Brussels sprouts & bacon, oh my!

Brussels sprouts

Today, I bring you a story that to me is pure embarrassment and laughter, but to you I hope will be encouragement. It is a post is for anyone who has ever done something stupid, not just in cooking but in life. It is for those who think they are incapable of cooking or baking, especially when you look at food blogs like this one. And, not only will it include a recipe, but also a tip on a great restaurant to check out next time you’re in Galena.

It is a story, yes, but it is also a reminder, mostly that when you make a very big mistake, you might as well laugh about it because, at the end of the day, even if you told nobody and got to hold your head a little higher, you’d still know the truth inside and then, you wouldn’t know the intimacy of being honest with people or hearing that they mess up sometimes too (yes, that is an invitation for you to share your stories), and that would be a great loss indeed. So here goes; when I say you’re going to love this one, I mean it.

And it all starts with Brussels sprouts.

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what was crystal clear

baked apples

This was supposed to be a recipe for an easy version of apple pie, or at least that was my intent when I started peeling and coring four Granny Smith apples at the counter last Wednesday night.

As part of my mission to avoid yet another kitchen disaster, I had been taking every possible easy route: choosing a simple recipe, peeling all the required apples in one step, doing that peeling while I was sitting down so as not to exert any unnecessary effort for something that might not turn out and not even using a printed recipe because I had memorized the basic steps from looking at them for so long, really analyzing whether or not I could trust this new combination of ingredients and steps and would it be worth the trouble? In most of life, this fragile attitude would be something to work through, but in this case, it really worked to my advantage.

Each time I’d finish peeling one of the apples, its curly green skins spread out on the cutting board in front of me, I’d plop its little body into the adjacent round casserole dish, keeping it from rolling away while also leaving the counter clean. And thing is, once I set that final apple into the dish, the four of them lined up next to each other like they were meant to stay that way, ready to be poached or roasted or something, it became crystal clear to me that these apples weren’t for a pie, but instead they had a different fate. I should bake them, bake them whole, stuffed with some sort of sugar and oats mixture that could get all hot and gooey inside and bubble on top and down the sides. It was so obvious.

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it’s been true for me

maple cookies

Listen, I know I’ve already posted 25 other cookie recipes here.

So if you’re thinking, another one? This girl is out of control! I can’t argue.

But hear me out: no matter how many other types of recipes I try—from cakes to soup to meat to vegetables—it’s still cookies that I love the most. So did my grandma.

I wish I could remember the first time I had a cookie—do you? The earliest I knew, I was stirring batter in Grandma’s kitchen, anticipating the trays we would pull out of the oven, so it’s as if I’ve always liked cookies and they’ve always been there, unlike kale or cheese or spinach or fish or something else I had to grow to enjoy.

And it just makes me think that while there is certainly value in changing perceptions, there is also value in keeping some, in having a few things, such as my parents or my brother or the way it feels to laugh out loud at someone’s story, that I have always loved.

Cookies are like that for me.

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blue skies on a Saturday

acorn squash

I have been trying to write this post for the better part of two hours. I keep writing something and deleting it, writing something and deleting it.

To be honest with you, I guess that is because I don’t know what to say. A dear friend of mine got some very bad news this last week, the kind you never think you or someone you love will get, and she has been on my mind ever since.

I wish you could meet her. I wish you could know the kind of friend who extends grace when you don’t, who challenges you by example, who makes you laugh out loud with her stories. The kind of friend who, when you show up unannounced at her doorstep Wednesday night, welcomes you inside, no questions asked, comforting you more than you are comforting her, demonstrating faith in the One Who Made Her as you recount specific Providences together.

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just the ticket

cookie dough

I’ve been having a lot of bad luck in the kitchen lately.

I mean, not that anyone’s keeping track, but, in the last few weeks, the handful of times I’ve found to try a new recipe or carve out an hour to cook, the results were unimpressive (OK, with at least one exception). I made a squash and apple soup that had little flavor. I pureed pumpkin from a little $1.50 pie pumpkin at Meijer, and the three loaves of bread I made with it were barely edible—the one with pecans on top was the best, but even it found an eventual demise in the trash can. My version of candied sweet potatoes wasn’t awful, but that’s really the best endorsement of it I can give and, since when did making something not awful inspire anyone toward the stove?

I decided, sometime this past weekend, that there were a few different conclusions I could draw from this: 1) I’ve been picking bad recipes (over and over again); 2) I’ve been eating so well everywhere else that my standards have risen and maybe these OK things are what I would have once thought good? or 3), most troubling, I cannot cook.

Now, if the problem lies in either the first or second reasons, I can wait this out. But if it’s the third? What do I do—give up? It was starting to feel hypocritical even posting here—who am I to be telling you about recipes to try? I should be begging you for help.

But then I saw some peanut butter sandwich cookies and was inspired to give this kitchen thing one last chance. I can’t say if it’s because I was hungry when I saw them or because they are cookies, the first type of recipe I ever made and the kind that has yet to fail me, but I lost sight of every culinary disappointment and knew only one thing: I was making these cookies, and I was making them that night.

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sometimes, through food

sunrise in Indiana

A lot of people say autumn weather pushes them towards the kitchen, towards the warmth of the stove as the sky darkens and the air chills, towards soups and stews and pies filled with apples. One of you even said here recently that this time of year means that the family comes inside together, to be wrapped up and warm, sipping hot cups of tea (I liked that very much).

But can I tell you something? October has had the opposite effect on me. Instead of slowing down to come inside, I’ve gotten busier—busier in a good way, doing fantastic things like celebrating birthdays and touring new neighborhoods and visiting farms and, also, spending an early Sunday morning driving to Indiana a few weekends ago, to meet my beautiful friend Sue, whom I haven’t seen since 2003 (!). Here’s me with her and her perfect 10-month-old daughter that couldn’t be cuter:

photo by jordan

(photo by jordan)

We met at Sophia’s House of Pancakes, where, while she waited, Sue told the owner I was sort of a food critic, which meant we not only got treated very, very well, but also that I took a few pictures of the good food we ate to show you later (it only seemed right).

You know, there were over 200 miles between us, each way, and I watched the sun rise over Indiana farms on my drive down, right around the time I realized Greenwood is an hour ahead of Chicago and so I would be pretty late getting there, but, honestly, it was absolutely worth every minute because Sue is just that kind of friend, and it was so good to sit across a table from her, to hear her voice and listen to her laugh and meet her daughter for the first time.

scrambled eggs and hash browns

pancakes

French toast

So anyway, please don’t think I’m complaining with this next bit because, I promise, I really do know I’ve been especially blessed lately, but thing is, in the midst of all these good gifts of conversation and travel and food-not-made-by-me, I am having the hardest time getting into the kitchen. If it hadn’t been for another of my old college friends, Elizabeth, who lived with me in the bedbug-infested Unit G of our freshman year and recently reconnected with me on Facebook, I don’t know what I would have done.

matzo ball soup

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that’s how you do a birthday

october 24

My brother turned 25 on Saturday.

And while I could tell you a lot of reasons why this is significant, such as the fact that he is my only sibling and oldest friend or that he is the one person in this world who would talk to me on speakerphone the entire time I navigate through a detour in the city or who understands my parents in the way that we can just look at each other when we’re all having a family dinner and we’ll know exactly what the other person is thinking, I will tell you this instead, because this is important: he likes to eat. He really likes to eat. In fact, if quantity is any indicator, he likes it more than I do. He was, after all, the one who almost went to culinary school, the one who first took me to Swirlz and Bittersweet and Spacca Napoli.

So, after telling you that, I guess it should be obvious now what he and I’d do to celebrate his birthday. It’s what we would have done for mine, if we hadn’t been fresh off a trip to Maine in which I’d eaten everything in sight for three or four days already: We ate.

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