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Lavender Lemonade

Lavender is an extremely aromatic flower, and it is possible to simple steep some sprigs in your lemonade.  However, making a simple syrup will add more depth in flavor.

Makes almost 8 cups

lavender lemonade

4 cups of water plus 1 1/2 cups

2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 10 lemons)

1 1/2 cups of white sugar

The flowers of 20 lavender sprigs

simple syrup

simple syrup

Strip the lavender flowers from the stems, and discard the stems.  Put the flowers with the sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Strain to remove and discard the flowers.

Roll the lemons heavily over a hard surface, halve them, and squeeze into any container with a handle (for easy pouring later).  It’s a whole lot easier to squeeze it all out with a hand juicer.  If you don’t like pulp, squeeze over a strainer sitting in your container.  Mix the lemon juice, simple syrup, and 4 cups of water.  Keep cold, and serve over ice.

2013 Asparagus Festival, Stockton CA

asparagus fest 061

For three days, 129 non-profit organizations of San Joaquin County kept the 2013 Asparagus Festival exciting and active.  After our experience yesterday, we were so happy to attend a festival today that heartily celebrated the food in the event’s name.

Asparagus is part of the lily family; if not harvested, eventually the tip of the stalk flowers.  It is a liver protector, we learned, and an excellent hangover cure because of that – important information for many of the revelers out today.

Multiple stages with big bands (like Gin Blossoms!) and local talent, shopping vendors, children’s activities, dog agility competitions, paddleboats, and a sea lion exhibit were some of the non-asparagus things entertaining the masses, just like there was lots of non-asparagus food.  But there was plenty of asparagus-loaded food, and we eagerly tried it all!

The Asparagus Festival takes up a HUGE part of Stockton, and we were lucky enough to find the last parking spot in a private lot that was close(ish) to an entrance.  All the same, it required a little bit of walking to get to the booth to buy food and beverage tickets ($1 per ticket, and most items were 3-6 tickets).  Not long after getting our first batch of tickets, and well before making our way to Asparagus Alley where all the non-profits were working to serve up asparagus fare, we found a stand of margarita machines.  These weren’t typical, of course; why are we here again?  Yes, we tried an asparagus margarita brought by The Margarita Man!  Honestly the asparagus taste was very, very mild, as likely the alcohol helps to cancel out the chlorophyll.  But it was refreshing and quenching on this hot day in the valley.

asparagus sliders

asparagus sliders

Sweet Delights, which normally does standard event food, made sure to bring asparagus items.  The asparagus sliders were delightful, something that we would eat in real life if available.  The slider patties were essentially like asparagus fritters or mini veggie burgers with an asparagus base.  From being fried, the exterior was thin and crispy and the inside was a delicate texture.  Ripe, sweet tomatoes and fresh mixed greens were simple toppings, sandwiched in little soft French rolls.  An added bonus was the pesto aioli spread, a much better pairing than something like plain mayonnaise would have been.

asparagus gyro

asparagus gyro

Also from Sweet Delights, the asparagus gyro was served more like a pizza, even being sliced into four quarters.  It started with a pesto base covered in gooey mozzarella, then more of the same ripe, sweet tomatoes, and grilled asparagus that maintained just a little bit of natural crunch.  For how simple it was, it was a great vegetarian flatbread pizza.

asparagus lemonade

asparagus lemonade

Sweet Delights went above and beyond, even bringing asparagus lemonade.  We never would have come upon this idea ourselves because it just doesn’t seem normal, but folks, it works.  It was made with real lemons, wasn’t overly sweet, and had a nice, mild, asparagus aftertaste.

asparaburrito

asparaburrito

We made our way to Asparagus Alley, where groups of fraternity brothers, AT&T associates, and community members worked together under huge tents to accommodate the demand for asparagus.  Asparagus burritos were made with steak and refried beans, served with a side of scratch salsa.  The steak was freshly grilled, tender, and very flavorful; the asparagus was also grilled, and the beans were homemade.  It was a really good burrito, and if in a taquería, it’s something that we would order.

asparagus steak sandwich

asparagus steak sandwich

Like a hoagie and with the same steak as the burrito, the asparagus sandwich was just as tasty.  Instead of refried beans, it had grilled onions which were cooked just right.  Throw some cheese on here, and it would be an excellent version of a Philly cheesesteak.  August wanted more, but we had to be responsible and eat just a little so that we could try other things, as well.

asparagus pasta

asparagus pasta

The asparagus pasta was like the pasta salad August grew up with, except with asparagus.  Fresh tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cracked black pepper, and grilled asparagus made for a great mix that we’ll likely recreate at home.  Hearty but light, refreshing and filling, this would be good for a side dish or a main entree.

multiple stations for cranking out deep fried asparagus

multiple stations for cranking out deep fried asparagus

Deep fried asparagus, being the most familiar item, was undoubtedly the most popular, and the event planners knew it would be so they planned accordingly.  This is just a fraction of the area cordoned off for making batches of hot stalks.

deep fried asparagus

deep fried asparagus

So of course we tried some, but they fell a little flat.  We don’t blame the volunteers, we know it’s tough working like they were, but to be honest we got to try a stalk fried in lumpia, gifted to us by the Margarita Man at the start of the day, and that was awesome.

asparaberry shortcake

asparaberry shortcake

Like the asparagus lemonade, asparagus strawberry shortcake is not something we thought we’d ever see.  And also like the lemonade, it really works.  The pound cake (yes, there was a little bit under there) was fresh and rich, and we only wish there was more of it.  The strawberries were ripe and in a decadent syrup, the whipped cream was made with real cream, and blanched asparagus bits provided color and flavor.  In Zach’s opinion, forget that it’s asparagus – it’s no different than adding a little mint to your dessert.  Not saying that asparagus tastes like mint, but you get it.  It’s a garnish, and it was good.

asparagus ice cream

asparagus ice cream

Finally, what everyone wants to know about: we present the asparagus ice cream.  With a rich, creamy, vanilla base, this was light with asparagus flavor.  Don’t let the deep green color fool you.  It’s more of a novelty, but it was still yummy.  There were no unhappy children eating this!  If you have a hard time introducing your kids to new foods, this would be a great way to do it.

What a day!  We barely scratched the surface, since we came on Day 3 and with only two of us, we couldn’t be in enough different places to catch it all.  For example, it would have been nice to see the professional chef competition or the asparagus eating challenge, but now we know to plan for more time to dedicate next year.  With lots of kids stuff, many crafts booths, and plenty of alcohol stands, there really was something for everyone here.

Cock-a-Doodle Cafe, Oakland CA

There was nothing in the fridge or cabinets this morning for a decent brunch since we slept and, because we just moved in, we hadn’t done grocery shopping yet.  Zach found Cock-a-Doodle Cafe online looking for “best breakfast oakland,” and we can see why diners would feel that way.  Latin/American fusion for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, with an impressive selection of fanciful coffees and cocktails, this establishment merits a few visits.

house strawberry lemonade

house strawberry lemonade

Despite having seeds, Zach wanted to try the lemonade – made in house, organic, and very refreshing.  It was strong in strawberry flavor with lemon as a medium background, not too sweet but not too sour.  There was some pulp, and the garnishes were cute.

fried poach egg benedict

fried poach egg benedict

His entree isn’t on the online menu, but off the in house menu he ordered this version of Eggs Benedict.  Poached eggs with smoked pork loin, tomato, avocado, and lemon caper sauce were deliciously layered on English muffin.  The egg whites were tender while the yolk was still rich and creamy, all over breaded with a crispy cornmeal crust.  The smoky pork loin was also tender, and lean.  Sweet tomato and creamy avocado were both fresh, and the rich Hollandaise was tangy thanks to the capers.  With a choice of house griddle potatoes or organic greens, and being in a breakfast mood more so than lunch, Zach chose the potatoes; they were crispy and very savory with onion, garlic, and the right amount of salt.

mexican hot chocolate

mexican hot chocolate

August’s Mexican hot chocolate took a bit longer to make than Zach’s strawberry lemonade, so this big bowl barely had room on the table, competing with the other items taking up space.  It was very mild and an easy way for someone new to Mexican hot chocolate to ease into the “spices,” because  for this it was cinnamon that stood out the most.  It was very easy to sip, but you almost don’t want to disturb it because it’s so pretty.

old oakland omelette

old oakland omelette

The egg in August’s omelette was fluffy with no skin, nor was it overcooked (causing the egg to brown).  It looks simple, but inside it hides thick-cut pancetta, chipotle aioli, green onions, tomato, and cheddar.  The cheese is creamy, balancing out the flavorful but not-too-spicy aioli.  The green onions were on the inside, not on the outside like she had anticipated, so they were slightly cooked and therefore not too strong.  She enjoyed the same potatoes that Zach did, but she wished there was more omelette for a few more bites of delight.

half-order of graham cracker-crusted french toast

half-order of graham cracker-crusted french toast

Zach found out a little too late that the french toast has poppy seeds, but we both thought it was fantastic.  It had a little more texture than your typical french toast with a thin, crisp, and crunchy graham cracker layer.  Light, airy, and somewhat pillowy in the center, the thick-cut bread was slightly sweet so we used very little syrup.  For the price and size, being a half-order, this is a great deal and a unique find.

Raul, our server, was attentive and understanding.  We found this place on a whim, but with perfect timing, we didn’t realize we were going to be right next to the Old Oakland Farmers Market where Zach found inspiration for dinner.  Even further, August overheard the lady at the table next to us mention to Raul that her family used to own the very building we were eating in.  What an introduction to living in Oakland!