Category Archives: Uncategorized

Where Has the Time Gone?

Do you ever have those days when you’re really excited that you finally have the energy to get things done, and you plan on updating your food blog and taking gorgeous pictures of your latests culinary creations, and then something manages to come along and screw everything up? My something is a “winter storm watch,” even though we officially ended winter last Wednesday. Thanks, Chicago.

I had planned to write about sardines. I recently learned that I love them and that you shouldn’t believe all of the horrible things people say about them. But I think I should save that for another day, because I wasn’t able to take any nice pictures of sardines in the gloomy light, and I don’t own any professional style photography lights. So here is picture of my lunch, whole wheat sourdough bread, edamame hummus, cherry tomatoes and cucumber.

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I have disappeared from this blog for the past three months because, as I warned in the last post, I’m currently gestating another human being. He is nearly six months along now and baking up pretty nicely. In three and a half months, I’m going to have a little one  to call my own. Everything in my life is now in flux.

I moved to Hyde Park, aka “The President’s ‘Hood.” The move ended my torturous commute and I am happy to report that I walk to work every morning with a spring in my step. I still live in a teeny tiny apartment. But it’s not a big adjustment as I’m no stranger to small spaces.

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Today I was on a super nesting binge and not only scrubbed my apartment from top to bottom, but also got around to doing a little decorating.

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Here’s my tiny kitchen. See what I have to work with? I’m determine to make the best of the space I do have, but I’m pretty limited with what I can cook in this toy sized kitchenette. Someday, I might actually have a real kitchen, but for now, this is it.

And with that, I shall take my leave. My little plum is starting to kick furiously and I really should finish up my lunch. Until next time!

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Summer Days in Chicago

The following pictures sum up my summer in Chicago this year. I’m spending almost every weekend out and about, mostly at the lakefront and Lincoln Park. Enjoy!

Ah, Lake Michigan.

The gardens at the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Where’s the Southern Mac & Cheese Truck when you need it? I saw this parked in Wicker Park. It’s a looong trek to Wicker Park from my home in Rogers Park, so I’ll probably never get to enjoy Mac & Cheese from this food truck. Sadness.

Smoked lake perch salad. A particularly good brunch item at Old Town Social.

My husband, at Old Town Social. Early enough for coffee, never too early for beer.

I’m turning into one of those people who photographs flowers. Chicago has done that to me. There are too many amazing gardens in this city.

Some well-fed koi.

We’ll try and remember these days once winter sets in. Summer in Chicago rocks.

The Best Cookbooks in the World

Summer has finally come to the Midwest. I’ve been so busy enjoying the sunshine that I haven’t been doing much writing or cooking. Summer is a fleeting time in Chicago, it’s a brief respite  between frosts. I have every intention of spending my sunny weekends enjoying the parks and beaches, lounging on decks and patios with ice cold lager beer and artisanal foodstuffs.  My tiny kitchenette  fills the apartment with radiating heat,  so I keep the cooking and baking to a minimum from June through August. Summer is all about sandwiches and salads and feasting on the bounty of produce from neighboring fruit and vegetable markets.

So I thought I’d take a break to talk about books.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a bibliophile. I am on intimate terms with books. I’ve studied them, I’ve collected them,  there was a time in my life when I hoped to write them. I am endlessly fascinated by the written word.  When I want to know something, I seek out expert advice. I ask the people who know what they’re talking about. I try and get my hands on the most definitive source.

When I was in college, I frequented my school library constantly. I was there for study and leisure. It was while perusing books on sewing and handicrafts, that I fell in love with the cook book shelf. It was a small section, of a shelf in a  remote corner of the library containing  mostly outdated and out-of-print cooking manuals, but it was here that I found the best cookbooks in the world, the TimeLife Foods of the World collection.

Never before and rarely since has a collection of cookbooks delved so thoroughly into the culture, history, poltics and artistry of international foodways. Stunning photographs? Check. Artfully crafted essays by big name food writers like Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard? Check. Well-written and easy to follow recipes? Check.

First published in 1968 and stretching into the early 1970s, Foods of the World encompassed a vast and never-before explored landscape of cuisine. The series ended at twenty seven volumes in length, covering everything from African Cuisine to The British Isles, Polynesia to Germany.  I remember first reading “The Cooking of Scandinavia,” when I was reading about my Danish heritage. It was in those pages that I first learned about sürstromming and smørrebrødThe essays, written as personal travelogues by the various staff writers and cooking personalities of the day, shared intimate, first hand experiences of the cuisines and  cultures from which they sprang. The Cooking of Scandinavia includes amazing recipes and descriptions of ingredients and meals, but also provides lush descriptions of the countryside, discussions about and with the local people who interact with the writer, and anecdotes of meals shared on native soil.

Time-Life Foods of the World The Cooking of Scandinavia cover

I collected my first three volumes from a second hand store shortly after discovering the series at the library.  They were: The Cooking of Provincial France, American Cooking: Creole and Acadian,  and  American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland. I read and re-read those three volumes until I could practically recite them. The photographs from the Provincial France volume still make my heart skip a beat.

Photo by Mark Kauffman, Time-Life

Today I own ten volumes from the series and I keep an eagle-eye out for them whenever I’m thrifting. The books are out of print, but they are found in abundance at garage sales and second-hand stores. My favorite pasttime is to wake up on a Saturday morning, brew a pot of coffee and sit with my Foods of the World. No matter how many times I read them I seem to find new and interesting bits of food history. While the books are incredibly diverse in scope, they do have their downfalls. There are moments when they truly represent  the late Sixties, a time when being culturally sensitive wasn’t really on the radar and when the term  “politically correct” didn’t exist. For instance, in the volume on New England, the writer calls Native Americans “primitive farmers” who subsisted on, “lowly beans and squash.” Yeesh. Interestingly, out of the 27 volumes, eight of them are dedicated to “American Cooking” with no other country given the kind of detail and scope as the good ol’ USofA.

Sausages from The Cooking of Germany

Still, while the books might not be entirely subjective, they do preserve in amber  a vanishing landscape of foodways. What I love about Foods of the World is how they capture a changing world. They focus on homemade, traditional foods that were, at the time, quickly being supplanted by pre-packaged convenience foods. The writers lovingly detail how to make the perfect french souffle, how to properly lard game, how to make head cheese in the traditional Ukranian method. They feature essays on the rustic housewives of Germany who knead dough for several hours each day, the shepherds of Sweden who make their own special cheeses, the Itamae of Japan who study for ten years to prepare perfect sushi.

From The Cooking of Japan

The world has certainly changed since the initial publication of Foods of the World, but its encyclopedic breadth still covers impressive ground. The focus on traditional preparations makes the series a timeless treasure. If you ever happen upon them in a shop or online, don’t hesitate to snatch them up. I recently found six volumes at a thrift store in Chicago and was charged $1.65 for the whole lot, easily one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

Foods of the World. American Cooking: New England Cover

Fennel and Fruit Salad

Fennel. Beautiful fennel. How you terrified me at first. Your soft, feathery fronds perplexed me,  your delicately interwoven stalks intimidated. At first I played coy, stripping you down to your core and slowly braising with olive oil. But that first bite of roasted fennel served  alongside a fillet of salmon turned me into a fennel fiend. My dalliance quickly turned into a full fledged love affair.



There is something primordial about fennel. It looks like it came from another planet, a wild, untamed world. The bulb of the fennel plant is the sweet spot. Crisp and crunchy with a subdued licorice flavor, a hint of celery, fennel can beckon and entice. Most people prefer to saute or roast fennel, but I prefer to slice it raw and make  luscious salads.

Get out the mandolin slicer and set it on the thinnest setting. I love, love, love shaved fennel. Fennel can be a little tough when raw, slicing it paper thin makes light and tender. Now, I know I could eat this as is, but I have bigger plans for my fennel.

Fennel and Fruit Salad

 1 bulb fennel

1 Granny Smith apple

1 small apricot, pitted and sliced

1-2 Tblsp raisins

A pinch of salt

2 Tblsp yogurt

1 Tblsp sweetener (agave syrup or honey)

1 bunch sliced basil leaves



Tart green apples sliced paper thin make a wonderful pairing with fennel root. The sweet fennel counters the sour apple.

I found these beautiful mixed raisins at an ethnic market in town. They add the perfect sweetness to the salad. I added apricots because I had some on hand, but this salad could easily be made with fennel and apples alone.

Sweet, tart, crunchy, creamy.

Oh fennel, how I love thee.

Rainy Day Romesco Sauce

The view from my bedroom window

One of the most frustrating things about food photography in my itsy bitsy apartment is the lack of natural sunlight. I have quite a few windows in the kitchen/living room space, but the surrounding buildings seem to block out the sun half the time and the other half of the time the abundant clouds and rainstorms keep me from taking bright, sunny photos.

It’s another rainy May day in Chicago and I’m stuck inside, but at least  my weekly grocery trip is out of the way and I’m stocked up for some quality time in the kitchen.

Some recipes turn out best when you have a little extra time. Romesco sauce is one of those lovely condiments that can be thrown together in a hurry (with roasted peppers from a jar) or painstakingly made at home, cooked low and slow until the flavors concentrate and the smoky aroma of capsicum and carmelized garlic fill the air. Whenever I find myself with an afternoon to spare, I like to take my time.

Fresh peppers, red bells and poblanos.

There are a number of ways to make romesco sauce, but the basic recipe includes roasted peppers (or dried ancho peppers), tomatoes, garlic, and toasted almonds. The almonds are the central ingredient that make this sauce more than just a peppery marinara. They add  creaminess and that unmistakable nutty sweetness of almonds.

Romesco Sauce

2 Red Bell Peppers, chopped

2 poblano peppers (or dried ancho peppers, soaked)

2-4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup almonds, roasted

1 cup chopped tomato

2 Tblsp smoked, sweet paprika

1 Tblsp red wine vinegar

1 Tblsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400. Roughly chop peppers, add chopped garlic cloves and mix with olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 15-2o mins until  the peppers are tender and slightly caramelized around the edges.  While the peppers are cooking, heat the tomato in a sauce pan on medium heat until cooked through.

I put the almonds in a spice grinder for 10 seconds or so and make a course almond meal. I find this make blending the mixture easier.

Once the peppers are done cooking, transfer to a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. I like to put it back on the stovetop and cook for a minute or two until thickened.

The smoky richness of romesco sauce pairs wonderfully with steamed or grilled vegetables like leeks, onions or eggplant. It’s also a perfect sauce for lean fish or spooned over mussels.

I found a bunch of scallions in my fridge that needed some perking up.

Steamed scallions and romesco sauce.

Perfect.

Time to go spend the rest of my rainy day lounging on the couch with a good book.

Sweet Beet Relish

Scrub a beet.

The deep red will color the white bristles of your vegetable brush. Scrub off the thin layer of earth, only later to find that its soil has penetrated the deepest parts of the flesh. Place the beet in a small pot of salted water to boil. The water will bubble and the beet will slowly bleed into the pot until it becomes like a single beating heart, thrusting against the rising currents. Pierce it with a fork and watch the juice bleed like a wounded soldier, or a knifed assassin, a melodramatic scorned lover of Shakespearean proportion. A freshly boiled beet, drained of its crimson liquid and placed steaming on a wooden cutting board is a thing of beauty.

Step away from it for a moment. Watch the steam rise and think of your own beating organ. Think of the shape, the heat of your own machinery. Palm the newly heated beet and feel the heaviness, swollen with hot water and now fleshy. Marvel over the sudden metamorphosis from hard knotted fist, to soft, delicate, meat.

Pickled beets are one of my favorite snacks. The brilliant vermilion color of the beets, dressed in a tangy brine, brighten up salads, rice dishes or meat entrees. They are certainly an acquired taste and I can honestly say that for the first 20 years of my life I HATED them. My experience of beets consisted of my mother slopping them out of the can, heating them in the microwave and serving with a pat of butter. They tasted like dirt and mold and all things unholy.


I refined my palette over time and now fresh beets boiled or baked or grated raw into a salad taste of  sugar and earth. It’s true that this humble root can take on a musty, dirt-like flavor if not properly prepared. Which is why I prefer eating beets with acidic ingredients like balsamic, lemon, salt or tart cheeses.

Sweet Beet Relish

      • 1-2 pounds of beets, boiled, peeled and diced. I think precooked beets work just fine, but avoid canned.
      • 1/2 cup orange juice
      • 1/2 large red onion, finely diced
      • 1-2  tbsp  pickling spices (or a mixture of mustard seed, juniper berries, clove, thyme and bay)
      • 2 Tbsps  brown sugar
      • 1 Tbsp salt (pickling salt or sea salt is fine)
      • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
      • Cracked pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20-35 mins until liquid had evaporated. Taste. You can make the relish sweeter or saltier if you like.

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       The end result is a tangy, delicate pickle, more silky than  crunchy. It makes a colorful accompaniment to salads and you can use it on hotdogs and sandwiches in place of cucumber relish.  I like to enjoy this relish on toast with tea, but straight out of the bowl is good too.

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