Review: Grow Great Grub

grow great grub

Like I said last month, book reviews aren’t really the emphasis of this site, but we’ll make exceptions. Since Grow Great Grub has inspired me to launch past my existing gardening attempts (i.e., beautiful summer tomatoes and a sad Meyer lemon tree) into the world of potted herbs (stay tuned!), I thought you might like to hear about it, too.

I was so excited to get a review copy of this book because the whole point of it is that not only can you garden anywhere, but also you can grow food anywhere —even in the city, even in a small space. Rather than fancy pots or planters, you’ll see gorgeous photos of seeds sprouting in repurposed tins, wooden crates, trash cans, even toilet paper rolls in this book. There’s attention given to making these creative gardens aesthetically pleasing as well as practical, which anyone in a small space would recognize as important and which I think makes the process seem much more approachable and worth trying.

grow great grub inside

The Author:
I love reading about bloggers who became authors, particularly ones who were blogging when I was in high school, which was a time when, let’s be honest, I didn’t know what a blog was. That’s exactly the story of Gayla Trail, who has grown her site (launched February 2000) into a community of modern gardeners filled with forums and articles, as well as written two books: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening and now Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces.

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for mid-February

chocolate crunchies

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: I think I like February.

I mean, sure, here we are, with 49 out of the 50 states having snow somewhere. And sure, being outside too long still makes my nose run and my ears burn, like it did this weekend, when on Sunday afternoon, every! train! seemed to take five extra freezing-cold minutes to arrive, but listen: it’s not all bad.

mixing batter

To start, LOST is back. If February brought us LOST, February is good. I don’t think I need to say anything more than that.

Then there’s the light. I realized last week that the days have hit that point where the sky is still light when I walk to my car at 5:30 PM every night. How fantastic is that? No, really. Dwell on this with me: (almost) DAYLIGHT when I begin driving home, the kind that gradually diminishes and colors the sky and only becomes darkness as I’m parking my car again. This means not needing to turn my desk lamp on at work at all if I don’t want to. It means being able to see my hands in front of my face when I scrape snow off my car. The first day it was like this, I am not ashamed to tell you, I almost cried, that’s how happy I was. People. It only gets better from here! The days will keep getting longer! And then warmer! We are close! We are close!

morsels on baking sheet

And of course also, it was just Valentine’s Day this last weekend, and while I know every blogger has already said something about how much he or she does or doesn’t love this day all about love, I’ll just throw my two cents in: it’s hard to hate a day filled with chocolate. I mean, right?

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tilapia and white asparagus

superbowl sunday

There is a school of thought that says we cannot change our basic selves, that who we are intrinsically is who we have to be, give or take a few small choices, that someone like me will always be someone like me, maybe with different circumstances or friends or hairstyles, but always the same me deep down. Do you think that?

I’m not sure. To be totally honest with you, I don’t want to think that. I want to believe I can change—or rather, that I can be changed—and I want to believe that about you.

white asparagus

Thing is, change is hard to measure. Take asparagus. When you trim a bunch of fresh white asparagus and lay it on a baking sheet, rolling the stalks in lemon olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper before you roast it all in the white-hot oven, you can watch it transform before you from hard and cold to bruised and limp, with spots of darkness from the heat all over its thin stalks, and you can know there’s change there, no question. But would some say it’s not much of a change? Though softened and broken, it is, after all, still asparagus?


Or take potatoes.

boiling potatoes

You can boil baby golds, the way you’ve done before, cooking them until they’re soft, then smashing them and coating their soft skins with olive oil and salt and pepper like you did the asparagus, and you can roast them, too, until they’re crispy and golden, wonderful to pop in your mouth one by one but, at the end, bettered by heat and seasoning and time. Are they changed? Are they essentially the same?

smashed potatoes

And then there’s fish. Tilapia.


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Brunch at Honey Cafe

honey cafe in glen ellyn

It is always a pleasure to spend time with Jacqui of Happy Jack Eats—that girl makes two hours at a Barnes & Noble book signing seem fun—so this last Saturday, after two months of sickness and holidays and traveling and (for her) wedding planning!, we met up at Honey Cafe, a suburban brunch spot I’d read about online that was said to rival the best of the city, and can I just say? It does.

downtown glen ellyn

First of all, it’s in downtown Glen Ellyn, where they have historic houses surrounding a few streets of shopping and dining, all smack-dab next to a Metra station, and there’s a historic theatre and a mom-and-pop grocery (where I bought a loaf of bread! support local business!) and random alleys that make for nice pictures with the blue sky poking through above.

glen ellyn theatre
glen ellyn grocery
glen ellyn alley

Honey’s also pretty inside.

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Review: Best Food Writing 2009

best food writing 2009

I don’t usually dedicate entire posts to books I’ve read, but in this case the book is about the very things this site is, food and writing, so that warrants an exception, I say.

Best Food Writing 2009 is exactly what the title suggests: a compilation of last year’s best food-centric stories, as published in magazines like Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, The New Yorker and Saveur; as well as Web sites like and I finished my review copy last weekend, in the air somewhere between Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, and I have to tell you: I was sad it had to end.

See, what’s so great about collections like this one, which was edited by Holly Hughes and features work by big-name authors like Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni alongside essays from new-to-me-but-no-less-gifted writers like Jason Sheehan (newly of Seattle Weekly and formerly of Denver’s Westword), Francine Prose (a celebrated novelist) and Todd Kliman (a James Beard award-winning restaurant critic and Dining Editor of The Washingtonian), is it gives you tastes of so many different writing styles (journalistic, personal, probing, funny) that all have one chief thing in common: a skilled command of language and information that makes you think, whether about the ethics of meat or the community of sitting around the table.

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Friends! Food! Florida!

Florida in January

Before my plane landed in Tampa Friday afternoon (where it would be a balmy 74 degrees!), I did a lot of thinking about the last time I’d touched down in the Sunshine State, back when I was an unhappy freshman, and about how strange our life paths are, with mine taking me from Illinois to Florida to Wisconsin and to Illinois again, and how here I was nine years later, wanting to be in Florida for the weekend when before, I had wanted to be anywhere else.

My friend Elizabeth picked me up at the airport. We had lived together in Unit G—the bed bug unit—and reconnected only recently, through Facebook, drawn into deeper correspondence through, well to be totally honest, this blog, and she lives in the same town as one of my roommates from that college in Wisconsin I ended up transferring to, a roommate who also likes to cook, isn’t that crazy?

Over our fast weekend, we did simple things like eat Thai food at Elizabeth’s favorite hole-in-the-wall place, where I tried Pad Thai for the first time (and loved it):

pad thai

and grabbed breakfast at a bagel place (twice!) where Elizabeth and her family know the people by name, that’s how much they love it (that curly-haired girl is her daughter—gorgeous!):

fishhawk bagels
Fishhawk bagels

and, the highlight of the whole weekend, attended the kumquat festival in Dade City, all because I saw it online and thought it was just crazy enough to be fun, which it was, even with the rain that hit us after about 45 minutes there:

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