at first sight, twice

caramel cake on milk glass plate

You could say, I guess, that it was love at first sight. I don’t tend to feel instantly head over heels for anything, much less kitchenware, but this cake plate, which I spotted at a great little antique mall in LaGrange Saturday, might be an exception.

It’s made of milk glass, that opaque substance resembling the color of creamy milk, which is so pretty to look at, and matches a set of plates I’ve been forming, if slowly. It’s also in mint condition, heavy, with decorative etches beneath the plate and on the top of the stem. And earlier that morning, I had just been saying how much I’d love to find a pedestal cake plate made of milk glass, minus heavy fluting or bows, but the right size for a nine-inch round—in other words, this exact item, and there it was, staring at me from its perch at the bottom of a shelf.

After returning to the booth three times in the space of an hour—first alone, then with my brother, then with my mom—I managed to unknowingly criticize the price just loudly enough for the owner, who was there rearranging his items, to hear me. He was very gracious, and we left with this, purchased for me as a gift by my mother the negotiator.

caramel cake

When I got home, as you can imagine, I had to bake a cake.

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just like I promised

granola on spoon

Gosh, I like you guys.

I mean, really. I bring you a pathetic story about destroying four artichokes, and you respond with encouragement and advice and funny memories of dropped cupcakes and melted plastic lids on macaroni and cheese. You sure know how to make a girl feel better. I could hug you—each and every one.

But since we are Internet friends and all, and since you probably can’t be heading out to Chicago for some kind of cooking support group, I guess I’ll just do the next best thing—better, in fact:

This granola recipe is something special, really special, just like I promised and just like you ought to receive. This is the granola you will mix together in minutes, simply stirring and spreading and putting in the oven. And when it’s cooled and fully mixed, you will reach for handful after delicious handful, wondering where it’s been all your life.

I do not exaggerate.

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of kitchen failure

artichokes

These artichokes are pretty, aren’t they?

Looking at them now, I have that same warm and fuzzy feeling I experienced at Meijer, when I grabbed them, like a puppet, pulling them from their big green mountain and into a clear plastic bag, wheeling away with no idea of what I was doing, smiling that I’d found them on sale.

Beyond what it says about me that my big weekend plans are, more often than not, pushing a four-wheeled grocery cart around aisles of a supermarket, I want you to know there are other reasons never to shop on Friday nights. There’s the chance you’ll be followed by a middle-aged man, for example, one who never picks anything up, just follows you, getting closer and closer and shifting back and forth on his legs, forcing you to, in desperation, abandon your cart, hugging the borders of a happy family walking to their car, breathless and scared as you drive home, without anything you needed. Another week, you might be addressed with “Hey, how you doing” by a leather-clad stranger who brushes past you, and when you don’t respond, he may shout, “Fine, great to meet you, too. That’s just fine” while you try to find your friend or really, anyone else.

But worst of all, Friday nights at the quiet grocery store have been known to wreak other kinds of damage. Damage like, say, the purchase of four beautiful artichokes, just because you saw them and they were on sale and, what with your need to be on guard about other things, you don’t know what else to do but throw them in your cart and keep moving.

peeled artichoke

Things started off O.K., I guess. When I got home, I researched online: I watched a video about peeling an artichoke, I read articles that explained what the heart was and how to remove the choke. I also flipped through several cookbooks and a couple good blogs, and I saw what my options were.

But here is what happened: I got confused. In the midst of my excitement over learning something new, I half-followed every guide and, in the end, followed none.

My first artichoke (pictured above, peeled), I kept peeling all the way to the center, and then I didn’t know why I had. So I found an article that said you should really trim each of the leaves to remove their sharp bits, and I tried that with the other three. That same article suggested steaming the clipped artichokes in a bath of water and wine and salt, which I did, but in a pan that was too small.

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on simpler things

banana pudding

The move into my brother’s new apartment has taken a few days, it turns out, and Sunday afternoon was one part of the process. After we’d finished unloading the first wave of boxes he’d packed in his car, Adam stepped out to grab more, while I organized his D.V.D. collection into alphabetical order, reaching behind where the T.V. stand goes, onto the white built-in bookshelves next to the fireplace. He came back, tense, still holding the plastic dish rack we’d decided he’d give me, and he told me his car had been towed.

The next 45 minutes or so, I spent alone with boxes and white walls, figuring out how the Brita water pitcher works, folding towels to put in the closet and looking at my silent cell phone, wishing someone would call me. Once those matters were sufficiently taken care of, there was really nothing left to do but sit down in Adam’s soft leather chair, which is a beautiful shade of butterscotch caramel, watching the softly falling snow that would later turn this area into a winter wonderland, in April.

banana pudding

Sitting there, I was reminded of all those things that lurk at the back of your mind, quiet, waiting for you to slow down long enough to listen.

Things like home buying, and what do I want, should I buy, where should I buy, when should I buy, is now the right time; the movie Marley & Me, which I’d watched at my friend Jackie’s place the night before, crying through the entire last 20 minutes; the future and all of its unknowns, from work to living arrangements to relationships; and then, largely, the fact that a few hours in my soft, fluffy down comforter would be about as close to perfect as things could get right now.

Anyway, by the time Adam called to say he was waiting outside, I’d settled on simpler concerns. Like how good some hot banana pudding would be later that night.

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because it’s April

honey cinnamon ice cream

As I sit at my computer tonight, I hear the rain outside, hitting the window, sloshing on pavement as cars drive by. It smells fresh, earthy, like your hands deep in soil when you’re working in the garden, yet clean, like the glassy drops of dew on grass in the morning. It reminds me this is the time of year when things green, when they begin to grow. All the storms and pounding rain bring us tulips and lilies, leaves on trees, buds on branches.

And it’s funny how, a few months ago, when I scraped ice off my car and skidded down the expressway, I didn’t believe this time would come again. At its darkest, winter was unending, hopeless—in that way, a little like life, sometimes.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about dreams lately—the big ones we make as children, unashamedly, be they astronaut or firefighter or surgeon. Everything’s sunshine and rainstorms and possibility, then. But as we get older and things seem more difficult, it becomes easier to lose yourself to discouragement, to long, cold afternoons under blankets in bed, metaphorically or not.

Come spring, I think of the cycles of life, the beginning and ending and beginning again. And I see a precious truth that no matter how bad things can seem, they can change.

ice cream on a spoon

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