Summer. The sky colored ocean blue. The wind is gentle and kind. Flowers in full bloom, the gardens alive, and the meadows stretch on for miles in technicolor splendor. The morning sun is soft. Shadows scatter across the grass. Summer is the bringer of joy. Late night parties, music with a soulful tempo, and comfort foods like steak and BBQ for every meal. The warm air brings out the inner child in all of us. There is something about wearing vibrant colored shorts and drinking out of mason jar that makes life seem simple. The day’s ephemeral and the nights kept alive just a tad while longer. The table is set, and the food is ready. Welcome to summer.
A few weeks back, I spent the morning at the Japanese House Gardens with a friend and fellow photographer. She and I met over a year ago at the hotel where we both work. In the first week, we bonded over our loves of photography and became good friends almost instantly. Fast forward a year and I’m running a food blog and she’s starting up her own photography business. The way time moves and pushes us to grow never ceases to amaze me. She was asked to photograph our manager’s wedding, which is towards the end of August. She asked if I would help her drive around town and pick locations to take the bridal party on wedding day for photos. Our journey lead us to the gardens.
The Japanese House gardens lie towards the outer rim of the University. Time seems to stall when at the gardens. The air is still, and the light is clear and pleasant. Silence rules the space and beauty gleams brighter than the rising sun. With beautiful flowers, gorgeous gardens, and large grassy plains, it was the ideal location to take some shots and talk about poses and angles. We arrived mid-morning. The gardens were well deserted, besides the group tour full of elderly tourist, snapping moments of the gardens grace and tranquility, and a handful of volunteer gardeners working frivolously under the hot summer sun.
Strolling through the gardens made me take a step back and cherish the beauty of it all. I love taking walks and admiring the simplicity and the majesty of nature. Walks allow my brain to unravel upon itself and think. I believe nature possess a calming effect. I find my greatest amount of pure inspiration after long walks at night or on a quiet Sunday stroll through the woods. The way the shadows danced on the trees trigger my senses and leaves me in sheer awe at the pure mysteriousness and power of nature. I begin to think about the grand scheme of life and how nature truly connects us to the core. Mother Nature is no subtle mistress. She is a being of artistry and demands to be displayed a spectacle for the senses. Smells of pine and sounds of rustling leafs transport us into a completely new reality, the reality of our imaginations. Nature is a teacher. It teaches us to inspire, grow, change for the good, and find the beauty within ourselves.
On a more culinary note; French toast is bae. In the growing debate between pancakes, waffles, and French toast, I will time and time again choose a three stack high plate of French toast above all else. There is something incredibly satisfying about taking that first bite of a warm, freshly browned piece of French toast. For years, my family has used store-bought, processed white bread to make French toast, which is fine, delicious, in fact, don’t get me wrong. After using the Brioche bread recipe from Huckleberry to make the French toast, I was forever converted. No longer shall I belittle my French toast tastes to pre-packaged white bread. There was something strikingly life changing about eating that warm brioche bread, the maple syrup slowly drowning the buttered toast in a cascade of sweet delight. The French toast was light in texture and butyraceous with a touch of sweetness that melted beautifully together with every bite. Utterly perfection.
I had read about bloggers using rose water for quite a few months before purchasing some myself. With spring and summer upon us, rose water seemed like the ideal ingredient to have on hand for some of my future baking endeavors. It is supposed to help me embrace the beauty and tranquility of the changing seasons. I purchased my rose water here. It smelled just as you would inquire it does, like an endless bundle of rose bushes in bloom. I fell quickly in love with rose water and knew I had to use it for a recipe. Strawberries are in season here in the Midwest, so clearly I had to use them in a compote. The strawberry compote recipe is from The Minimalist Baker. The compote took the French toast to entirely new flavor level. It brought a slight tartness to the sweet and syrup covered French toast. I added a tad more sugar to give it a sweeter taste. It was delicious, and the perfect pair of the French toast and the rose water whipped cream. Garden walks and French toast; this was a splendid way to welcome summer.
Yeilds 16, ½ inch thick, slices
For the French toast- adapted from Allrecipes
For the Strawberry Compote- adapted from The Minimalist Baker
- Two loaves, preferably day old, Brioche bread
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Salt to taste
- 3 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, depending on the season
- 3 tablespoons orange juice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon rose water
Pre-step: Take an evening or an entire day and walk through your local gardens or woods. Experience the beauty and majesty of Mother Earth.
1. For the strawberry compote: In a medium saucepan, add the strawberries and orange juice and bring to a medium heat. Once bubbling, reduce the heat and use a potato masher or wooden spoon and gently muddle and mash the fruit, leaving some bigger pieces behind. Continue to cook over medium-low heat for 10-12 minutes, occasionally stirring and muddling. Remove from heat and transfer to a Mason jar or container to cool. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
2. For the Whipped Rose Water Cream: Place a metal mixing bowl and metal whisk into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Doing this will allow the cream to stay cold and create stiff peaks quicker. Place the sugar into a mixing bowl and add the heavy cream. With a hand mixer or metal whisk, whisk just until the cream reaches stiff peaks, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the rose water in one tablespoon increments until desired taste is reached. Store in an airtight container for up to 10 hours. When ready to use, whisk for 10 to 15 seconds to reincorporate the air back into the cream.
3. For the French toast: In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and extract. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or cast iron skillet over medium-high flame.
Tip: Test that the oil is hot enough by sprinkling a pinch of water into the griddle’s or skillet’s surface. If the water “pops” up from the pan, the oil is ready.
4. Dunk each slice of bread in the egg mixture, soaking both sides. Place two to three pieces of bread into the pan and cook on both sides until golden brown. Serve hot with the compote and whipped cream.