth is that you don’t need a bunch of one time ingredients and a new stockpile of what will prove to be useless equipment one must simply master the Asian trinity (garlic, ginger, chili) and gain a deep appreciation for soy sauce.

One of my favorite Chinese recipes is for a simple beef stir-fry.  Marinate beef in mirin( sweet cooking sake’) , soy sauce, honey, chili flake, ginger and garlic for no more than an hour. Blanch baby bok choy  in heavily salted water and shock in an ice bath. Add a sesame and canola oil blend to a hot sauté pan and add chili flake, ginger and garlic, let blend with the oil add the veggies of your delight in addition to the baby bok choy, add marinated beef with the marinate to create the sauce.  Let the beef cook and it creates the perfect well-done stir-fry.

So I encourage you all to try something new, something exotic, add some temari to your life. Purchase a wok. Buy a few new cookbooks and add some Asian flare to the average meal.  It’s well worth it!

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bliss

No scent is more indicative of childhood than that. The soft aroma of chocolate. The engaging scent of baking dough. Nothing is sweeter even despite the most bitter of childhoods.

It was after a week-long cookie craving that I finally got the courage up to ask my aunt if I could make them. After the brownie fiasco, she was weary. But when I divulged that this would be the time-honored traditional recipe she seemed more than happy to let me.  But this was no ordinary cookie recipe.  This was the traditional cookie recipe of the family.

Now, a little history needs to be known so the importance of this moment can be appreciated. My aunt Joyce has made the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever known since I was a little kid. These cookies have been the staple of every elementary school event, every class party, and each parent-teacher night. Kids clamored for “Joyce’s Cookies”.  These cookies graced each holiday desert buffet and any other special event in the family. She never made them just because; it was always for something which made them all the more special. They were the most seductively elusive part of my youth.

These were cookies made with the family. My cousins and I fighting over which beater we could each, how much dough we would have to consume before we died of salmonella, why my cookie got my chips than the others.  So in taking on this task on my own, it was cathartic. I got to relive a part of my childhood that at times feels so lost in days of writing and hazes of GPA panic attacks and working towards each deadline. Even in this lazy summer I find myself lost in a sea of my own worries instead of that child-like obsession with that summer bliss. These cookies have brought me closer to myself.

Now, the recipe is simple. It’s a packaged recipe millions pass by in the grocery stores daily. It could be found anywhere. By no means, is this some old recipe that my great-great grandma brought over from the old world during the slave times. But the way my aunt made them, adding a pinch of this, a little extra of that and less of this always made each batch wonderfully simple and simply wonderful.

I have tried a few times before to make them myself, resulting in varying disasters such as the butter-chip cookie and the anthropomorphic cookie blob. But today was different. Today, I not only made cookies but I remade a part of my life that was so simple and wonderful. Today, I passed the gauntlet and finished the recipe and made them perfectly.

I reached nostalgic bliss. Writing this article while enjoying a hot cookie and a nice cup of milk on a saucer very similar to one I would have used as a kid. So I think today we should all make cookies. To hell with cakes and pies just for a day, and let’s all sit down together with a plate of cookies and a gallon of milk. Let’s just go back to that innocent place where food was food and cookies were happiness.