Pollan on prioritizing

By on Jun 9, 2015 in quotes | 0 comments

While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.

— Michael Pollan

chocolate chip, deconstructed

By on Jun 9, 2015 in baking, dessert, love | 0 comments

Truly, this isn’t new. I posted something four years go about reconstructing the chocolate chip cookies of childhood memory. Or, to be more precise, how I tweaked the recipe my Mom sent me ever so slightly. Many a things have happened in those four years. In the constant way of life, I have learned more from experience. I have upgraded cameras. Twice. Figured out more of the technical, which freed up the path to be more creative and explore how I wanted to photograph my food. I learned more about the technical parts of cooking and baking, which allows for more rampant experimentation with only a hair less trepidation. Read more and more about food, from a culinary and cultural standpoint, how we veered so far into processed, and people are starting to come back. Slowly. People still want processed shortcuts. Sometimes I do, too. And then it hit me… why was I looking for shortcuts? Granted, I have been accused of insanity when I start talking about how easy it is to whip up a batch of homemade marshmallows (which it is), because I am so in love with making things from scratch, but still… why? Why shortcuts? On an every day basis? Is this truly what our lives have become? In the four years since that cookie post, I have watched as life accelerated, time filled, and for me work took over everything, including my own self-care. And I know this is not exclusive to me. It is everyone, whether they be single and child free like me, or married with multiple children running about. Somehow our modern world has demanded that we fill our time with more things. More material things, more classes, more work, more activities, more social media, more television, more drivel, so much so that we look for shortcuts in cooking, in food, that which nourishes us, in favor of spending more time binge watching that latest Netflix series. (To be fair, I love “Grace & Frankie”.) And in fact, food is a wonderful part of human existence. It can be this wonderful communal event, or it can be a therapeutic small moment, like a cup of really good tea and a homemade cookie at the end of an overblown day overflowing with ‘more’. It is how people make others feel welcome in their home, it is a buffet laid out at weddings or funerals, celebrations of others’ lives, it is how you, with the power of a simple bowl of soup, can make another ill human feel better, even if it is only psychosomatic. And so I revisited the chocolate chip cookie. I revised the recipe after making it with my 3 ½ year old niece, where you can not conform to rigid recipes or timing, and discovered through her overpour of flour that an extra ¼ of flour made a big difference. I remember how intently she studied that dough, taking a scrap I had given her and fiddling with it, seeing what shapes it could make, what it would do if she added more flour, and the sheer unadulterated joy of laying it on the counter and whapping it with her little hand, smooshing it in the most satisfying way. When I came home to see if the replication of the extra ¼ cup of flour would work, I found myself suddenly intrigued by the walnut. I had a bunch of almost whole walnut halves, and noticed how beautifully, symmetrically gnarled they are. Suddenly I was focusing intently on each and every solitary ingredient, sniffing them deeply, hovering and contorting around them with my camera, focusing on just… them. No more. No elaborate staging of pretty dishes, no distressed backgrounds, just… the bare ingredients. And this is the result. (Recipe at the end, I swear.) Chocolate Chip Cookies (this is only a half recipe of the one we made when I was a kid, and it makes a little over 2 dozen, give or take how much you eat raw) 1 c. flour 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 c (1 stick) butter at room temperature (you do not need fancy pants European cultured butter, but please… it is such a strong flavor, get a good butter, not generic. Good old fashioned Land O’ Lakes is delightful.) 1/2 c. brown sugar 1/4 c. white sugar (small note here… the original recipe calls for a dead even mix of brown and white sugar. I happen to prefer brown, so I tipped the scale and added more brown. Do what you will, just add it up to 3/4 c.) 1 egg 1/2 tsp. vanilla 1 c. oatmeal (NOT the quick-cooking kind… technically you could use it, but they won’t have the same chew. If you live near a food co-op or a Whole Foods, get the regular rolled oats from the bulk bins, which will be cheaper than you think, and OH so very tasty) 1/4 – 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional, obviously) 3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips Preheat oven to 350°. Grease or parchment line two baking sheets. Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugars, cream well (until they begin to lighten in color.) Add egg, beat well. Add vanilla, beat well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mix into the buttery eggy goodness and fold in with a spatula until...

ruby Fragarian lust…

By on Jun 4, 2015 in fruit, love | 0 comments

This is a love letter to strawberries. Particularly, the ones that suddenly appeared on the farmer’s market table. Bright, juicy beacons of summer, blithely tumbled together in quaint little wood boxes, so different from their overgrown brethren, trapped in stifling plastic containers and shipped from California. Strawberries. Plump, juicy, tart and sweet strawberries. If asparagus is one of the first colorful foods we see here in the Midwest, those slender stalks of green leaping from the ground, the crimson glow of strawberries are a true herald of summer. Or, to be more fair, given the lust that ensues once these summery gems appear on market tables, they are basically their own Fragarian red light district, beckoning you to the delights of summer. (Yes, I had to look that up. They are of the Fragaria genus.) In case I hadn’t mentioned it before, strawberries are my favorite food of all time. When this time of year hits, I snap up quantities bordering on obscene. I fantasize about one day having a yard, which would just be a carpet of strawberry plants. Jam always must be made, jars filled with glowing red sunshine lining my shelves, every year tweaking and pushing just a bit farther as I discover more about my beloved crimson berry. This year is no different, but I decided to take it slow. I bought one pint. Just one, though it pained me. I rushed them home, plunked them down on the counter and gazed at them all moony-eyed. They do get their own Strawberry Moon , so I found it only appropriate. Even with imperfections here and there, a mild squish and bruise slightly marring the taught, luminous surface, they are still perfection. They cried out for a photo shoot, and so I obliged. No fanciness, no toppings, no seasonings, nothing but a pile and a carefully selected slice, carved with my finest paring knife. Nothing less would do. And then, they were eaten. There is no recipe here. I grew up with the grand treat of slicing them, sprinkling them with sugar and pouring milk over them, which is still wonderful. I have been learning more about things that pair beautifully with the sumptuous strawberry, such as red wine, basil, and the magic of a splash of balsamic vinegar that somehow deepens and intensifies the flavor of this sumptuous fruit. But for this first grand basket, this first dive into the magic pool of summery fruit, I went commando. With the fruit, of course. In the end, these are really early and they haven’t hit their full potential, which dampened my spirits ever so briefly. But they are hope. Hope of sunshine and fresh flavors and fruits and vegetables that actually have scent. Have you ever really smelled a strawberry? Find one at a local farmer’s market or farm stand. Stick it right up to your nose and breathe deeply, letting that sweet floral scent work all the way through your nasal passages. You will never get that from a cramped plastic box shipped from thousands of miles away. There will be more coming about strawberries. I have a few nefarious ideas. But for now, do yourself a favor. Hunt down a box of local, fresh strawberries. Don’t stick them in the fridge and wait to enjoy them, just rinse, pour into a bowl, and sit. Breathe deeply. And dive in. Sharing is...

Anthony Bourdain, how I love thee

By on May 26, 2015 in quotes | 0 comments

“But I do think the idea that basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill, should become as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money.”

— Anthony Bourdain

spring is sproinging

By on May 24, 2015 in cooking, dinner, love, vegetarian | 0 comments

The winter was long and dreary. Yup, totally not an original statement. I am still not entirely sure if it is aging or actual changes in winter, but it feels like winters are getting harder in my beloved Midwest. Not necessarily in terms of snow, although Chicago did enjoy a 2′ in one day blizzard that buried my car so completely I could only see 1” of it after the snow plows came through, but in terms of the grey. The never… ending… grey… The cold that keeps a harsh snap way past any time that seems sane, though you know it happens every year. And for me, personally, in case the lack of writing wasn’t obvious, it was never… ending… work. Work is good, absolutely! I am lucky to have it. But being a studio of one, a freelancer, I piled on too much, deadlines slid around, and suddenly I found myself sitting in front of my computer for 14 hours a day, almost 7 days a week, cultivating that translucent pallor enjoyed by the most dedicated of gamers. And my nutritional intake… well it was beginning to be on par with those gamers. For all my wailing about ‘there is always time for food,’ I wasn’t making that time. I was eating crap. Constant takeout. Skipping meals, only to binge on some processed snack late in the night. And I am feeling it. Mind, body, and soul. Enter Wisconsin. Well not really. I entered Wisconsin. Wisconsin pretty much stays where it is. Every year my family does a giant gathering in southwest Wisconsin, which coincidentally happens to be the most fertile farmland in the country. I have no scientific basis for that, I just have the evidence of my own eyes as I drive through and raid every food coop I can get near. This is the part of the country I grew up in, where I thought all cows happily grazed on grass all over rolling hillsides. I had called my Mom the week before to ask if her lone asparagus plant was up already, and had she cooked any. She swiftly replied “oh you know that never makes it into the house.” You see, if you have never beheld an actual asparagus plant in spring, you are missing out. Asparagus is one of those magical vegetables that heralds the final arrival of spring in the Midwest. It’s the first really edible green thing we see, and after months of grey, we fall all over ourselves eating this marvelous chlorophyll-laced tribute to the lengthening, warming days. And if you have ever stood in front of an asparagus plant, snipped a stalk straight off, and ate it straight away, well… it would never make it into your kitchen, either. I couldn’t pilfer any of my mother’s asparagus, but I did manage to find fresh local bunches of it at the local food coop, glorious in their short trip from farm to store. Next up, the ramp. This is something I had never heard of growing up. They are purely wild, can’t really be cultivated. Ramps are a strange sort of wild onion, pungent and fragrant, appearing only for a few weeks and POOF! Gone. They smell marvelous, and need to be treated with some respect, as their flavor is ultimately quite delicate and can get lost. And finally… the mythical morel. Everyone at this point seems to know about morel mushrooms. Another one of those wild foods that simply can not be cultivated. People hunt them every year, and do not reveal the locations they find them in. Somewhere I imagine there are wills out there, revealing spots solely to the most trusted loved ones, but only after the original finder has passed. I have yet to ever find a morel, but I found the next best thing this year. Deep in the rolling hills of the Coulee Region live many, many Amish families. There is one in particular I visit every year to get maple syrup from. This year, the grandson had found morels, and they were selling them, for far less than a schmancy Whole Foods would. I can’t tell you my source, as it’s almost as valuable to me as if I had found them myself deep in the woods. And so I eagerly snatched up the last container, paid the nice woman, and ran. Once back in Chicago, it was time to assemble my tribute to spring. I had some heirloom flint cornmeal I had picked up the previous year from a farmer’s market, and decided to make polenta. I added no parmesan, no cheese of any sort, I wanted it to be as straight up as possible (but not without considerable quantities of butter.) While the polenta slowly burbled away (I use a brilliant method by Deborah Madison that takes a little longer, but does not require constant stirring,) I snapped the tough ends of the asparagus off, sniffing the juicy fresh green. The morels were soaked lightly to rid them of any hidden passengers, and simply sliced lengthwise. Their earthy pepperiness filled my small kitchen. A few ramps were minced, adding to the light scents floating about. A bit of butter and olive oil was heated in my ancient cast iron skillet, and first went in the morels. The butter and olive oil bubbled appreciatively at their arrival. A pinch of...

long and slow, slow and long

By on Nov 15, 2014 in baking, experimenting, love | 0 comments

It seems like ages ago, but it has really only been a few months. I am, of course, referring to that explosion of fresh vegetables that covers the Midwest in late summer. Zucchini run rampant, threatening to cover whole towns. Cucumbers come to fruition so fast and furious no mortal can keep up, and pickling begins in earnest. Rainbows of carrots appear, stacked in neatly wrapped bunches, still lightly grubby with fresh dirt. The days are longer and lazy, enticing you to take a moment and stand a moment, soaking in that blazing ray of sun that is trying to fry your skin a delicate shade of red. And now here we are, an early winter blast, and the urge to hibernate arises, to slow down and become blanket-covered lumps, to slowly braise meat and vegetables into stews that comfort and weigh down the body in the waning light of winter. Even though it is not technically winter yet.   Have you noticed how both seasons seem to call for things to slow down? And yet… that does not seem to be how we live. We are so busy, so crazed, everything presses in on us, telling us to speed up. I cruise through countless recipes on the internet, each one speaking of shortcuts, time-savers, using processed stuff in cans to speed things along. And I am not immune to it. Clearly, I have spent the last two and a half months so bulldozed by work I have had a few dinners that involved pouring a glass of wine and ripping open a sleeve of buttery processed crackers (that no longer taste good to me,) collapsing brain dead onto the couch to watch a TV show I have seen a hundred times before. So yes, despite my protests of “you have time, you can always make time to cook,” I clearly hit runs of being unable to do it myself.   But then… suddenly… a day appears. A weekend. Two whole days of no work needs. No emails to check, no checking in with editors, two whole days of time spooling out in front of me, and the sudden ironic urge to speed up and do all the fun stuff arises. Surely I can cook everything in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one weekend.   Hold it. Wait. Slow down.   I work primarily from home, so there are times I am boiling a pot of beans in the background whilst I work away, which invariably leads to me forgetting about it and letting it go too far, ruining the batch. This time I can slow down and actually pay attention. And one of my favorite things to slow down is dough. Especially dough for pizza.   Dough is already a slow process. People try to speed it up, find shortcuts, buy premade stuff all ready to go, but to me… dough is meditation. The simple act of kneading, of losing track of all other things than the feel of the dough under your hands as it slowly transitions from soft mass to springy ball, that moment of knowing just from the feel of it under your fingers that the gluten has been pummeled into submission, and it is good to go. And then you wait. And wait. And wait. And there is no substitute for waiting, no substitute for the dough you make simply by hand.   One day I made a loaf of that no-knead bread that was making the rounds. An exceedingly simple loaf of water, yeast, a pinch of salt, and flour. And time. A great deal of time. Hours of rising in the fridge. And it is delicious. So I thought to myself… pizza can do this. Dough is dough is dough, and this is basically the same with a tweak of a ratio and adding some olive oil, right? I tried it a few times, whipping up a batch of soft dough and letting it rise for hours in the fridge, and it was fine, but it lacked oomph. I wanted depth. I wanted body. But… I did not want to use whole-wheat flour, the flavor being too strong and weighty. I rummaged around my cupboard and started throwing stuff in, and after several trial runs, I found the magic combination. The same base but with cornmeal and wheat bran added in, and suddenly, magically, it was a nubbly, light and tasty dough, good enough to be eaten on its own, but even more ridiculous as the base of a nice pizza. This takes hours of waiting, the dough hibernating much like we want to do in the increasing chill. But waiting, no short cuts, no pre-done ingredients, just simple time… well it is delicious. Sloooooooooooow Pizza Dough (makes enough for roughly 2 14” pizzas, depending on how thinly you roll the dough)   2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour ½ cup wheat bran (not the cereal type, the fluffy flakes) ½ cup medium or large grind cornmeal (I’ve done it both ways, and this sits so long it hydrates fairly well) ½ tsp. instant yeast 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil pinch salt generous pinch sugar 1 c warm water     Mix everything in a bowl with a big ol’ wooden spoon until it becomes a cohesive soft mass. If it feels like it needs more flour, add...

cabbage, my new love affair

By on Aug 6, 2014 in dinner, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

Some day, if you are a fan of farmer’s markets, you will find yourself irresistibly drawn to a cabbage quite literally the size of your head. It may actually be larger than your head. The compacted center beckons from the center of the lush furled outer leaves, and before you know it, you are attempting to wedge it into your bag (which once seemed so voluminous,) hurriedly flinging a few dollars at the person who so carefully grew it. Then you get it home. You rearrange half of your small refrigerator in an almost vain effort to fit it in. And then reality sinks in. You just bought a cabbage bigger than your head. You are one person. What in god’s name are you going to do with that much cabbage? Coleslaw, while a venerated summer tradition, just doesn’t do it for you. While you do enjoy pickling and preserving things, sauerkraut is really not going to happen in your kitchen.   So now what?   You turn to someone who always knows better when it comes to vegetables. Deborah Madison, your favorite cookbook author. You skim through the four books you have from her and finally land upon a recipe that not only seems appealing, but makes some use of your small attempt at an apartment herb garden. A wilted red cabbage salad with mint, dill, parsley, and goat feta. Sure, you’re missing the lemon part, but you have white wine vinegar, and it appears to be there only for sharpness. You cut into the massive head of cabbage, the magnificent JT of cruciferous vegetables that is bringing sexy back to this much maligned member of the Brassicaceae family. You really do not like most of the other members, but somehow… the humble cabbage speaks to you. Usually. The oddly random yet mathematical swirls of the vibrant compacted leaves laid bare as you gaze upon the freshly cut vegetable is intriguing, yet you can’t quite be completely in love with the idea of eating it. The doubt is there. That faint odor you can’t quite place but makes your nose wrinkle wafts up with each sharp slice into the massive beast. Even as you wilt it in a large pan (noticing that clearly an 11” skillet is not big enough and you need an even bigger one,) you are suspicious. Will this become a nasty cooked cabbage nightmare, a thing of 50s dining past that made everyone hate cabbage for decades? You hold steady, keeping faith with the instructions of Ms. Madison. Your eyes flick back and forth between the pan and the clock, timing out the brief tosses of the brilliant purple shreds. You swear softly as you lose a few bits of cabbage to the gap between the stove and the wall. You really do need a bigger skillet to cook a pound of sliced cabbage.   After a few short minutes, it is done. You toss it with fresh herbs, plucked straight from your back deck, and wonder why you don’t use all the herbs five times a day. The lingering scent of mint mixed with dill on your fingertips is heavenly. A dash of vinegar, a generous grind of black pepper, a shower of piquant goat feta, and it is done. Somehow, magically, that off-putting scent has vanished. You spear a generous round of cabbage and somewhat hesitantly taste. You pause. You continue to chew, but more slowly, savoring every heady moment. You are now comforted in the knowledge that you know how you are going to deal with the remaining half of the giant head of cabbage. You are going to make this again. Tomorrow.   Wilted Red Cabbage Salad with Goat Feta   (This is not my recipe. This is from Deborah Madison’s latest work, Vegetable Literacy. I am more than a little in love with her books, ever since I bought my first copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone 15 years ago. You don’t have to be vegetarian to love her.)   4 cups packed red cabbage, sliced thinly (a scant pound) 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly 1 clove garlic, minced fine 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley juice of one lemon (or, if like me you have no fresh lemon, a generous splash of white wine vinegar) salt and pepper to taste goat feta to finish (I honestly don’t know why goat feta as opposed to normal, but I found some and it was deliciously mild.)   In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil until hot. Add onion and sauté for one minute, just until it starts to get soft. Add in the cabbage and garlic, and a generous pinch salt. Cook for about two minutes, tossing all the while. You just want it to get slightly wilted, not completely cooked. Remove from heat and toss into a large bowl. Add in lemon juice (or vinegar) and a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Add in the fresh herbs, reserving a pinch or two for serving. Toss together. Portion out onto serving dish and sprinkle with crumbled goat feta and the remaining herbs. Be alarmed at how much you suddenly like cabbage....

a most refreshing syndicate

By on Aug 2, 2014 in craft, libations | 0 comments

If you drive west on Diversey Avenue in Chicago, you might be looking for the on-ramp to the Kennedy. And as you madly look around trying to figure out where on earth the actual lanes are, you might clap your eyes upon a low brick building, nestled against the embankment shoring up the sides of an old train track that used to run at this same place. Once upon a time, it was a station for the trains that used to chug through. At one point, it was an auto parts store. And now it houses Ale Syndicate, a lovely little craft brewer here in Chicago, founded by brothers Jesse and Samuel Evans. I know, I know. You hear “syndicate” in association with Chicago, and your mind goes all Al Capone. Mine certainly did, and I blunderingly asked Samuel about the name. He looked a little pained at the question, and rightfully so. He began to explain that it had nothing to do with mafia stuff at all, and was in reference to a syndicate being a collection of people working together to create something, and then had to run off to chat with one of the collection of people he and his brother are working with. Which was likely the best definition of their name I could have gotten. I showed up late in the morning at their brand new space on Diversey. They have been brewing for a while, but always in other locations, using other people’s equipment, but as of June they now have their own space with shiny new fermenters (and a slightly older mash tun they used a lot of elbow grease on to get into shape for their brews.) They have been brewing for about a week in this new space, a space filled with air and light, which is something I have not experienced in a brewery yet. Samuel pointed out the walls of windows and how golden light would pour in both morning and evening, the best of both worlds. Jesse broadly swept an arm out to a bank of windows, showing me where they plan to put in a tap room. I imagined sipping their glorious Van de Velde beer in that golden evening light they spoke of. It seems blissful. But I digress. When I first arrived, before I even asked the question about the derivation of the name, Jesse and Samuel were meeting with a couple of restauranteurs, discussing future plans, I believe this was regarding the future tap room space and possible food options. Walking in the door, I was swiftly introduced to Bryan, the head brewer, who was working on a collaboration brew with a Welsh brewery, a double IPA to be dubbed Seven Flowers I greatly anticipate tasting. He then talked about another brew they were working on, a collaboration creating a Thai Belgian ale. You heard me. Thai Belgian. I think my eyes bulged a little, because he and Abigail (the marketing manager who was kindly letting me hang out with her for the day) started listing the ingredients. I think I drifted off dreaming about a mellow malty brew scented with kaffir lime leaves. So even before I saw any of their usual line of beers hanging about, there were collaborators, members of the syndicate, abounding, with delicious ideas being slung about. Bryan was even so kind as to pull me a small taste of the first beer they brewed here straight out of the fermenting tank (but pre-carbonation.) Even without the bubbles, it had a mellow malty quality that spoke to the soft beams of light permeating the space. Or maybe I’m just projecting. Either way, it was a tasty little sample. After tooling around their new space, Abigail took me with her to Lakeshore Beverage, one of the big beverage distributors in the Chicago area, and she talked about all the complexities of distributing craft beer when you are still on a small scale in this market. She had to grab a few cases of beer for a truffle tasting later that evening (and we will get to that part later.) Even something as simple as a couple of kegs involves a process of logging and paperwork. For any who think craft brewers have a rockin’ job just hanging out and brewing all day, let me disabuse you of this notion. These people work hard and non-stop. There is a mind-boggling array of paperwork and laws and licensing that they have to slog through on a daily basis. Enough that would bring me to my knees weeping in a matter of days. And they do it every day. It’s part of the syndicate. The folks at Lakeshore Beverage appear to deal with a ton of local craft brewers, or so it appeared as I peeked at a small section of their massive warehouse with over 200,000 cases of beer stacked high over my head. And for as huge as they are, there was personable chatter, they knew what was going on. And Abigail chatted with him about another bit of syndicate business, how to transport two kegs for yet another collaboration, this time with Bad Apple, a local gastro-pub that commissioned many local brewers to create a custom brew to celebrate their year anniversary next week. The caveat? All the beer had to be brewed using cardamom as an ingredient. I...