Friday, December 25, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

Merry Christmas!

After sleeping late and getting a lovely visit from Santa (a new bike to replace my stolen one - thank you, Santa), we kicked off Christmas morning with a batch of wild huckleberry pancakes courtesy of Ali, who visited Chicago from Montana a few weeks ago.

This was a perfect Christmas breakfast for many reasons, the first one being that the pancake mix came in the most adorable package. And what is Christmas without pretty packages!

Another reason why this was the ideal choice to make today is that I knew they would taste so good, and they did - fluffy, sweet, and drizzled with syrup. And what is Christmas without delicious food!

The final reason why I decided to make these pancakes today is that Ali is a dear friend. And what is Christmas without friends and family!

That pretty much sums up the meaning of Christmas to me. I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday surrounded by pretty packages, delicious food, and most importantly, friends and family.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I've Learned

Growing up I always made a big deal about my birthday, mostly because I was a year younger than most of my friends and always felt behind.

I saw my birthday as a day to catch up, and everyone knew it. Exactly three months prior, I would start to self promote so by the time the big day rolled around, anyone who forgot incurred my wrath. Then my friends turned a year older, and that longing to be the same age started all over again.

That all changed once I turned 30 and no longer felt so eager to catch up.

So that may explain why nine days ago, a very important birthday of sorts slipped by without me even realizing it: my two-year blogiversary! But really, it was two years ago that I subscribed to a CSA and changed my eating and cooking habits. (Technically I didn't receive my first box of produce until November 16, so I suppose I have some time yet.)

When I started this CSA experiment, I wasn't sure if I would really take the time to find recipes, cook, and manage to eat the stuff too. But it has become a new way of life for me.

I went from buying the same boring foods at the grocery store to getting unidentifiable veggies that I had to figure out how to make.

I went from coming home from work, ordering takeout, and planting myself on the couch in front of the tv all night to chopping onions and garlic, sauteing with spices and veggies, and going straight to bed after eating and cleaning up. (Except when Lost is on. Two more months!)

Along the way I have collected some favorite recipes: strawberry and feta salad; chicken tajine; rhubarb crisp bars; pasta with butternut squash and sage, and so many others that I was just plain lazy to blog about.

I have learned important lessons about cooking: always make at least one test batch when baking pumpkin pie for a holiday dinner; always put a lid on the pan when popping popcorn on the stovetop; and food left out too long or stored incorrectly will rot (and when this happens, I will feel sad).

I also have made many discoveries about food and my own tastes and habits: I don't like a vegetables that rhyme with arse-snips; potatoes come in different colors; and grating beets is tiring, turns my hands magenta, and inspires bad, punny dialogue between me and Ryan (Me: I'm beat. Ryan: You're doing great, Hon.) I never wrote a blog post about this, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I now know what sunchokes, rutabega, celeriac, salsify, and rhubarb look like.

I think some foods taste best when eaten raw: raspberries, grape tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries.

I would be nothing without onions and garlic.

But most of all I have gained tremendous appreciation for the farmers, who deliver fresh and delicious produce week after week. I have learned that no matter how hard they work, sometimes the weather has other plans. Like last summer too much rain destroyed crops, and my CSA decided to delay deliveries for a few weeks to let the farmers catch up.

I know the feeling of wanting to catch up. But as long as they're growing food, I'm eating it, I hope, for many years to come.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Local Flavors

Happy Halloween! While people of all ages dressed up, went trick-or-treating, and ate candy, I dressed up in many layers, went canoeing and bird watching, and ate fried pickles. But I'll get to that part in a little bit.

This is the last trip of the season for Ryan's canoe and kayak rental business, and it's one of my favorites. The put in is in English Lake, Indiana, on the Kankakee, about 1.5 hours drive from Chicago. It was cold and windy, but the sun stayed out most of the time.

About 8 miles later, we took out at Dunn's Bridge and hightailed it before sunset to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, where thousands of sandhill cranes gather for a few months in late summer and fall on their way south.

Every day around this time of year, these social birds fly into a massive swampy field at dawn and dusk, where they hang out, gets some drinks (of water), and go dancing - they perform a courtship ritual that involves bowing, jumping, calling, and flinging grass - as deer graze on the outskirts of the wetlands. For the rest of the day and night, the cranes leave the field to scavenge for such local delicacies as corn and insects.

The sights and sounds are awesome. As the cranes fly in they drop their skinny legs like airplanes lowering their wheels while the air vibrates with trilling calls. Ryan recently heard that The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, who grew up in the area, modeled the call of the flying monkeys after the cranes. Even if it's not true, that's a good depiction of what the birds sound like.

By the time the sun dips behind the trees and the sky clears of cranes, we are ready to experience our own local delicacy - fried pickles from the Kniman Tap! Except for pizza, almost every item on the menu is fried, from jalapenos to perch to my favorite, curly fries.

Since I've gone on this trip a few times, I have learned a thing or two about eating fried pickles, so allow me to dispense some of my wisdom...

...Exercise extreme caution when biting into a fried pickle, because it's easy to inadvertently pull the pickle out of its fried outer layer with your teeth, leaving nothing but a hollow shell. So make sure to bite all the way through so you can experience the satisfying flavor combination that is fried and pickle.

...It is easy to show up ravenous after a day on the river and crane watching and consume numerous fried pickles in one sitting. I had three myself, in addition to some fried cauliflower, a fried mushroom, and a fried mozzarella stick before my hamburger and curly fries showed up. This isn't necessarily a bad thing at the time, but it can make for an uncomfortable drive home if you overdo it (which I did).

If fried everything isn't the sort of local flavor that you like, there are other options.

In fact Ryan came home after yesterday's trip with a dozen eggs, a bag of onions and potatoes, a jar of honey, and some pumpkins from a local farm. He saw a sign that advertised eggs and pulled over. It was easy as that to get a taste of the local flavors.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Labor of Love

I find that cutting up a butternut squash is a labor of love.

First it takes a huge knife and some serious upper arm strength to cut one in half, much patience with a vegetable peeler, especially around the bulb, and a final burst of wherewithal to scrape out the seeds. But after I have skinned and chopped up the squash into little pieces (that sounds so gory), I feel like I am home free, even though I am just getting started.

After a moment to appreciate the vibrant color, it is time to roast. This takes 1 1/2 hours, if you follow the recipe that I did, and another 20 minutes on the stove top.

Have you figured out what we're making yet?

It looks so harmless, doesn't it?

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, sliced or chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
3 1/2 cups of chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss squash with olive oil, onions, garlic, salt, and 1 cup of broth. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, checking occasionally to turn mixture. Mix in a large pot with 2 1/2 cups of broth on low-medium heat for 20 minutes. I used an immersion blender to mix and added salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Except for root beer floats and ginger ale on airplanes, I don't drink much soda.

But this past weekend I came down with the flu, and now I have a new occasion to drink carbonated beverages - when I get really, really sick.

I started coughing on Friday and by Saturday, I had a splitting headache and the need to sleep. I'll spare you the details, but one of the more tragic symptoms that I experienced was a loss of appetite.

My taste buds went numb (although this might have been a good thing considering how painful it would have felt to swallow food down my raw throat), and I barely craved my go-to food when I am sick - egg drop soup from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant.

When Ryan asked if he could get me anything, I surprised myself by asking for ginger ale. Something about it sounded soothing, and it delivered.

The cans felt cool on my feverish cheeks, and the sweet drink gave me the little burst of energy that I needed to get out of bed and lay on the couch for three days straight.

Ginger ale is not just for airplanes anymore!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Same Blog, New Look

I work as an editor for a living, so it is in my nature to see things on this blog that I want to change. In fact, I have compulsively tinkered with the look of this blog several times since I started it two years ago. This time, I thought I'd point out some of the new features before I change it again.

- Banner with new photo. I'd like to change the banner seasonally to reflect the different produce that I get, and it's pear season now. These are dessert pears, "luscious and rare" according to Simply Wisconsin, my CSA. I would add "small and sweet." The other thing that I love about these pears is the imperfect look of their skin, because this is often what real food looks like when it comes out of the ground or picked off a tree. Grocery stores often feature the best looking produce but its not necessarily the best tasting. I intentionally positioned the pears on the right side of the screen so they will not compete with the photos that I put in blog posts. Finally this photo also captures a glimpse of my blog's namesake, the wooden table in my kitchen.

- New Wooden Table font. I love the cursive. Who writes in cursive any more? Let's bring cursive back. Who's with me?

- Tag cloud. This is a different way of featuring the tags. Instead of a long list, they appear more condensed and sized according to how often I use each label. I also edited the list to include only the items that came in one of my CSA boxes. You can find the tag cloud under the heading In the CSA Box in the right column under Blog Archive.

- Flickr feed. I fnally broke down and bought a new and better camera, so I really want to improve the photography on the blog. Right now, most of the photos on the feed already appear in the blog but I plan to add Flickr-exclusive images soon. The Flickr feed is under Inside the CSA Box in the right column.

Well, that's it. Take a look around. It might look different soon enough.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Smokin' Hot

Roasting has become a favorite way to cook vegetables like broccoli, potatoes, and cauliflower. Just toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, bake on high heat and the veggies come out crisp with a smoky garlicky flavor. (Last week I squeezed lemon over the broccoli after it came out of the oven and grated Parmesan cheese at this suggestion - so good!)

That's why I was excited to find this recipe for roasted tomato and red bell pepper soup today. It's gotten much more fall-like in Chicago. Granted we've had a cooler summer than usual but suddenly the temps are more 40s and 50s than 60s and 70s. All I want to do is turn on the oven and eat hot food.

Fresh off Wednesday's colorful box of CSA produce, I wanted to use up the tomatoes and red bell peppers as soon as possible because of dinner plans tonight and tomorrow night. This easy recipe calls for roasting (yay!) those two ingredients plus several cloves of garlic and sliced onions.

Aside from my smoke detector going off mid-roast and having to haul out the ladder to unplug the battery (bad, I know, but I couldn't make it stop and worried that my neighbors would call the fire department) and having to open windows to let out some of the smokiness (also bad, now that the heat is on), the veggies charred beautifully.

They might have charred a little too much, actually, because when I pureed all of this in the blender, there were bits of what looked like huge black pepper flakes everywhere. If I was more concerned about the appearance of the soup, I might have strained those out. But to me, it didn't affect the flavor, which had a nice balance between the peppers and tomatoes.

That reminds me, I better go plug that battery back in.

Roasted Tomato and Red Bell Pepper Soup (adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 T olive oil
3 tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
2 red bell peppers, deseeded and sliced in wide strips
1 onion, sliced in thin wedges
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 t dried thyme
2 cups water
1/4 c crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange tomatoes, peppers, onion, and garlic on baking sheet (even though this creates an extra dish to wash, I like to toss all the veggies with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl before placing on the baking sheet, or you can sprinkle it on after they are arranged). Roast for 40 minutes. Afterwards, place roasted veggies in the blender with thyme and water and puree to your consistency of choice. This soup can be chilled for a few hours and served cold or hot with crumbled goat cheese and fresh sprigs of thyme.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Friday night was the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I celebrated by cooking dinner for my sister Angie and her family. I think it was Wednesday that I extended the invitation, thinking that I would throw something together from that night's CSA delivery and sort of forgetting that I had plans on Thursday night.

After I picked up the CSA produce, I stopped by the Andersonville Farmer's Market. I figured that at least one farm would have apples for sale, and if I was lucky, some bottles of honey (yes, we finally finished those 3 bottles of honey in our pantry).

I arrived around 7pm, an hour before closing time. It was a good thing that I didn't show up 10 minutes later because some of the vendors were already packing up. Luckily I saw baskets of apples on one of the tables manned by a woman who seemed in no hurry, so I rushed over and learned that the market now closes at 7pm instead of 8pm because of the darkness.

That's right, the darkness.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Chicago winters, the darkness starts creeping in around late September until suddenly, you wake up and it is dark. You go to work, and it is dark. You come home from work, and it is dark. The darkness cannibalizes the day, like a ravenous beast. The snow, cold, and wind, I can handle. It's the darkness is the hardest part about surviving a Chicago winter.

But some time around March or April, mercifully, the light returns. With it comes a more even ratio of day to night. The darkness recedes not in defeat, but in hibernation for the next winter. But I digress.

Back to the farmer's market...I picked up some honey crisp apples and honey and decided to do menu research on Thursday. By the time Friday rolled around, I had a few different ideas but nothing was set.

There was this chicken with lemon and pepper recipe that seemed easy and safe. Then there was the dish that I wanted to make but was a little afraid because I had never made it before. As I learned early on in my blogging experience, it is very important to test a recipe.

But this dish that I wanted to make was so tempting. Somehow Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey seemed more appropriate for Rosh Hashanah, which is all about wishing each other a sweet new year.

I also learned that my nephew had an aversion to lemons. So that was that. I decided to go for it. Angie would bring noodle kugel. Someday I will make it and post this recipe, which is rich and sweet beyond belief and quickly becomes a pile of crumbs that get picked up by sticky fingers. I would also make one of my favorite fall salads - greens with sliced pear, toasted walnuts, and dried cranberries mixed with balsamic vinaigrette. We'd finish with a dessert of sliced apples dipped in honey. Simple and sweet.

I already had tomatoes, onions, and lettuce from my CSA, the apples and honey from the farmer's market, and all the spices in my pantry except ginger, which we had run out of a few weeks earlier.

I 1 1/2'd the recipe to accommodate the 6 of us, and let me say that my gamble paid off. The recipe calls for the chicken to be sauteed and then slow cooked in a mixture of onions, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and honey for about 50 minutes, which infused the meat and the juice with so much flavor that Angie declared it the best chicken she had ever tasted! (I didn't serve over couscous like the original recipe called for because I thought the kugel would suffice.) The nephews chowed down too. They ate at least half of their pieces of chicken, which is always the highest compliment.

It was a sweet new year indeed.

Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey (adapted from Jessica Denise Steinmetz,

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
6 medium skinless chicken breasts
4 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
6 Tbsp. honey
Salt to taste

Heat oil in large Dutch oven and deep pan over medium-high heat. Saute onion until golden, about 6 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to plate. Add chicken and saute, turning frequently until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes (depending on the size of the boob!). Since I was crunched for time, I sauteed 3 pieces of chicken in a Dutch oven and a saute pan at the same time. Remove chicken from pan.

Add 1/2 cup water to Dutch oven, scraping bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen all browned bits. Add tomatoes and cook for about 8 minutes, until soft. Add turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, honey, and salt. Return chicken and onion to pot. Cover and simmer for 50 minutes, until chicken is tender.

Makes 6 servings.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


My kitchen is a mess. Dishes, pots, and the food processor are coated with an oil slick of mushed up basil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. 

It's all the basil's fault. I got a bag of the leafy green herb in my CSA this week and knew I had to make pesto. 

I have never made pesto before but was first introduced to how delicious it could be in a pizza that I ate in Riomaggiore, the smallest of the five villages in Cinque Terre in Italy's Liguria region. 

That was over 10 years ago and it took me until now to make it. Actually we've been getting bags of different herbs in almost each delivery and most of them have gone to the composting worms or in the trash after not using them in time. 

So I made fresh basil pesto over pasta and served with a CSA salad of lettuce, cucumbers, and pine nuts (not from the CSA) tossed with a homemade dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a clove of minced garlic.

I can't say that what I made tasted as good as it did in Italy, but it came close. 

Basil, I forgive you.

Fresh Basil Pesto (adapted from Simply Recipes, another useful and wonderfully written food blog that I follow)

2 cups basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 cloves garlic (I love garlic and added 4 cloves, and the garlic flavor really popped)
salt and pepper to taste

Put basil and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times (note: I pulsed quite a bit because it took awhile for the basil to start mixing up). Add garlic and pulse some more. Drizzle olive oil and pulse, stopping frequently to scrape mixture off the sides. Toss in the cheese and pulse a few more times until blended. I added a tiny bit of salt but didn't think it needed much salt and pepper at all. Serve over pasta.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Food blogging has received a lot of attention lately thanks to the movie Julie & Julia.

While I liked the film and even read some of the book (honestly, I couldn't get through it), there is another food blogger who has had me continually checking back for updates. 

I started reading Orangette a few months ago, although she is a longtime blogger who has won awards and accolades.  She recently published a memoir called The Homemade Life, which includes meaningful recipes that help tell her personal story of family, love, and food. 

Maybe a little over a week ago, she opened a pizza restaurant in Seattle with her husband. It happened to be right around the time that the fennel in my refrigerator was starting to develop brown spots on the outer layers of the bulb.

Fennel was a mystery to me. I don't remember getting any last summer in my CSA and if I did, it probably went bad because I had no idea what to do with it. My limited experience with fennel had come in the form of seeds in a little spice jar in the pantry.

In honor of Orangette's big night, I made her recipe for fennel salad with Asian pear and parmesan. In the book, she prefaces the recipe by stating how much she and her husband love to eat salad and describes how the idea for a fennel salad came from one of his ex-girlfriends but originated with Julia Child. 

It always seems to go back to Julia Child.

But what I loved about the recipe was its simplicity. That's part of what draws me back to Orangette's blog. Simple recipes paired with revealing updates about her life. 

Because let's be honest, and I think Julie Powell would agree. The secret ingredient to a good food blog is not always in good writing and photography or in featuring delicious recipes, but in how much of a peek the writer offers into her life. 

Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan (adapted from Molly Wizenberg's book The Homemade Life)

1 medium fennel bulb
1 Asian pear
olive oil
lemon (I used a lime since that's what I had)
wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (I used grated parmesan from the fridge)
black pepper

Cut off the stalk and trim the fennel bulb; slice thinly (1/8 to 1/4 inch thick). Slice the pear in thin slices similar to the fennel. Spread the fennel slices on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil. Place slices of pear on top of the fennel. Drizzle with lemon juice (in my case, lime) and salt. Shave ribbons of cheese on top (I sprinkled grated parm). Then repeat all of the layers. 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Cool Breeze

Usually by this point in the summer, I ache for the cool days of fall. I've had enough heat and stickiness to last me through another Chicago winter.

Not this summer. In July we had an average of 69.7 degrees here in Chicago, and I can't say that I have minded not having to haul out the air conditioner.

But earlier this week temps crept up past normal, and my kitchen felt thick with humidity. I had cucumbers and onions to use and decided that this was the perfect time to make gazpacho, especially since I had gotten a recipe from a wonderful home cook who, fortunately for me, doesn't believe in keeping her recipes a secret.

With her blessing I am posting this recipe. It's so simple to make and includes watermelon, an unexpected ingredient that adds a hint of sweetness and feels like a cool breeze sliding down my throat.

Gazpacho (by Amy Currie, author of Memoirs of a Home Cook)
2 cups tomato juice
2 tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, cored and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup seedless watermelon, cubed
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Pulse tomato juice, tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, and watermelon in a food processor. Add vinegar and oil. Season to taste w/salt and pepper. Serves 6-8.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Carbo Loading

Almost 10 years ago I ran the New York City Marathon. It started out as the most exhilarating experience. As I pounded through the boroughs, thousands cheered when I ran by. That's because I kept pace with four 50-something Brits dressed like the Teletubbies, and yes they carried purses.

Thankfully, the screams weren't all for Tinky Winky. I had a lot of supportive family and friends who followed me along the route and kept my spirits up. I had trained for five months and felt great. But in the Bronx, my legs began to feel numb, my mind clouded over, and my stride went from confident to baby steps. My body was so fatigued, I couldn't imagine running eight more miles.

I had hit the wall. Big time.

Hitting the wall is the term for what happens when the body loses too much glycogen. It's a common occurance during a marathon and can be alleviated by consuming more carbohydrates before and during the run.

To this day, I don't know how I made it through the final hills of Central Park to the finish line. With a quarter mile to go, I even got my legs back and sprinted to the end, where my family was like, "We were worried, the Teletubbies finished 40 minutes ago."

But when I look back on the experience now, I don't think about how a bunch of men twice my age, wearing pastel-colored fur from head to toe, smoked me. No I don't think about that at all. Really, I don't.

What I realize is that I was not eating nearly enough leading up to and during the race. I trained during a hot and sticky summer while living in an apartment with no a/c. While I stuck to the training schedule - and I credit this for the mental fortitude to push through my pain - it kind of killed my appetite. I lost a lot of weight. I can't say that I minded being able to fit into my skinny jeans, but in hindsight this was a big red flag that I was burning way more calories than I was consuming.

Plus I was eating a lot of processed crap, like Rice-a-Roni (a food staple in my 20s), and I made little effort to eat the right mix of protein and carbs, which is essential if you want to perform well in a marathon or other endurance activity. It's not that I didn't know what to eat, it was more that I thought my body could handle it. I was wrong.

I am proud of finishing the marathon, but I don't plan to run another one. I don't think my body is cut out to run 26.2 miles. Nothing should be that painful. Maybe it would have been different if I had eaten better. I think so, but I'll never know. In the meantime, I have run some halfs, 10-milers, and my favorite distance - the 10K, which is 6.2 miles.

In fact I have a 10K coming up in about nine hours. That's what inspired me to make this dish tonight. I clipped it from the August 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine, with a few substitutions.

Linguine with Squash and Chickpeas (the magazine calls for zucchini, I used yellow squash)
3/4 bag of linguine
2T olive oil
2 squash (the mag calls for 3 small zucchini), cut into thin half moons
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 t crushed red pepper
grated asiago cheese (the mag calls for parmesan)

Cook the pasta; reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water; drain; return pasta to pot. While you're cooking the pasta, heat the olive oil in a skllet, add the squash and salt. Cook until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the chickpeas, garlic, and red pepper, and cook for 2-3 mintes. Toss the pasta with the reserved water and mix with the vegetables. Add grated cheese.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I brought two zucchinis and a bag of sugar snap peas on my trip out west. The first zucchini made it into the veggie fajitas on the first night of a camping trip in the Olympic mountains. I snacked on a few before they went into the pot, and they tasted so good! But then again, food always tastes good after a long hike. The second zucchini went into the mac and cheese on night #2. Yum!

After the camping trip, I stayed at Rachel's in Seattle. She has a gorgeous backyard with the most amazing garden. It felt like my own private CSA. I snacked on plump, juicy raspberries and crunchy sugar snap peas. It helped make up for the fact that I had to abandon some of my CSA veggies at home before the trip.

On the last leg of my journey, I visted Emily, Ben, and Oceanne in Sausalito. We had a delicious dinner at the Michelin-rated Japanese restaurant Sushi Ran. But I must give a shout out to Ben for his inventive "French pizza." On homemade dough, he topped the spinach, corn, and onions - with three eggs.


Late Start

My first summer CSA delivery came and went a week and a half ago. Lots of greens - lettuce, spinach, green garlic, zucchini, sugar snap peas, mint, as well as mushrooms, rhubarb, and strawberries.

I was so happy to see all of those fresh vegetables after such a long, cold winter - finally! But it seemed like my CSA got a late start this year. Since I get a half share, I only pick up every other week. This year I am in the second group, which means I started the second week instead of the first, so I think that's why it felt later to me.

Unfortunately, my delivery came two days before a weeklong vacation to the west coast to visit some friends. I didn't have much time to eat all the goods, so the first night I made a 3-course meal: my favorite strawberry and feta salad, sauteed chicken with spinach and green garlic, and a rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I always think of the early CSA deliveries as very green and leafy, but that night belonged to the ruby red stalks of rhubarb. I made the recipe straight from the Homegrown Wisconsin CSA newsletter. It truly satisfied. The oatmeal in the crust gave it an extra crunch, although I will go easy on the sugar next time.

Rhubarb Crisp Bars (from Homegrown Wisconsin)

Top and bottom crust
1 Cup flour
3/4 Cup oatmeal (uncooked)
1 Cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup butter (melted)

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon butter (softened)
1 egg (beaten)
2 cups rhubarb (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)

Mix flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, and butter until crumbly. Press 1/2 into greased 9” square pan. Add rhubarb. Beat egg. Blend sugar, flour nutmeg and butter. Add beaten egg, beat until smooth. Pour over rhubarb. Top with other half of crumb mixture. Press mixture down lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Great with vanilla ice cream!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Power of Strawberries

This morning I planned to go to opening day of the Northcenter Farmers Market. It was pouring rain, but I still stopped by. Aside from a few nice days, we haven't had much of a summer yet in Chicago. It's getting a little depressing, but I want to take advantage of fresh strawberries while they are still in season.

Just looking at them cheers me up.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Name is Lindsay, and I am a Recipe Follower

Yesterday I took part in two of my most favorite Chicago summer pastimes.

I had lawn-seat tickets to see the some of the best singer-songwriters around on one stage - Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Patti Griffin, and Buddy Miller. They performed at Ravinia, the outdoor pavilion concert venue.

Lawn seats at Ravinia mean only one thing. Picnic! I found this black bean and tomato quinoa recipe on The Kitchn to supplement store-bought cheese, crackers, and strawberries.

At around 10 a.m. I got to work in the kitchen, which felt strange because I typically cook at night. But as the quinoa's nutty smell mingled with the scent of my morning coffee, I mixed spices and lime juice with black beans, yellow corn, and grape tomatoes, and tossed with the quinoa. But no matter how much extra salt and pepper I threw in there, the whole thing tasted kind of bland.

But I didn't have time to tweak. I had to get going so I wouldn't miss a scheduled talk at the other event that's always high on my Chicago summer to-do list - the Printers Row Lit Fest.

To understand the Printers Row Lit Fest, you need to picture several city blocks filled with white tents. Then imagine those white tents filled with tables and shelves. Then think of those tables and shelves piled high with books. Then revel in the fact that those books are heavily discounted. It's a beautiful site.

Many authors also give talks about their books. I had the privilege of listening to chef-turned-New-York-Times-food-columnist-and-book-author Molly O'Neill discuss her new anthology of American food writing.

I have to be honest that since my interest in cooking only dates back about a year and a half, I was not familiar with her work. But in addition to cooking more, I am interested in how food writers write about cooking. How do you describe the tastes and smells? How do you convey the feeling of creating and sharing a meal? How do you explain how those little (or major, in my case) kitchen disasters and hard-fought victories that define the cooking experience?

I made it to the tent just in time to hear the Hearty Boys introduce her and moderator, Leah Eskin (a Chicago Tribune food columnist whose work I am familiar with and a fan of). So I'm sitting there, feeling quite literary and ready to absorb her culinary wisdom, when Molly says something kind of obvious but provocative.

She says (and I paraphrase), "I've learned that there are two types of people - recipe followers and cooks. A recipe follower takes a recipe and makes it exactly as it is written. A cook can look at the recipe and remember it, and may try ways to change it."

As I ponder this, I suddenly realize why the quinoa tastes so bland. I forgot to add green onions! My mind tingles with a mix of dread and relief. How could I forget when they were on the recipe? I can add them later, but would the flavor have been stronger if I had mixed them in earlier? This internal dialogue rages inside my head. It's undeniable. I am a recipe follower.

I think there is a stigma associated with this, that recipe followers aren't creative or adventurous enough to experiment with ingredients and make a dish our own. But when I think about it, I am reminded of why I was intimidated to start cooking in the first place - a great fear of messing up. Compounding that fear were articles, magazines, cookbooks, blogs, and all those picture-perfect dishes that made cooking feel inaccessible and not worth the effort.

Just two weeks before the summer CSA deliveries start up again, it's worth revisiting why I decided to start. Essentially I was bored with my narrow range of food choices and thought that if I paid upfront, I would have to find ways to eat it. I also loved the environmental aspect of eating food that's grown nearby. What I didn't realize was how much better the food would taste and how many new foods and flavors I have discovered in the process.

Now if someone (usually Ryan, who qualifies as more of a cook) suggests a substitution or variation on the recipe, I'll still flinch. But Molly says that being a recipe follower is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it's how people get comfortable in the kitchen. Relief! I mean who cares as long as I'm making meals from real food and not boxes?

Molly even put it out there in her talk. "What's the worst that could happen? You could blow dinner. So what? Then you order pizza."

I went home, liberated, and added those green onions. Just like the recipe said.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

He Likes It! He Really Likes It!

Okay, I know I have to stop posting pictures of the cat, but I wanted to show how well our window plants are coming along. The cat grass shot up immediately. The herbs are sprouting but a little slower, and the lettuce is about ready to harvest.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Southern Exposure

Spring is so close, I can practically taste it. Literally.

We planted some window boxes with a mesclun mix of lettuce, and chives, basil, and sage from seeds. We also picked up a scallion plant, which the cat has already decimated, and some cat grass seeds, which will hopefully distract Karl from the scallion plant.

The CSA starts up again in mid-June, which seems like an interminably long time away. I wish I could grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, but my back deck doesn't get enough sunlight, and the front lawn is not an option for me.

So last weekend we went to Gethsemane, where the gardening experts told us that lettuce and herbs could grow in a window that gets a lot of light. They also told us to water them often because terra cotta dries out quickly.

I can't wait for that first salad and pasta with pesto.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dry Spell

March falls smack dab in between the winter and summer CSAs. We mashed our last potato, chopped our last onion, and peeled our last head of garlic from the January box weeks ago, entering the long local food dry spell that is February through May.

Unfortunately this has also become a long stretch where I'm not cooking very much. While Chicago still offers local food in the long winter months in the form of the Green City Market one Saturday morning a month, I must admit that I like nothing better than to sleep in on Saturdays, make coffee, and settle in to read the news. Even the lure of fresh vegetables won't rouse me out of the house. So I've been buying fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, lamenting how much better the carrots and the onions taste when they come straight from a Wisconsin farm and into my dinner in less than a week.

So what to do when there isn't much local food to eat? Why travel, of course. I usually take a few long weekends during this time, which is nice because I don't have to worry about spoiling food. It's also inspiring to sample the local delicacies of the places that I go, and even bring them home. During a short trip to Santa Fe, I alternated between red chili and green chili, and Ryan picked up a bag of pinon pancake mix. Pinon nuts come from small trees that grow in New Mexico. We've made two batches so far, including this morning. Although I set off the smoke detector, they were tasty with maple syrup. We ate them too fast for me to take pictures.

Another weekend, I went skiing with Ali and Becca in Montana. Ali had given me a bag of Evening in Missoula tea when she last visited Chicago. I'm not much of a tea drinker (coffee, hello), but I love the taste of this tea. It's so not Celestial Seasonings. Although I am still working my way through the first bag, I bought another to bring home.

Speaking of eating local food, I heard from Lauren in Singapore this morning, who was excited to report that she and Mo and their new precious little girl Samara are now getting a box of locally grown organic produce delivered to their doorstep. Apparently in Singapore that means kiwi from Italy, she writes. When I told Ryan, he said they must subscribe to a GSA - globally supported agriculture. But maybe that is as local as it gets in Singapore. Not everyone lives near a farm or has access to food grown nearby. I feel lucky that I do even though it's not year round. Maybe this will inspire me to freeze or can more during the summer. More likely, it will make me want to travel more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spicy Valentine

We observed Valentine's Day on Sunday. I made dinner while Karl snacked on the flowers that Ryan got me.

I made a recipe from a cookbook called Where Flavor Was Born, which is organized by spices found in countries along the Indian Ocean. The dish came from the chapter on cardamom - green pods that taste like licorice.

The recipe had plenty of other spices too and turned out to be one of the most flavorful dishes that I've made.

Chicken Cardamom Masala with Cashews (From Where Flavor Was Born by Andreas Viestad)

1/2 cup plain full-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons garam masala
6-10 cardamom pods, lightly bruised
1 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons chili powder, or more to taste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 4 chicken thighs, halved (I used chicken breasts)
1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
Oil for panfrying
4 onions, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
4-6 teaspoons cashews
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional - I didn't use this)
Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish

I also tossed in cauliflower and made brown rice.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, garam masala, cardamom, cinnamon stick, chili powder, ginger, and salt. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Let marinate for as long as you have time. Use a spatula to scrape of as much of the marinade from the chicken as possible; reserve the marinade. Pat the chicken dry using paper towels, and sprinkle with turmeric. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wide pot over high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the skin is nicely browned. Remove chicken, reduce heat, and saute onions and garlic for 4-5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add chicken, reserved marinade, cashews, and tomato paste, cover, and cook for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in cream (if desired) and cook for 2 more minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here Come the Sun(chokes)

Not surprisingly, plenty of root veggies came in the final winter CSA delivery two weeks ago.

Last year, I was overwhelmed with potatoes and clueless about rutabaga. This year, I am mildly swamped with potatoes with no rutabaga in sight. Instead we've been preoccupied with something new and different.


A.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes, these puppies neither come from Jerusalem nor do they resemble artichokes (according to Wikipedia, Europeans called them "girasole," which means sunflower in Italian. The J. a. is a type of sunflower). But they look more like a cross between ginger root and odd-shaped potatoes.

The Internet recommended putting them into soups and salads. Instead, we made this recipe. Let me tell you, it was a winner. So easy and healthy and nutty (flavored, that is). Ryan is researching grocery stores around Chicago to find out where we can get more.

Quinoa Sunchoke Pilaf (from

3/4 cup quinoa
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cup vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 cup chickpeas, cooked or canned, (drained and rinsed)
1 cup peeled, chopped sunchokes
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 tsp pepper

Place the quinoa in a large bowl; fill with cold water. Pour into a strainer, then return the quinoa to the bowl and rinse 4 times more. Drain well. Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook, stirring, until it cracks and pops, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the chickpeas, sunchokes, peas, and pepper, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sugar High

For inauguration, I roadtripped to DC and went to a party at my dad's office, which overlooks the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was fun and I was thrilled to see Obama take the oath of office (for the first time), but I ate way too much sugar.

First, I sampled some cookies. Then a piece of tiramisu. Followed by an apple bread cakey thing. I also drank an orange mango flavored Nantucket Nectars. I didn't actually eat the cookies pictured above. I was feeling a little gnarly by the time I saw them but thought they captured the spirit of the occasion.

After awhile, my head started to hurt. By the time I got home, I had a throbbing headache.

But it was worth it to see Obama's motorcade speed by on the way to the Capitol. To see Malia's face smiling from the window of The Beast during the parade. To see the Bidens waving to the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue. To see Bush's helicopter flying away for good.

For that, I'd eat a thousand cookies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Moroccan Meal

We try to keep the kitchen uncluttered with gadgets. But for Ryan, the holidays bring out a certain interest in international ceramic dishware. Over the past two years, he has gifted me with a few items that one might not find in most American kitchens.

Last year, he shopped at the Christkindlmart in Daley Plaza and bought me a zwiebeln jar, which means onions in German. This year, he followed up with a smaller knoblauch jar for garlic. Considering the amount of onions and garlic that come in the CSA, and how I use these indispensible ingredients in more recipes than I can count, I treasure these jars. There is the kitsch factor to appreciate too.

He also bought me another item that we had been contemplating - a tajine. The conical clay pots are used in Morocco to slow cook meat, veggies, fruit, and spices. The pointy top collects the steam and returns the condensation to cook the food in the dish. Lovely aromas ensue.

There are many different combinations that can go in the tajine, but commonly used foods include chicken, lamb, pork, fish, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, pears, prunes, raisins, dates, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, paprika, and saffron. Lemons and olives are frequently used ingredients.

Our came from a local giftshop that sells stuff like mood crystals and smells powerfully of patchouli. Unfortunately this odor had seeped into the tajine and failed to go away no matter how much we washed it. Finally we crossed our fingers that the food would taste okay.

The tajine came with a simple chicken recipe. It called for dried apricots, which always remind me of my grandmother, who passed away when I was a teenager.

I have this memory of us taking one of those tiny airplanes with an aisle you need to sidestep through and an overhead compartment that fits nothing but a jacket. It was a bumpy flight through the mountains so to calm our nerves from the turbulence, she took out a bag of apricots and handed them across the aisle one by one.

Each holiday season, my grandfather sends a bucket of trail mix. For some reason, he sent apricots this time. We mixed them with the other ingredients in the dish, put the whole deal in the oven, and passed the time with a Bollywood movie called Uriya.

Two hours later the oven buzzed. We were still watching this very long movie but paused to see how it turned out. The chicken was succulent and infused with flavor. There was no hint of patchouli although it was a bit too sweet - next time I would go easy on the honey. But the meal was one of the easiest to make and most delicious that I've eaten in a long time.

We then watched the end of the movie in which (spoiler warning!) the male lead, in trying to prevent his lady love from committing the terrorist act of detonating a bomb at India's Independence Day parade, begged her to blow them up together instead. And she did.

I suppose there is something to say about the different ways that people show love for one another, but I will leave it at that.

Holman Pottery* Tajine Recipe
4 chicken breasts, skinned
1/4 cup honey
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sticks cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 cup dried apricot quarters

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange chicken breasts in bottom of tajine. Pour honey over chicken; sprinkle with onion and then with minced garlic. Add cinnamon sticks and sprinkle with lemon juice and turmeric. Top with apricot quarters, cover. Bake for about 2 hours or until fork can be inserted in chicken with ease. Remove cinnamon sticks from chicken mixture and serve with rice or couscous. Makes 4 servings.

* Makers of our tajine.


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