if you were to compare (2 chocolate cakes)

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. … [Read more...]

the sneaky one (sweet potato brownies)

You know what food trend I’ve never fully understood? The one about the hidden vegetables. The puree-something-your-kids-won’t-eat-and-bury-it-in-brownies! Add spinach to chocolate cake! Sneak cauliflower in pasta! Do whatever you can to trick them into eating nutrition! I mean, I think I kind of understand it, or at least the premise of it: if you can add good-for-you foods to what someone normally eats without them noticing, then you get them to eat what they should while also eating what they want. Everybody wins! OK. But the problem is your kids still don’t like vegetables; they like chocolate cake, a chocolate cake that’s lying to them. Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t have kids? You can feel free to tell me what I’m missing. Anyway, that said, you’ll see the irony in the recipe I’m about to give you, for what else but sweet potato brownies. Yes, they’re exactly like those crazy sneaky recipes I don’t understand. Yes, they use a pureed vegetable in the middle of a … [Read more...]

for mid-February

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. 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 … [Read more...]

when you never never apologize (whole grain chocolate cake)

I made dinner for my friend the other night, and as I was handing her containers of soup, crackers, bread and my first-ever almost-all-natural chocolate cake, I found myself prefacing each item with an explanation-turned-apology, in that way that starts out humorous and becomes borderline obnoxious. Do any of you do this? I am desperate to stop. The potato-and-onion soup should have been thicker, I told her, so that's why I added the carrots and zucchini and, you know, it's normally not like this; the bread---well, I think my yeast must be bad because it never rose fully, so it tastes fine but is pretty dense; oh gosh, I am sorry about the crackers, which were supposed to be last-minute substitutes for the bread (or really, substitutes for substitutes for the bread, via great recipes sent to me by Tara and Celeste that I ended up not having all the ingredients for) and I don't know why they turned out more like crackers that bread, you don't have to like them; and oh ok, the … [Read more...]

nice to come home to

Well, it's official: snow has come to Chicagoland. We haven't been hit the hardest (not like Madison or Southern Utah or, gosh, poor Minneapolis), and we're starting much later than usual (remember last year's October snowfall?), but we have begun what will probably be a months-long relationship with icy roads and longer commutes, one every Chicagoan is familiar with, one I am sorry to say you will probably hear about here again. Yesterday, in a fit of there-must-be-a-new-way-of-seeing-stuff-like-snowstorms, I Googled "reasons to like snow" and this is what I found: activities---things like sledding, making snowmen, making snowangels, skiing, tubing, getting days off school. However, this only compounded the problem, particularly that bit about getting snow days, because, when you no longer get weather-provoked time off and when the only daylight that you can claim as your own lies in your morning commute and Saturdays and Sundays, snow angels and sledding don't seem to find their … [Read more...]

good enough for grazing

This may seem a strange thing to say, the day before the nation's biggest food holiday, especially one in which I'll be doing the cooking, but here it is: I'm not really one for huge meals. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. It's right up there with Easter as my favorite holiday. Every end of November, I love that we have a specific, routine reminder to stop and be grateful for all we've been given, and of course part of that is the table spread with turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes and green been casserole and rolls and Jell-O molds and pies. But, if I were to offer one small complaint with this holiday, it is this: the indulgence of eating all those good things---and so much of them---at one, long, stuffing-yourself-until-your-pants-don't-fit sitting. I'd much prefer to graze all day, and in fact, that's what I do. In my family, at Thanksgiving, we make more turkey than we need, so we can have sandwiches for a week after. We save all the … [Read more...]

just the ticket

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 … [Read more...]