if you were to compare (2 chocolate cakes)

baking a cake

The thing about comparisons is they aren’t really fair. Whether you’re talking about people or books or the way friends respond on Twitter, by holding two things next to each other, you can easily stack the deck against something perfectly good with something you deem so much better. And it can be hard sometimes to see how much preference and taste plays into what we see as good or beautiful or even, delicious, when holding X against Y.

Like, take these two cakes. They’re both chocolate, they’re both from this last weekend, they’re both adequate desserts and cures for a sweet tooth. But if you’re like me, you won’t be able to stop yourself from thinking of them as a pair, especially since I made them one day after another, and then deeming one so much better than the other.

cake the first

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housekeeping

roasted broccoli

Well, I hope I’m not jinxing things by saying so, but that last post seems to have worked: it’s looking and feeling more like spring every day! Today I drove with the windows down! Tonight as I’m typing, the birds are chirping! I’ve been hearing about Passover seders on Twitter and from friends, Easter is on Sunday, it’s practically April, after all! So in the spirit of welcoming (i.e., wishing, hoping, begging, pleading) for this new season that has. to. come. eventually, it’s time for a little spring cleaning. These are things I’ve been meaning to tell you, wanting to tell you or just plain am going to tell you. Settle in for a long post, cause that’s what we’ve got (with lots of pictures!).

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for expectations and hope (POM Orange ice cream)

ice cream by window

Well, in case you haven’t already heard, it snowed here in Chicagoland last weekend. The snow itself wasn’t a big deal, just a light dusting on all the trees and cars and buildings, but the fact that it came, right after a week of warmth and sunshine and 60-degree evenings where I rode my bike like I was 12 years old again, was a grim reminder that no matter how late the sun stays out, no matter how many times I don’t need a jacket, no matter what the calendar says, it’s still not exactly spring yet. It still can snow.

ice cream in a bowl

Now, fellow Chicagoans, I know, I know what you’re going to say: Hello? This happens every year! It’s only March! Last year, it snowed in April! I know.

But listen, it’s still kind of a bummer. It’s like when you apply for that job you really want, the one close to home and with great benefits, and just when you’ve had your third interview and thought you’d gone and aced it, you get a rejection letter. Or when you’re ten years old, watching the snow outside, thinking for sure you’ll get a snow day, and you don’t. Or when you bake bread for the eighth or ninth time, all hopeful and expectant, and you end up with weird ribbons inside the loaves that you’d thought were perfection. Dashed dreams make the heart sick.

dixie cup

Of course some people would say there’s an easy solution to this problem, one that’s pretty simple: lower your expectations. Wish for less, and you won’t be hurt as often. There’s truth in that. And I guess it makes sense.

But me?

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all it takes (whole grain pancakes)

pancakes and syrup

Do you ever go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons? It’s not pretty.

Two days ago, I was weaving in and out of aisles at Whole Foods, repeatedly cornered or trapped by someone’s cart or, worse, by those two dark-haired women who stood in front of the entire yogurt section, chatting with sour faces that never once looked my way, for the solid five minutes that they’d commandeered the dairy case, and by the time I’d finally made it past them and to the baking aisle, my mindset was reduced to pure self-preservation: Flour. The only other thing I needed was flour.

There were people on my right and people on my left, with one couple edging towards me quickly. I scanned the shelves. No whole wheat pastry flour, but white whole wheat flour! That’s similar, right? I grabbed a bag. While I waited in line with it at the checkout, a surly balding man cut in front of me, pretending not to see me or my shopping cart that were inches away from him, and would you believe it, I let him.

That grocery store broke me, I tell you.

pancakes on a plate

Turns out, though, that the experience wasn’t entirely bad. Because white whole wheat flour? It’s different from whole wheat pastry flour in that it has more protein (13% compared to pastry’s 9%) and comes from a different flour (hard white spring wheat rather than soft white winter wheat) but has specific strengths: It offers all the fiber and nutrition of traditional whole wheat, for example, but with milder flavor and lighter color. It has a finer grind than regular whole wheat flour. It makes a good substitute for white all-purpose flour. It’s said to be great in breads, cookies, bars, etc.

Also, it makes a great pancake.

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always, with lemon (roasted cauliflower)

sunday lunch at adam's

While it’s true I’m easily persuaded about most things, whether it’s trying cookies without flour, taking trips to new places or realizing I’d been wrong all along about that crazy thing called meatloaf, you could still say there are a few fixed aspects of my nature, ones I don’t expect I’ll ever shake.

It’s hard to imagine a me that didn’t love the sky, for example, who didn’t stare at the clouds or gasp at a golden sunset. Would I still be myself if I didn’t notice the seasons change? I love the way my dad chuckles when he knows he’s wrong, the way my mom only shows her full grin when she’s laughing hard, how my younger brother is a better driver, planner and cook than I am. And really, I’ll always move towards relationships without pretense. That’s just who I am.

cauliflower chopped

Since they say a person is defined by what she really loves, you might as well also know, in that case, that I like fall leaves and fresh fruit and people who sacrifice without expecting anything in return. I want warm sunshine and broad daylight and to spend time with those who know me.

Also, and no less important, there is lemon.

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this shell (POM-banana smoothie)

skies

It is the strangest thing to look at the shell of a person, the body without the soul, and to comprehend how someone could be here and then, not here at all. I spent some time thinking about that this last weekend, surrounded by people who were bonded only by the shell we were standing near, the shell of someone who had lived long and with infectious charm.

I’m thinking about it now as I type, the fingers of this body punching keys on a keyboard, forming words chosen by my mind, my thoughts, my sense of reason and understanding. Someday, these fingers won’t type, my body will cease to work, the breath of life will be puffed out of me but, what is inside of me—what is most me—that will never die, that will just move somewhere else. I will move somewhere else.

POM

Right now, as I’m typing, I’m sitting next to a window, feeling with my body the slight chill of the air outside that leaks through into this room. I can hear the buzzing of someone mowing grass. I can see clouds streaking the sky through the window. These days, there are signs of life all around me—green lawns, budding branches, even new babies being born. There is that paradox: all around us, death and life. Here then gone. Alive then not.

Saturday, I made this easy smoothie, part POM Wonderful and part frozen banana, and slurped it down to the bottom, drank every sweet and icy bit until I felt it go down deep and chill me, too.

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little victories

fresh bread

Brace yourself: this is kind of a bad story. Well, it starts off bad and then it gets good but then, it turns bad again. I’m going to tell it anyway because (a) it’s honest and (b) it involves bread (and don’t you think all stories that involve bread should be told? I do).

So. I’ll start by saying, there was a week back in early January, a dark week, when I must have tried at least four different bread recipes. Four different recipes. And thing was, whether I used bread flour or regular flour, made rolls or loaves—heck, even when I used a bread maker, which requires you to, I kid you not, dump things inside and press GO—the results were the same: failure.

Big, fat failure.

Thankfully, that awful week culminated in a near success or, if you had talked to me the night I made them, SWEET! VICTORY! by way of no-knead baguettes, not to mention a vacation away from here, both of which helped me to forget about bread for a while.

bread from farther away

But, as is often the case with things you distract yourself from, eventually bread came back to mind. (Cue good part of story!) Two months seemed like a long enough separation, it was time to try again and, by serendipity maybe, my old friend Jennifer, who’s known me since preschool (or longer?), posted her favorite bread recipe on Facebook.

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