here is what you do (whole wheat bread pudding)

winter

Listen to me: This is what you do next time you have leftover bread, the kind that’s sitting around on your counters, clogging up space, suddenly as rock-hard as a baseball bat, tempting you to throw it away. It’s what you do when you want to whip together dessert and do it as mindlessly as possible, using up things you already have. And, most importantly, it’s what you do when it’s the second week of January and there’s snow all around you, covering the roads and the trees and the people and freezing on your car and making you wish you lived in Florida—until you remember hearing they’re having bizarrely cold weather, too.

You make bread pudding.

bread pudding

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Brunch at Deleece

deleece

It’s true that in Chicago, winter brunch means no alfresco dining, but you could say this weekend ritual makes up for what it lacks with other charms. Like a few weeks ago, just days after Christmas: three of us walked down shoveled sidewalks, fat flakes of snow falling all around us, out of that cold and into the exposed brick walls, white twinkling lights and contemporary style of Deleece in Lakeview.

tea deleece

his tea

Seated at the back end of the wall lined by small tables, we kept our coats on and ordered hot tea, our waitress bringing steaming water in individual glass carafes with black-rimmed necks that make them easier to handle.

deleece inside

street view from inside

From where I sat on the wall side, cradling my mug between my warming hands, I had a full view of the restaurant: nicely sized with room for customers to get in and out (unlike another brunch spot I visited recently), a wide bar, loads of streaming sunlight pouring in through the front wall of windows to the street.

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because it’s not about that (chicken with tomatoes and simple salad)

lunch with Kim

I wish I were better at having people over.

Did you know etiquette suggests things like this: “Set the dining table the night before and cover it with a bedsheet [because] it is too nerve-wracking to do this an hour or so before your guests arrive”? I’d like to respectfully suggest that it’s too nerve-wracking to be that well-prepared. I am much more likely to be the person running to the grocery the morning of, picking up a bottle of white wine for the chicken recipe and some Parmesan (scratch that, I grabbed Pecorino) for the salad, laying out a tablecloth and slicing up the bread while also stirring the couscous and snacking on dark chocolate, and then, just when I’m standing over the stove, ready to put the raw chicken in the pan, the doorbell rings.

It’s a funny thing, being reunited with someone who used to know you, after years of living separate lives, and Friday, the first day of 2010, my old roommate Kim was at my door, which I answered with my apron still on, out of breath, hugging her and then leading her to the kitchen. She’d remember better, but I think my first few words were something like, “How are you? Did you have any trouble getting here? So, seriously, how do you catch up with someone you haven’t seen in almost six years? I want to know everything! But first, I have to grab something,” after which, I fell up the stairs.

Thankfully, Kim’s a better sport than an etiquette guidebook would be, and she not only stood right next to me while I pounded chicken cutlets, sauteed garlic in olive oil (then adding tomatoes until they puckered, at which point they’re set aside), added sage leaves and laid the flattened, floured chicken inside the pan in two separate batches, but she also helped, particularly when I added the white wine and tomatoes back into the pan, which sent bursts of steam and sizzle into the already-hot and windowless kitchen and I near panicked at the certain fear I must have been putting in her about lunch. I hate that I get so flustered, but if I had to do it, I am glad it was with her.

chicken with tomatoes

So back to the chicken: I owe the original recipe to Sarah of In Praise of Leftovers, a site I very much love to read, and she had adapted it from a cookbook by Tessa Kiros (the same woman who wrote Falling Cloudberries, whose milk-honey-and-cinnamon ice cream I enjoyed so much).

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