July 29, 2013

Creme Brulee French Toast

A few weeks ago, Patrick and I were blessed to be able to tag along on a trip to Eureka Springs with his parents. We stayed at The Heartstone Inn Bed and Breakfast (visit their website here) for the weekend in a cute little cottage that had so much charm.

If I wasn't in love with the place enough, Rick and Cheri (the owners and managers of The Heartstone) won my love and loyalty forever with their incredible 5-star breakfasts. If you know me at all, you know that good food is one of the quickest ways to my heart; good breakfast food gets you there even faster. Boy oh boy, I think I love them almost as much as I love my own family! Each breakfast that they served was absolutely divine:

Day 1: Creme Brulee French Toast, homemade (from scratch) hominy grits, sausage, and fresh fruit.

Day 2: Artichoke-Potato Quiche, chocolate zucchini bread, bacon, and fresh fruit.

Day 3: Tropical Fruit French Toast, cornbread casserole, sausage, and fresh fruit.

And the fresh fruit wasn't just a side of fruit - it was a blessed mixture of perfectly ripened fruit, always with a slightly obscure melon in the mix. Mmmm... my mouth is watering just thinking about all of that delicious food! The pictures and my descriptions really don't even begin to do it justice.

And - gasp! - the recipes that they make can be found in their very own cookbook available for purchase at the Inn's gift shop! I just about keeled over when I realized that I could bring home a bit my favorite part of The Heartstone; and just like that, the cookbook became mine. Well, I had to buy it, but let's just say that it didn't take long or any amount of convincing. (P.S. You can make it yours, too, by going to their online gift shop here! On that note, their soaps were pretty dang wonderful as well... I would like to make those mine some day soon.)

All that being said, I decided to make the Creme Brulee French Toast this past week for a house church get-together at our new place. We were so glad to be able to host, and the fact that the theme for our meal night was going to be breakfast foods was an uber plus. The french toast turned out wonderfully, and it was super easy to make (which surprised me, to be honest)! Instead of emailing or writing down the recipe several times over for my friends who wanted it, I decided just to post it here for easy access. So, thanks to Rick and Cheri, here is my favorite of all of The Heartstone Inn's breakfast recipes (so far)!

Creme Brulee French Toast
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter
1 c. packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
2 baguettes or 1 loaf French bread
5 large eggs
1 1/2 c. half & half
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. Grand Marnier
1/4 tsp. salt

In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring until smooth and pour into a greased 13x9x2 inch baking dish.

Cut 10-12 (1 inch thick) slices, reserving ends for another use. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, half & half, vanilla, Grand Marnier, and salt until combined well and ladle evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bring bread to room temperature. Bake bread mixture, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35-40 minutes. Serves 6.

1) I don't think that I'm betraying any confidences by posting this recipe - they have it posted on their Facebook page for The Heartstone Inn. In fact, they post one recipe every Friday, so go "like" their page and get more of their fabulous recipes!
2) I purchased 2 baguettes from Panera. I could have easily used 1 of theirs for this recipe.
3) While it says to chill the mixture overnight, I made it for an evening meal. I had it in the fridge by 9:00am and took it out at about 5:45pm.
4) We had 18 adults in the house for meal night, so there were probably more than 10-12 slices of bread in there. But who knows? I'm not the best at counting.

And there you have it, my dears! Be sure to let me know if you try this recipe for yourself. It is definitely worth the minimal effort that it takes to make it. And be sure to keep The Heartstone in mind if you ever venture out to Eureka Springs, Arkansas; I know that we will be staying there (like his parents have been - 30+ years) for many years to come!

July 26, 2013

Once Upon a Time... I Climbed a Mountain

It has been quite a while since I've written on this little blog of mine. A lot has happened in the past few months... more than a lot - things that have changed me forever and in ways that are purely inexplicable - but I won't write about that now; that's for a later time.

Right now I'm going to write a little story, the beginning of many little stories, actually. I've decided that, since I'm not so great at writing about the day-to-day events of my life, I'm going to write about the moments - big or little - that I want to document for one reason or another. It's going to be my "Once Upon a Time" series, and there will be no rhyme or reason to their order or significance. They will be purely be whatever stories I fancy remembering at the moment. Some stories will be short, some will be long; some will be simple, some complicated; some will be side-splitting, some extremely sad; they will all be mine.

And thus, with that sorry excuse for a recap and explanation for my absence, I will begin...

Once upon a time, I climbed a mountain.
Not just any mountain, mind you, but Mount Royal. Perhaps it is named as such because it is a Royal Pain-in-the-Rear to climb? I'll let you be the judge of that, but it was certainly no picnic! Oh my livin' heck. Just thinking about that beautiful mountain makes me tired. But alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

First, I'll introduce you to The Womack Clan, comprising of three couples:
Charlie (father-in-law)
Bernice (mother-in-law)
Jonathan (brother-in-law)
Rachel (Jonathan's wife, sis-in-law)
Patrick (well, you know him... my favorite redhead)
Nicole (duh... that's me)

The Womack Clan was invited to a lovely little Colorado wedding last summer over the 4th of July weekend and we decided to make a family vacation out of it. First stop: Copper Mountain, Colorado, where the wedding was being held. We actually stayed in this cute little town not far from Copper called Frisco; we instantly fell IN.LOVE. with the condo, the town, the mountain view, the food, the weather, everything!
I cannot remember which day it was (sometime after the wedding, possibly the day after), but the two younger couples had been doing a bit of P90X before the venture to the mountains (that's another story...) and we four decided that we would love to get a little workout by taking a hike - we were in the mountains, after all! Jonathan got to work looking up the closest and best hike for the four of us and found Mount Royal. After doing his research, he convinced us with his lackluster attitude that it was, indeed, the hike for us. I mean, really, the trail is only a mile and a half long! Let's go tackle that little trail, shall we?!

I'm never listening to that man again.

The four of us crazies got gussied up for the trek up the trail and had Charlie drive us over to the trail head. We're so dang cute, aren't we? And by golly, we were excited, too!

 (Pardon the sans makeup look... we weren't fools enough to think that it would make a difference.)

And then we started up the trail. I don't know what impression we were under, but it was most certainly the wrong impression (ahem... thanks to some lying fool of a dumbkid)! Let me tell you, that was the worst, longest, most excruciating 1.5 miles OF.MY.LIFE. Oh sure, it's only a mile and a half. A MILE AND A HALF IN WHICH YOU CLIMB 1,500 VERTICAL FEET.
Let me say it again for you.

Rachel and I thought we were going to die. We were never, ever, NEVER EVER going to get off of that [explicative] mountain alive. And if we did, that tall, skinny brunette of a future doctor wasn't going to live to tell the tale. Oh sure, the first 1/4 mile was peachy. Nice and mellow. Then came the mountain. Up, up, up you go, and when it stops, nobody knows! We felt like we were Frodo and Sam as they were led up, up, up the treacherous stairs of Cirith Ungol by the plotting Gollum... sigh. No technical explanation of that vertical climb will do the dang thing justice, but let me just say that it was 100% awful. And what made it worse was the native elderly people and pint-sized children passing us up on the trail at lightening speeds. At lightening speeds, I tell you! Forget the dogs, they were totally digging it. Thank heaven for those little aerosol cans of oxygen and 237 clif bars that we brought along with us... yes, oxygen. We're from sea-level locales, folks!

By the time we got to the top, I had decided that I was going to spend a bit of time up there; we didn't complete the most ridiculous hike just to turn around and slide back down the mountain - oh heck no! We each munched on clif bars and apples for lunch while Rachel and I sat our tooshies down on logs for a stinkin' break and tried to sip on the water we wanted to guzzle. We admired the incredible view several times. We goofed around. We ate and drank and admired some more.

Alas, there came a time where we had to go back down the mountain, which was a task in itself, for what was so ridiculously steep coming up was insanely tricky to walk coming down! I cannot tell you how many times we slipped (and sometimes fell) simply because we didn't have the right shoes or footing for such a steep walk downhill - I know that Rachel had the wrong shoes period and was spitting nails the whole way down, but she was a trooper if I've ever seen one! The following picture is from the easy part of the trek downward. Do you see how the mountain slopes at the turn? Yeesh.

Eventually, the four of us made it back to the base of the mountain in (mostly) one piece. We gave Jonathan a hard time for weeks to come, but all in all, I think that we were all glad of the accomplishment that was climbing Mount Royal. Even if we did think that we were going to die in the process.

I'm sure there's some inspiring metaphor in there somewhere, but I'm going to leave it right where it is - I'm exhausted after all of this mountain-climbing reminiscing!

Oh, yeah! And they all lived happily ever after... once they were no longer on Mount Royal. ;)