Anise Biscotti

I realized this morning that I was starting to forget what it felt like to post a blog entry. And that that was probably not a good sign.

anise biscotti

I don’t really know what to say about it. I mean, it’s the strangest thing. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made homemade chicken stock, chicken and rice soup, homemade puff pastry (adapted from this great version at Not Without Salt), goat cheese tarts, pistachio biscotti, roasted vegetables, pizza. In almost all cases, I’ve taken no photos, I’ve planned no blog posts, I’ve just made and eaten and moved on.

Who am I?

Maybe it was finishing Project 365: marathon runners get to rest for a while, right? Maybe it was starting a new year. Maybe it was being busy and feeling like simplifying my to-do list meant cutting time here.

Whatever the case, hello again. I’ve missed you.

biscotti on a baking sheet

So let’s catch up a little. I spent the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 out of town, in Nashville—a place that just may become my new home if I can work out a living arrangement sometime soon—and on the first of the year, we drizzled chocolate onto anise biscotti that looked just like these (but were not, actually, these, as I didn’t even bring my camera on the trip).

I just read that last parenthesis and shook my head.

You know that law about how objects in motion tend to stay in motion? I guess objects not in motion, well, let’s just say it’s easy to not blog when you haven’t been blogging—kind of like it’s easy to not clean the bathroom when you haven’t for a while, or easy to not pick up the phone when you’ve forgotten for a few weeks, or easy to stay in your pajamas on a Monday morning at 2:30 PM because you’ve gotten caught up with work on your computer and you’re in the flow of things and time just flies by.

anise biscotti

Reading this post is starting to feel like a giant sigh.

But the good news is, just because it’s easy for things to stay a certain way doesn’t mean they have to. I mean, look, here I am writing a post! There you are, back at work in January! So it’s possible to do something different—to work out this afternoon instead of staying in your pajamas for example, or to go bake biscotti like you’ve always thought you should.

I’ll even help you with that last part.

This version, which I ended up making all over again last week, a few days after ringing in the new year, because seriously I enjoyed them that much, are packed with that unmistakably licorice flavor of anise, an ingredient I don’t get enough of. We made all kinds of modifications to the original recipe, halving it and swapping brandy with yogurt and adding spices and extra anise seed, and the result is really incredible: crunchy, sturdy enough for dunking in a hot drink, slightly sweet, and virtually irresistible every time you walk into the kitchen and see them on the counter.

Of course, you could resist them if you really wanted to—just like I’m forcing myself to get out of bed once I click publish. But you know what I mean.

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Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps

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.

chicken waldorf salad

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 money). People ask me all the time how it’s been going, and I’m sorry to say my standard answer is awful—something about how things are up and down, how I’m still learning what I’m doing, that I’ll reevaluate after six months. I’ve got to work on that because, really, the truth is: it’s been good.

chicken waldorf salad wraps

I went through my financial records last week, determining my average monthly income and budgeting time for upcoming projects, and you know what? It’s been really, really good. I’m not rich, I’m not all sunshine and roses all the time, but every one of my needs has been provided, I’ve gotten several new clients when I lost one, I have the free time like I’ve always wanted. So while I know myself and therefore realize things may seem very glass-half-empty come tomorrow morning, right now, this moment, I am thankful—thankful to sip homemade chai tea lattes at my computer, to run errands in daylight, to have time to work out or clean or, no kidding, take naps in the afternoon. I am thankful to not be making a lot but to always be making enough. And I want to remember this feeling.

holding a wrap

In a recent post at A Sweet Spoonful, Meg wrote about remembering forward to next November, imagining what you’d like to change about your life as if it will really happen. And ironically, it got me thinking about last November, when I never would have guessed I’d leave my job or, launch into something risky or, work for myself like I’d always wished I could. I’m so glad these changes came, for as long or as short as they end up lasting, and I’m so glad to find myself where I am right now—working in blue jeans while I eat homemade chicken salad wraps, counting my blessings.

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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.

three pears for pear pie

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 coming!

making pear pie

That Saturday, after she’d landed at the airport and after she and her friend and ally had driven to his house, analyzing every option of how to actually work out the moment of surprise, they drove up to his door, ready for the sure shock that was to come, and surprise! The joke was on her—and at least it was on her friend, too—because are you ready for this? He had known the whole time, had accidentally read a Facebook message on her phone months before. So there he was, greeting her at the door. With flowers. And an entire meal. Of homemade ravioli, tomato sauce and braciole.

I know.

pear pie ready to bake

As if that wasn’t enough, two days later, they still made pear pie. And it was delicious.

streusel topping for pear pie

So to keep me from any further gushing about things other than food, let’s talk about that pear pie. Have you ever had a pie with pears? I hadn’t. Actually, I’d never even heard of it until last week, researching pear recipes. People say it’s a little like apple pie or, as in this version, like a Dutch apple pie because of the creamy custard and streusel topping.

pear pie

Since generally speaking I like pears more than apples and since there’s nothing quite like the creamy, sweet tang of a good custard, this pie is a brilliant combination.

We just used a simple store-bought pie crust (there are spelt ones in the frozen section at Whole Foods, if you’re looking for a good option), so all that was involved with this was peeling and slicing the pears (me) and mixing up ingredients (him).

piece of pear pie

It bakes for about an hour and fresh out of the oven, it’s hard to slice, so if you can wait, it’s better to let it cool and chill for a while before cutting a piece.

If you can’t wait, though—and hey, we’d get along well—then scoop it out and enjoy the creamy goodness right away.

Eating it with someone you like even more than the pie? That’s entirely optional.

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(My Kind of) Curried Chicken Salad

chicken salad sandwich

Chicken salad is the #1 thing I don’t order at restaurants.

And I think this makes perfect sense.

I mean, first of all, who wants chicken salad when you can get a tomato mozzarella panini or a sandwich with basil pesto or heck, a juicy burger made from locally sourced meat?

But second, and even more importantly, chicken salad is what you call a risky food. Trust me: bad chicken salad is bad. Like, rip-your-mouth-out bad. B-A-D bad. Three years ago, the last time I ordered it in a restaurant that I remember, I was up the whole night afterward, sick. Violently sick. And the next day, when I called the manager of said dining establishment to let him know, he didn’t believe me.

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This is the good stuff.

crumb of lemon yogurt cake

I don’t know where you sit today, but I hope your view is as nice as mine, where the air smells sweet and the sun is high. Charcoal grills send smoke through my windows, green grass surrounds blooming tulips and daffodils, restaurants open their walls so we can dine al fresco as the sun sets.

I’ve realized as much as I hate Chicago winter, I love it for this: what else could make me so aware of the beauty of Chicago spring? And as spring turns to summer and summer to fall, I will keep enjoying the beauty of seasons, the joy of watching change unfold around you, irrespective of you and what you want. It’s nice to be a part of that.

I guess what I’m saying is that these almost-summer afternoons are the good stuff, what we’ve been waiting for, so maybe you’ll understand why it’s hard to resist all they tempt me towards? Things like a sunny weekend game at Wrigley Field, hours antiquing in northern Illinois, long walks on tree-lined streets of ivy-colored brick buildings.

lemon yogurt cake, close

Last week, I met a three-year-old girl with an easy smile, while we walked down creaky steps in a vintage building near a Metra station, surrounded by trees with blossoms as big as my hands. Saturday, after lunching at one my favorite places with an old blogging friend, I strolled along Clark to Broadway, passing bakeries and restaurants and adorable little shops. And this week, after work each day, I’ll come home with no plans but to be outside, watching the tomato plants grow and ready for the sky to turn orange and crimson before I pillow my head.

Also last week, because I wasn’t done with Oikos Greek yogurt yet, I made this cake.

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for on the way

yogurt parfait

While Mom and I were walking out of the restaurant Sunday afternoon, arm in arm, our bellies full with sauer braten, bread dumplings and chicken schnitzel, she spotted a lilac bush in someone’s yard, and we talked about the corsages Grandma used to make with them on Mother’s Day each year.

Grandma used to say she had seasonal depression, meaning every winter she’d want to tuck away in the house, lethargic, doing little but cooking and baking, especially at Christmas—I think I get this from her—but come spring, she’d be the happy lady mowing her front lawn, planting geraniums along the front and big tomato bushes in back, hanging laundry to dry on the clothesline that ran from the back brick to the detached garage.

oikos greek yogurt

These mornings, when I wake up and hear pounding rain on the windows and see the grass deep, deep green, I think of how happy this would’ve made her, how happy it makes me. When I come home, the world bathed in sunlight, with fresh flowers popping up in yards and along open fields, there’s so much I want to do: take Bailey out, go for a quick run, stroll to the grocery store that’s a mile away instead of getting in the car to drive. Some nights, I don’t even care if I eat dinner, except for something quick I grab on my way somewhere. Like the other night, after I’d thrown in laundry, the windows open around me, and gone outside for a while, letting Bailey pull me wherever he wanted, I came back in, and instead of making dinner, I put together this quick parfait, made of Greek yogurt, chopped fruit, walnuts and honey.

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