Sunday at the Christkindlmarket

My friend Elizabeth and her husband, Josh, are the kind of people who love street fairs. They've been to a strawberry festival in their home state of Florida, a spam festival (yes, spam!) on vacation in Hawaii and, of course, there was that kumquat festival Elizabeth and I toured back in January. So when they said they'd be in town Thanksgiving weekend, you can probably guess where we planned to meet. Because when it's late November in Chicago, there may not be fresh produce, but there is an annual tradition built around tents of German food and imported shopping: We spent the afternoon at the Christkindlmarket. Yesterday afternoon, the weather was unusually warm (40s, I think?) and there was no snow, but there was a lot of food. Boy, was there. Bratwurst, potato pancakes, goulash, Bavarian pretzels, fried dough, spiced nuts, mulled wine, imported beer, candy, chocolate.... If you're from Chicago, the market's open through December 24 right outside Daley Plaza, so there's … [Read more...]

for the unthankful (like me)

I am not, naturally, a thankful person: I notice problems more than blessings, frustrations more than good gifts, mistakes more than successes. You could say a million nice things to me and one mean one---just one---and I'll be darned if that's not the part I won't forget, ever. My perspective is polar opposite to rose-colored glasses, my attitude completely un-Pollyanna. It's really unfortunate. But that is why I love Thanksgiving. People like me need reminders to count their blessings, just like some people need to remember appointments or how to get projects done on time. We---the natural analyzers, the closet worriers---can get lost in our critical nature, our ability to dissect things so far you forget what you're looking at. I need Thanksgiving in my life. I need something that forces me to stop and see how full my hands are (and they are full, indeed). And I am just now learning that being thankful is more than making a list or saying certain words. It's about really … [Read more...]

Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps

These wraps, which I've had for lunch for the last three days, illustrate one of the best parts of working from home. Because, are you ready? When you call your kitchen table your office, this is what happens: you pull open your Google Reader on a casual Tuesday afternoon, see a recipe you'd like to try and, instead of just bookmarking it for later, you walk to the kitchen right that moment, pull out ingredients and, in minutes, see exactly what it tastes like. Like I said though, that's just one of the best parts of working from home, and since a couple of you have been wanting an update on the self-employment situation anyway, it's probably time I told you about some of the other benefits. First of all: It's been almost five months, can you believe that? Five months since I set my alarm for the same time every morning. Five months since I said, Oh, I can't; I have to work. Five months of setting my own schedule and working fewer hours (and, admittedly, also making less … [Read more...]

Chicken Fingers

Supersize Me was on TV the other night. Despite the fact that it was created six years ago, I'd never seen the documentary until this year, a few months ago when I streamed it to my computer during my one-month free trial with Netflix. This past Sunday night, I caught the couple minutes where the main character weighs in after a few days of eating a McDonald's-only diet, something he tried and documented for a full month, gaining weight and hurting his health just as you'd expect. I also caught the scene where he orders chicken nuggets, and the movie does a quick aside, complete with a cartoon illustration, of how chicken nuggets are made. It's not pretty. A while ago (was it last year?), I also watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (I'm guessing a lot of you did, too?), and saw him explain to children where chicken nuggets come from. And of course I've seen this image (click at your own risk and don't say I didn't warn you) floating around the Internet and people's … [Read more...]

Gruyère Quiche with Caramelized Red Pepper, Red Onion and Greens

I bought a new purse last week, for the first time since 2006, all because I asked a stranger in a bathroom where she got hers, and she said Target. I enjoy mushrooms now, after 27 years of hating them, because reading this blog post made me want to. I like reading Bon Appetit because I like reading how this girl writes. I've taken a photo almost every day this year because I've watched other people do it and been motivated. In cooking as in life, inspiration to try new things can come from almost anywhere. It can be a conversation with a stranger, an article you notice, something quick you look at, maybe sometimes something you read on a blog like this one. For me, with this quiche, it was even simpler: a solid white pan. The white dish I'm referencing is not mine, but it's my brother's, one he set on the counter the other day, and every time I've walked into the kitchen and seen it, I've thought, Quiche! That pan needs a quiche! So although making homemade pie crusts is not … [Read more...]

Pear Custard Pie in Spelt Pie Crust

Once upon a time, a girl decided to surprise her boyfriend for the weekend. It’s a classic story: she booked a plane ticket, got his friends involved and, hardest of all, fought to keep from spilling the beans beforehand. There were two months of wait time from idea to fruition, which meant lots of vague conversations and deceptive communication meant to throw him off along the way. But finally, early November came. She made phone plans with him for the day she was to arrive—or really, and maybe she should have seen this as a clue or as the thing we’d call foreshadowing in English class, he made phone plans with her, to cook something at the same time, from their separate cities. When she’d talked about her blog and how she’d been lacking inspiration for it (as those of you on Facebook know all about), he’d suggested this idea, and she’d said, Something with pears! Because they’ll be on sale! And she’d laughed to herself the whole time thinking, aha! he has no idea I’m … [Read more...]

Accidental Chocolate Trifle

Here is something I've been thinking about for a while now: it seems for the most part that the home cooking world is divided into two camps. You see it when you're a guest in someone's home, you see it on cooking shows and books and blogs, you see it in yourself if you think carefully enough. First, there are those with skills; then, there are those with kindness. Let me explain what I mean---or maybe I'll start with what I don't mean. I don't mean that the cooks with skills aren't kind or that the cooks with kindness aren't skilled. They aren't mutually exclusive. I don't mean that cooking well makes you a snob or that wanting to have a nice dinner party means you're a monster. I think what I just mean is this: There are people who wow you and there are people who love you. And sometimes I wonder which one I'm trying to be. The first group is successful, you know? They are highly organized, on top of things---the kind of people who have you over and you are awed by every … [Read more...]