we’ll start somewhere

The smell of parsley makes me think of Passover, and the Seders we had at our house, all through my growing up years, with different friends each time, when my mom would make a big meal that everyone would rave about. On those nights, we'd dip sprigs of parsley in salt water---the parsley symbolizing spring and the newness of life, the salt water reminding us of the tears of Israel while they were in Egypt, before God parted the Red Sea and brought them out of captivity. Until last night, that was the only place I've ever eaten parsley on its own. I've had it in things---like Thanksgiving stuffing, where it reduces from leafy stalks to bending, fragrant herbs on the stove, drenched in butter and sauted with onions. I know bits of it---dried or fresh---go into all kinds of marinades and rubs, and I know it's very inexpensive to buy at the store (I want to say it was $0.99 for a bundle in November Wisconsin, which, when you think about it, is kind of amazing). But when I saw the … [Read more...]

the first one

I am going through a photo slump lately, the kind where I hate the places I usually use and hate the new places I try, so all of my photos are turning out just O.K., and I'm afraid to even submit them to Foodgawker or Tastespotting because a little more rejection is just not what I need right now; nonetheless, there's nothing wrong with my eating, as you can probably guess, so let's focus on that. I've joined a CSA. This is a fairly big deal. You probably already know what one is, but I didn't---not until June, when one of my favorite bloggers mentioned a shipment from hers, and I said something about being jealous, and she said, Doesn't Chicago have Community Supported Agriculture? And I said, Well, I guess we do. Here's how it works: you pay a flat upfront fee (mine was a reduced $180 because of a rough growing season in Chicago), like you're buying a share in the farm, and, in exchange, the farmers give you regular shipments of fresh produce. Actually I think it was fate … [Read more...]

the thing about Downers Grove

It's true the suburbs are no Chicago. There are no skyscrapers (no John Hancock Building, no Sears---I mean, Willis---Tower). Most things are spread out, so you can't just hop on the train, and you have to get in the car to go to work, the store, even the park where you ride your bike. There's also less of certain things, like boutiques or restaurant options, cheap apartments or people to run into at the corner coffee shop. We have some farms. We have bigger houses. We brag about lower crime rates. But you who have lived in suburbs, tell me this: have you ever tried to find a bakery? At least in the Chicago area, it's not easy. The few there are aren't much of anything special, or overpriced, or hard to get to. One exception would be Vesecky's in Berwyn, a long-time favorite of my family's, which makes addictive hoska, that eastern European sweet bread with raisins and soft yeasty insides---if you haven't been, go. And another exception would be this adorable little shop in Downers … [Read more...]

They’re Coming Together

My senior year of college, back when I was still going to become a teacher, I had to present a lesson to a class of fellow education majors, as if I were teaching high school students, and I must have practiced five or six times. It had to be a certain length in size---maybe 15 minutes?---and it needed to include visual aids and an outline you handed the instructor ahead of time, with handouts maybe. I don't remember what I was teaching on, but I remember there was a puzzle involved. So there I was, holding up cardboard pieces of some greater picture, lecturing about how each puzzle piece seems ugly and pointless on its own but beautiful when it fits in with the others---who knows how this linked to the subject matter---and my professor was in the back, looking at his watch, not calling "time," which would mean I could stop. Palms sweating, completely out of material, I kept yammering, on and on about those puzzle pieces, how our lives were full of small circumstances that … [Read more...]

never need to go back

When you tell people you spent your freshman year---and only your freshman year---in Florida, at a small school in Clearwater just a quick drive from white, sandy beaches and surrounded by year-long sunshine, the most typical response is confusion, especially when they find out you later transferred to the northern woods of Wisconsin, just a half hour from the U.P. What can I say? The truth is, Florida and I never quite hit it off: first, there was the intense heat when I arrived in August, with humidity that made my hair frizz any time I stepped out the door. Then there were the bed bugs, the failed French test, the homesickness and the time I passed out, trying to give blood. Mostly, there was Christmastime, and while I loved the beach on spring break in high school, it was an entirely different thing in December, when white twinkling lights and waving Santas dotted yards of palm trees and colorful flowers, and we still didn't need coats. One thing I will say for Florida … [Read more...]

take it with you

At the end of some weeks, what you really need is a pretty pink drink, you know? It's not that this past one hasn't been good---filled with kind people, strangers who felt like friends, unexpected work and unexpected rest---it has. In fact, like I could tell you about most of my life, it's been filled with grace---that which I don't deserve but which finds me, when I need it, when my strength is not enough, sent in the form of family who comes when you need them, people who pray, phone calls with old friends and, candied sweet potatoes from Boston Market late at night. But it's also been a little harder than I'd expected say, Monday afternoon, when I'd jotted down my to-do list of tasks for the night, none of which would end up being accomplished. So, just between us, I'm glad it's Friday again, I'm glad I've cleared my schedule for tomorrow and, you know, I'm glad I have something pretty and pink to hold in my hand. This simple spritzer is a blend of pomegranate and lemon … [Read more...]

Away from Here

Saturday afternoon, I went to Jamaica, from the comfort of my own back patio. I didn't need a plane ticket or a passport, and there were no hotel costs involved. Instead, after preparing a chicken marinade the previous night---a puree of spices, oil, chopped garlic, minced onion and diced jalapenos that made my hands burn (wear gloves, friends, anytime you touch the inside of jalapenos!), I stood over a white-hot grill and cooked an authentic Jamaican jerk barbecue, a little faster than was recommended but with excellent, tender, flavorful results. The meal was the result of a recipe kit sent to me by Destination Dinners, a California company that specializes in making international cooking attainable and educational. Packaged in a pretty red box reminiscent of a Chinese takeout container, my kit came with a recipe, a shopping list, background information on my destination and, importantly, all the dry ingredients and extra supplies I would need, from spices to plastic gloves … [Read more...]