leaving you with these (cheese crackers)

cheese crackers

I made these cheese crackers a while ago, inspired by Hannah’s version at Honey & Jam, looking for something to snack on one night. And the fact that I’ve waited so long to tell you about them has nothing to do with how savory and soft they were, like Cheese Nips but better!, and much more to do with how short my attention span is becoming.

Like, right now: as this post publishes, while you’re reading about these cheese crackers, I am either on my way to or at the airport, headed to Florida, not two weeks after returning from Nashville. I’m going to see some friends and their families, as well as attend (at least if the weather cooperates) the Kumquat Festival in Dade City.

I mean, really. The Kumquat Festival?

I don’t even know how this all happened except that my friends Elizabeth and Rachel, both of whom I lived with in college but at different colleges in different states, now live in the same place and that place is Florida and, I don’t know if you’re aware, but it’s freezing cold and snowy here, so Florida is definitely the place to go to for the weekend.

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Breakfast at Chicago French Market

chicago French market

By the time my friend Michele mentioned the Chicago French Market to me last Friday, there’d already been a lot of buzz on it (plus more specific calls to us as individuals: an e-mail to me and a handed-out-on-the-street coupon to Michele) but neither of us had yet been to visit, so we declared 9 AM on Saturday morning the perfect time to do something about that.

Part of the MetraMarket at Ogilvie Train Station in the West Loop, this market dubs itself as a European-inspired marketplace, filled with products from local farmers and artisans—sort of a year-round indoor farmers’ market that’s easily accessible for commuters.

And while it turns out to be more like an upscale version of a shopping mall food court than an indoor version of a street in France (think fluorescent lighting and shiny grocery-store floors), it does have some notable features.

Like, for example, bakery:

bakery
pastries and sweets

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last monday night (Greek chicken and pitas)

greek chicken and pita

Can I just say I think it’s the best thing ever that I live close enough to my brother that, on a random Monday night before he leaves for a business trip, I can head over to his apartment after work and he can grab some groceries and we can cook together and then eat on his vintage chairs while we watch the latest episode of Friday Night Lights that he saved on his Direct TV for me?

I mean, really, beyond the unusual privilege of being so geographically close to all my family that I can see them—any one of them—any time I want to, how awesome is it that when I text my brother and say, How ’bout I come over tonight?, he responds by saying he’ll buy chicken. That, even more than his ability to laugh at the right part of stories, calm me down in near-death situations like that crazy car accident on the way to Nashville or willingly let me photograph him while he works in the kitchen, shows how well he gets me and, that we’re family.

marinating chickenmarinating chicken

The chicken we made last Monday is nothing fancy. It’s the kind of thing you can assemble while you’re talking and munching on leftovers, marinating the meat for 20 minutes and cooking it on the stove. But it’s also the kind of thing that you could marinate overnight and cook the next day.

chicken in panchicken

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to bring across state lines (homemade graham crackers)

graham crackers

The night before we left for Nashville, just as I was throwing clothes into my suitcase and packing up a bag of snacks that included carrot sticks, blueberries, strawberries and granola (I know, right? party animal that I am), I got a hankering for graham crackers and then, when I clicked over to Twitter just to check in for a second, there was a link to a new post at Roost for, what else, exactly that.

I enjoy that kind of serendipity in life. It’s like when Becky and I went to Margot Saturday night after being told on the phone there were no openings and then, wouldn’t you know it, someone canceled and we got seated in 10 minutes. Or like a year ago when my car kept putting out smoke and smelling like burnt metal but finally the mechanics saw it was the catalytic converter! all along!, just weeks before my warranty expired, which paid for the entire replacement.

You have to embrace these things, these providences, so that’s what I did last Thursday.

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when you never never apologize (whole grain chocolate cake)

chocolate cake

I made dinner for my friend the other night, and as I was handing her containers of soup, crackers, bread and my first-ever almost-all-natural chocolate cake, I found myself prefacing each item with an explanation-turned-apology, in that way that starts out humorous and becomes borderline obnoxious. Do any of you do this? I am desperate to stop.

The potato-and-onion soup should have been thicker, I told her, so that’s why I added the carrots and zucchini and, you know, it’s normally not like this; the bread—well, I think my yeast must be bad because it never rose fully, so it tastes fine but is pretty dense; oh gosh, I am sorry about the crackers, which were supposed to be last-minute substitutes for the bread (or really, substitutes for substitutes for the bread, via great recipes sent to me by Tara and Celeste that I ended up not having all the ingredients for) and I don’t know why they turned out more like crackers that bread, you don’t have to like them; and oh ok, the cake—look, I’m eating unprocessed, whole foods more now, and this is a healthier cake, so don’t expect much—and on it went. Even typing it now is painful, so you can imagine how my poor friend felt while it was happening.

But even worse than the fact that I was letting my insecurity and pride at wanting someone to think I make only delicious things put my friend into the incredibly awkward situation of trying to make me feel better about food that I had made her for the very same reason was the issue of the food in question: while yes, the bread and crackers had been disappointing, the soup was perfectly good and the cake, while healthy, actually tasted like pudding cake when warm and, combined with some light and sweet homemade whipped cream, did not deserve any of the ho-hum expectations I was putting upon it.

cake in weird orange container

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it all started with a bottle of wine (boozy chicken)

chicken

After New Year’s Day’s lunch, I had more than half a bottle of that cheap $5 kind of white wine leftover, along with a bunch of boneless, skinless chicken tenders yet to be cooked, and I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. That was all this was supposed to be, a recipe to use things up, to get rid of what was expiring, but, like some of my favorite friendships or best memories, little did I know what it would become.

Here is how it started: Pulling out my Dutch oven, I laid eight seasoned chicken tenders inside, covering them with a very basic sauce of white wine and vegetable oil; checked them after 45 minutes to stir things around; and, in just over an hour of total baking time, pulled the pan out, the intense and satisfying smell of what I would eventually dub boozy chicken radiating through the kitchen, rich and warm and, pun intended, intoxicating. I’m not a drinker so, as a rule, the scent of alcohol isn’t likely to weaken knees, but people, this was something else.

It was Julia Child who said a good roast chicken is the kind that tastes nice and “chickeny”—and if you’ve ever tasted a well-roasted, seasoned, juicy bird, the kind that’s been turned 45 degrees every 15 minutes for several hours to simulate a rotisserie and, when it emerges from the oven, that’s golden on the outside, with crispy skin giving way to tender, flavorful meat inside, you know exactly what she means. I’d have spent the rest of my life assuming all that labor was the only way to get good roast chicken, the kind of chicken that becomes a base for salads and sandwiches and pasta dishes and anything else that will showcase its Julia-esque chickeny flavor, and I’d have been wrong.

A few bites in, it was all I could do to keep myself from eating piece after tender piece with my fingers, licking the buttery seasonings and smacking my lips together and still, after I ate a few of the tenders plain, things got even better.

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