Page & Plate Plugs: Next of Kin edition

Welcome to a new thing! This new thing (like, this post, as in you’re reading it right now) is called Page & Plate Plugs, and it’s kind of obvious that it’s going to be all about places around town at which I enjoy eating, drinking, and obnoxiously photographing everything. As in, I plug them. Get it? Okay cool, here we go.

Last week, I had an AMAZING time shooting the new brunch menu at Next of Kin Evanston. I also had an amazing time EATING the new brunch menu at Next of Kin Evanston. And drinking, of course. Basically, all-around amazingness.

First off, let’s talk about the space: Next of Kin moved into a light-filled, unusually-shaped space in Evanston across from where I once worked (RIP, me) that most recently held Lyfe Kitchen, winner of the least popular choice for lunch for the entire office in my once workplace (again, RIP, me). They reimagined the entire space and started from scratch to create an atmosphere that perfectly matches the vibe of the place: an elevated eating experience that oozes cool.

Second, let’s talk food. And drink. I’m not usually a mocktail (aka juice) person, but the charcoal lemonade they had kind of blew my mind. As did the waffles (that syrup drip, though). And the avocado toast. And the … oh, man. Everything. Check out the gallery below for what you’re really after: the gorgeous pics. Then, head over to their site to nab a table. Or, you know, just run up to Evanston and grab a seat at their gorgeous bar and let the fabulous bartenders (also featured here as hand models) take care of you. Cheers!

Thanks to Next of Kin Evanston for having me in! Next of Kin Evanston did not pay for this review, but did give Page & Plate free meals and drink in exchange for the chance to photograph their product. All views expressed here are those of Page & Plate, LLC.

Tell Us About Your Chili

This weekend, I crossed a major life goal off of my list when I participated in a chili cook-off … AS A JUDGE! (I also made these buttermilk biscuits, but who’s counting?). Talk about being at the top of my game, AM I RIGHT?

But let’s get to it. There were five competitors. Two judges. Six (kind of random) categories. Only one person could win it all. Our competitors were as follows, L to R, top to bottom: Andrea (classic chili with chorizo and chicken), Colin (kitchen sink chili with ketchup), Megan (vegetarian chili), John (white chili with homemade chicken stock), and Mackenzie (classic chili with Cheez-Its). The last dude is my fellow judge, Mike, who was dancing when this photo was taken and is therefore a tiny bit blurry.

Mike and I judged the chili for the following qualities, each rated out of five. As each contestant presented their chili, we asked them to “tell us about your chili,” thus naming the Tell Us About Your Chili Competition, and, after hearing what risks they had taken to pursue the perfect chili, Mike said “Let’s see if it paid off,” thus coining his very own catch phrase. The last thing I want to really emphasize to you is that after tasting each sample, we made sure to cleanse our palettes with the finest Coors Light before pronouncing judgement on the qualities below:

Chili
  • Texture

  • Spice (hard to judge after your tastebuds have been obliterated by John’s jalapeños)

  • Creativity (I mean, ketchup? In chili?)

  • Toppings

  • The perfect bite (i.e., does the Dixie cup have all elements of the chili? Is it perfect when eaten all together?)

  • How much life does it have? (i.e., does your chili have the zest for life that you do?)

Each contestant was rated out of 60 possible points, and only one contestant even came close: Mackenzie. She ranked at the top of nearly every category (except for creativity!), and swept the day. Andrea was at a close second, but ultimately, it was the Cheez-It that pushed Mackenzie to the top.

The point of this post is, really, to brag that I got to judge a chili competition and to let you and your friends / enemies / fellow GBBO fans know that if you need someone to show up, demand you let them bake buttermilk biscuits in their kitchen, and then further ask to borrow half of the ingredients they need to do so before judging you, hit me up! (Sorry, Andrea, Kristin, and Megan.)

Honey peach tart, You and I Eat the Same, and the holidaze begins

As I walked to work this morning IN THE SNOW and watched a worker wrestle with what seemed like 100 feet of wiring to attach a neon blue snowflake to a streetlight, it hit me that I’m really, really behind in my holiday preparation this year. Normally by this time, I have most of my gifts figured out, plane tickets booked, and a list of recipes to try that’s rapidly approaching a mile long.

This year, not so much. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so wonderfully busy. Maybe it’s because it’s snowing on November 9, which is giving me pre-holiday anxiety even earlier. Maybe it’s because I’m losing my touch, and I need to just accept a new baseline. But, whatever it is, I’m buckling down on baking and list-making and avoiding unintentional rhymes the whole time. Wait. Crap.

As I think just about everyone knows at this point, I detest pumpkin pie. The fact that it shows up at not only one but two holiday tables in the months of November and December is deeply upsetting to me. Instead, you should try this light, aromatic honey peach (or pear or apple) tart. Sure, it’s great for summer, but throw a dash of cinnamon in, and who’s to say it doesn’t belong on the harvest table? Nobody, that’s who. Nobody puts pie in a corner, guys.

If you’re looking to get the cook (or baker or foodie or just good eater) in your life a book about food this year, I’d recommend going straight to the source of everything cool, sustainable, delicious, and exciting happening in the food world right now and checking out the first book from MAD Symposium that’s all about how food brings us together. It’s amazing. I can’t wait for the second. Everyone on my list should probably expect to get a copy if I can’t get a good list of other things to buy them in the next few days. Just kidding. Kind of.

That’s all for now, but check back periodically for more holiday recipes or gift recommendations. Or just to see how the volume of my hair is doing. That’s usually a good indicator of the stress I’m under. Gulp.

A totally not comprehensive food and book lover's guide to New York City

Welcome to installment two of Page & Plate Travels, in which I take myself on vacation and then tell you all about it in hopes that you might find a new place to check out the next time you find yourself wherever I was.

This episode: New York City! There’s a rather defensive stance on New York around Chicago, which I think stems mostly from the fact that we play second fiddle to their “number one city in the US” song. So, when we took off for a weekend in the also-very-windy-city, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A quick stop at The Donut Pub before we made it to the Airbnb quickly assuaged those fears. Why isn’t every doughnut shop a 24/7 operation?

We opted to stay on Manhattan for this trip, since it was my first in a few years and Colin’s first ever. From the West Village, we were able to walk to most of what we wanted to see (and eat), starting with the Chelsea Market and the High Line. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Very. We stopped for lunch at Miznon, a Mediterranean pita shop concept by Israeli chef Eyal Shani. Colin got the lamb kebab and I got the ratatouille, and they were both so good that I felt like I could have eaten approximately 14 more of them. They were served with roasted peppers, and honestly, it may be because I was starving, but I cannot remember a meal that instantly sated me as well as that one did. The market was also decorated for Halloween, which made it all the more fun (and actually very scary, people!).

After walking 11 miles (not a joke, as my feet will testify), we decided we’d hop around the neighborhood to a few spots that had been recommended to us by internet friends (hey, Infatuation), starting at the legendary speakeasy Chumley’s. At Chumley’s, you walk in and instantly feel smarter, more mysterious, and more indulgent than you did. It’s a great feeling, and it goes even better with the beef fat french fries and the whole roasted romanesco. Just an idea. Following our speakeasy moment, we grabbed a few cheap well drinks at Marie’s Crisis Cafe, where a singalong was in full swing and the Christmas lights were shining cheerfully, then headed to Atla, where we had some of the best ceviche of my life and some very necessary guac.

Sunday was perhaps the best eating day of my life, and it started with me completely missing a meal by sleeping in until 10:30 which was both horrifying and wonderful. After I finally managed to drag myself out of bed, we ventured out into Brooklyn to a neighborhood called Midwood, where the most magical pizza place in the world is located. At Di Fara, an 81-year-old man makes the pizzas one by one at his own pace and you wait forever for the privilege of eating those pizzas. But while you’re waiting, you don’t complain because it’s all part of the experience and you know that. And when the pizza finally comes out and into the little room where you’re waiting, you eat every little scrap of it because it is the most delicious pizza you’ve ever been lucky enough to put in your mouth and you need to appreciate every bite. And it’s wonderful.

On our way back into town, we stopped at the wonderful Books Are Magic and for a quick drink at Fawkner, the self-proclaimed “coziest new bar in Brooklyn,” and relaxed in front of the fire. When we got back, it was time for the main event: dinner at Blue Hill, where I took no pictures and only hyperventilated over bread once because I’m working on acting like an adult in world-famous restaurants. We went with the eight course tasting menu, and wow, let me tell you, that is not a dinner for the faint of heart. It’s an investment of time and money and I cannot recommend it enough to those who are at all interested in the farm-to-table movement, the future of food, or just having your mind blown by a simple pepper. If this sounds exciting to you, go read his book The Third Plate. You might never look at food the same way.

On our last day, we stopped at Levain Bakery before a walk through Central Park and enjoyed our chocolate chip brioche and butter and jelly baguette (which, by the way, might be the most genius menu item ever to grace a bakery) on the lake. We had planned to do a few other things, but when we walked into The Strand, it was all over. $70 worth of books and two hours later, we were airport bound. It was a great morning.

Pumpkin gnocchi, The Awakening, and unexpected experiences

Today is all about the unexpected, which, actually, seems broad because much of life is unexpected. <insert thinking hard with hand on chin emoji guy>

ANYWAY, what could possibly make homemade pasta better? Two things, guys: one, adding pumpkin because tis the freaking season, and two: not having to roll it out, which is the only slightly less than perfect part of the pasta making experience. While adding pumpkin to pasta dough is kind of an unexpected use of that orange ingredient we all love to scorn, it actually helps take the gnocchi from light, pillowy pasta to light, pillowy, chewy, perfectly balanced pasta that pairs well with just about any kind of assortment of fall toppings there are: pine nuts, bacon, kale, arugula, heck, even hazelnuts. It's a beauty of a recipe, and if the wine pairing class at wineHouse taught me anything, it's that it pairs beautifully with Tornatore Etna Rosso. If you're jealous about how I learned that, sign up for the next one on November 13 by emailing me at pageandplateblog@gmail.com. 

Pumpkin Gnocchi and The Awakening

Also unexpected was how enjoyable I found my reading of The Awakening, which I've had on my shelf since I bought it at a garage sale for $1 ages ago. It's a quick read and a powerful one, and you should check out the review here before grabbing a copy and knocking it out in a day. 

Lastly, I am generally not a fan of horror. However, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix has me positively riveted. Check it out and feel free to yell at me when you can't sleep for a week. 

Autumn salad, Black Klansman, and fall fun

Ah, fall. The rainy, dreary, basic time of year wherein people grow scarves out of their necks, consume more pumpkin than they probably should, and get in your face about being registered to vote.

If you nodded your head and sighed while you read that last sentence, I have mixed news for you: the good is that you’re not only getting the typical recipe and book rec today, but a movie rec as well! Wow! Three for the price of one (two?)! The potentially less good news is that I’m going to join the ranks of people who get in your face about voting.

So, let’s intersperse the voting rant with fun things! Starting with #1: it’s my mom’s birthday today! She’s the best, and I know that you probably don’t know her, but if you did, you would think she’s the best too. If you want to give her a birthday shout out, head over to Twitter, where she lurks as @hollys_momma (Holly is our dog, okay?). Cool. Thanks!

Okay, here’s where you can find out where you should vote. Here’s where you can read up on the issues and the candidates. Here’s where you can find out how to help at a polling place to make democracy happen. Here’s where you can learn about what to do if you’re turned away at the polls.

Anyway, SALAD, am I right?! It’s almost that sad time of year when salads lose their spark (aka fresh veggies), so nab this recipe now, nail it, and then figure out how to swap out the tomatoes for sweet potatoes or carrots or whatever else floats your boat. That way, you’ll have something delicious to look forward to this winter diet.

Also of note and worth recommending are both the book Black Klansman and the movie it inspired, Blackklansman. They’re both good, so you should see it AND read it. You’ll love it, I promise.

Black Klansman and Autumn Salad

Donut cake, Broken Monsters, and what you should pay attention to this weekend

Folks, it is officially fall in Chicago. I will pause here for your appreciative applause.


And now, I present you with the ultimate guide for the first fall weekend in the Windy City, where just 48 hours ago, it was something like 85 degrees. I don’t know; I just live here.

First up: make a donut cake that pairs perfectly with spiked, warm cider, hot coffee, or some other warm and likely alcoholic beverage. It’s baked in a bundt tin, which I am usually strongly opposed to, but in this case, I’m really okay with. It’s full of nutmeg and cinnamon and buttermilk, and you’ll probably have no interest in leftovers, but just in case you do, they’re amazing and even more donut-y than I thought was possible. Y. u. m.

Second: read a spooky book about a supernatural murder mystery. Wow, you say, that sounds so specific. However will I find a book that fulfills those criteria? Oh, honey. I got you. Click here to read the review of Broken Monsters, and then realize that it’s the perfect book for this weekend.

Donut Cake and Broken Monsters

Lastly: pay attention to at least two things this weekend. One is, appropriately, also donut (or, in this case, doughnut) content. My friend from my high school journalism days has started a doughnut bakery in Pittsburgh called Fight Sized Doughnuts. If you live in Pittsburgh, as I know some of you do, run, don’t walk, to his website and give him a follow on Instagram. Tasty things await you.

You should also pay attention to Samin Nosrat (aka my girl Samin, my goddess of cooking, my imaginary best friend who I chat with even though she’s not there in the kitchen) and her brand-new Netflix show Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is based on her most illustrious cookbook that has been reviewed right here on Page & Plate. I started the first episode last night, and honestly, I had to stop because it was just way too exciting and wonderful and I started crying when she made pesto with a nonna.

Corn muffins, Hope Never Dies, and a whole lotta corn

The amount of corn that’s about to happen in this post is very high, both in literal corn amounts and a good, old fashioned corny read. And also some things that I am super excited about and am highly likely to make corny puns as a result.

Corn Muffins

But first! The muffins. The OG corn babies that provide our literal corn. The beautiful, golden nuggets of goodness. I mean, just look at how beautiful they look in the late-in-the-day sunlight on a beautiful, hand-made plate. They are delicious and good, and if you can get your hands on fresh corn, you should use it to make these gorgeous muffins before it’s too late! This is a scare tactic.

As long as you’re in the business of corn (and being depressed about current events), you should probably read Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer. A fictionalized and adorable alternate universe Joe Biden who probably treated Anita Hill better than his IRL equivalent narrates a murder mystery / drug bust that he heroically solves alongside (who else?) Barack Obama. It’s exactly the corny, dad joke-filled, over-dramatic book you expect, and it’s a delight.

Hope Never Dies and Corn Muffins

And now, a virtual drumroll to announce UPCOMING EVENTS, which is a huge and very exciting development in Page & Plate posts. I’m so excited to let you know that I have two very exciting events coming up in the Chicagoland area, and that you, yes, you! can register today for them.

Pie's NOT the Limit: Pumpkin Recipes for Everything from Appetizers to Dessert

This cooking demonstration AND wine tasting will take place at wineHouse Chicago in Lakeview. I’ll be making a bunch of pumpkin recipes that are not pie because I don’t like pie and that’s that. Join us to discover the many ways to use pumpkin and the wines that compliment those recipes.

Watercolor Cookie Workshop with CJB Creations

My dear friend CJB is an artist, creative, and all around talented human, and I’m so pumped to be offering a watercolor cookie workshop in which you’ll learn to paint on cookies! Mind. Blown. This class will take place at Shop 1021 in Logan Square. Best of all? While you’re learning to paint, you can enjoy small bites courtesy of moi.

Bacon fat brussels sprouts, The Third Plate, and nerding out

Remember that book I talked about last week? The non-fiction one that I couldn’t wait to put down Mr. Penumbra to read? Yeah. This is it.

The Third Plate and Bacon Fat Brussels Sprouts

Dan Barber, chef and restaurateur, is not a few face to me. And probably, if you’re reading this blog, he’s not new to you either. After being featured in one of my all-time favorite Netflix shows, Chef’s Table, Barber became more of a household name in a very small category: chefs focused on the future of food and what we can do to make our eating more sustainable at a fine dining level.

This book is all of that and more. And, coincidentally, did a lot in terms of making him seem less like a jerk and more like a hero, in my opinion. He travels the world to explore what it means to be responsible eaters and discovers more problems than solutions, which is both unfortunate and motivating. Anyway. Go read the review, and you can decide how nerdy you want to get with this.

Speaking of nerding out, let’s talk about how many versions of brussels sprouts I’ve made before finally getting to this recipe, which I think (actually, I know) is a total winner. Even the non-brussels sprouts converts (hi, Uncle Dave and Papa) will have a hard time turning them down when after they’ve been roasted in bacon fat.

Special Guest Post: Anna Walsh!

During my time at the newspaper in college, I had some wonderful mentors who taught me important lessons about writing, life, and food. One of those mentors is Anna Walsh, who has gone on from humble Tartan beginnings to work at Balitmore City Paper and The Washington Post.

Anna recently started a weekly newsletter called Annacado Toast that I have obsessively enjoyed, saving every article until I can read it carefully in total silence and concentration and far away from high school students. I’ve also probably already forwarded it to you because I am so into it. But, just in case I haven’t, I’m so thrilled to bring you the latest edition, “Waste Not.” And to ask you to please subscribe to her goodness here. Without further ado from me, Anna Walsh!

Waste not

Last week I had the deeply unpleasant experience of, thanks to a refrigerator crisis, having to throw out everything in our freezer and everything perishable in our fridge. It was frustrating to have to throw away bags of once-frozen strawberries, boxes of mushy dosas, a moldy container of vegan sour cream. Humans waste a staggering amount of food as it is — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year around the world, a.k.a. a third of all food produced for human consumption. And a 2009 study suggested that Americans specifically waste 40 percent of food calories.

There's of course economic loss inherent in that — all those bags of frozen fruit I reluctantly chucked in the trash can add up. According to savethefood.com, a family of four loses $1,500 a year on wasted food. There's also the question of what to do with all of that waste. Usually, it's chucked in the trash. In his 2010 book "American Wasteland," journalist Jonathan Bloom writes that "while food is 13 percent of all materials discarded, it's 18 percent of [what is] dumped into landfills (after factoring in recycling)."

But once the food is in a landfill, it rots — and creates methane, which traps heat far more effectively than carbon dioxide and has an estimated "'global warming potential' (GWP) 21 to 25 times more than that of CO2 over a 100-year period," Bloom writes. And all of that rotting food adds up: According to a Vox article aptly titled “Food waste is the world’s dumbest environmental problem,” “Just under 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste worldwide. To put that in perspective, if all the world’s food waste came together and formed a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the US.” Not great!

In the United States and other industrialized countries, a huge amount of our food waste happens at the consumer level, meaning after individuals or households have bought the food (rather than, say, unpurchased produce thrown out by grocery stores). One wild statistic: "Food waste at consumer level in industrialized countries (222 million ton) is almost as high as the total net food production in subSaharan Africa (230 million ton)," according to a report from the FAO. The positive way to look at that, though, is that we, the consumers, actually can make a big difference in food waste! Consider yourself empowered!

Kevin's and my household is definitely not perfect about avoiding food waste. We eat probably more produce than the average household (that whole vegan thing), and it seems like there's always some sad-looking pepper or gross old cucumber that I end up culling from the fridge and putting in the trash. And I've been thinking for months that I should find a way to compost our food waste instead of trashing it — Bloom writes that if handled properly, compost doesn't release methane like food rotting in landfills does. But getting at least better about minimizing food waste would make a difference. If you want to learn more, savethefood.com has some useful tips, as does this Mashable article

Wanted: More food reporting

[Crabby old-timer voice] Back in my day when City Paper was still around, there was a bit of competition among outlets for food reporting in Baltimore. Ryan Detter, a CP freelancer, in particular embraced the challenge of trying to scoop other outlets on food news. Sadly, with the closing of City Paper and its too-short-lived successor, Baltimore Beat, the quality of food journalism seems to have declined in the city.

Take, for instance, a spate of vegan businesses that have opened or are about to open in the city. One, a vegan build-your-own burger joint called Bmore Righteous, opened on 25th Street between North Calvert Street and Maryland Avenue at the beginning of the month with seemingly zero media attention. To be honest, I went there shortly after it opened and was underwhelmed (think fries that were nastily undercooked and uninspiring mass-produced vegan burgers — no wonder vegan food gets such a bad rap), but its opening still should have warranted at least some mention. That sort of small neighborhood spot is what City Paper would've reported on.

Then there's L'eau de Vie Brasserie, a cute restaurant whose planned opening was first reported by the Business Journal back in December. It opened last week and so far, I'm a fan. (The "cheesy" dip that goes with its pretzel bites is extremely good!) The restaurant grew out of a catering/prepared-meals business, Nourrie Cuisine, and is located near the never-ending construction junction between Harbor East and Fells Point — meaning the owner is experienced and the location is one that already gets news attention. Yet its opening went unmentioned in last week and this week's installments of Baltimore Magazine's Open & Shut series on restaurant news. (Credit to Kit Pollard and the Baltimore Fishbowl, though, for including its opening in their similarly styled food-news roundup this week.) The Sun finally wrote about it this Thursday — that is, a week after its opening — and had to append a correction for an incorrect translation of the restaurant's name.

By contrast, another vegan business, the Greener Kitchen, is opening next week in Pigtown and has gotten a healthy amount of local coverage. But Greener Kitchen is also an offshoot of PEP Foods, which has been a food distributor in Baltimore for a few years now and thus, if I can wildly speculate, is probably better at reaching out to news outlets.

I realize that vegan food is seen as ~niche~ and that this is a pretty limited sample size of the restaurant openings and closings in the city. But I still think it's indicative of a larger change to the food reporting in Baltimore. The Sun hired reporter Sarah Meehan away from the Baltimore Business Journal, where she regularly got scoops on food news, in 2015; this past May, the Sun took her off the food beat and moved her onto breaking news. There is now no reporter dedicated to the food beat at the Sun. And the newspaper got rid of its freelance restaurant critic and instead assigned its fine-arts critic to write all its restaurant reviews. I'm certainly biased in that I have an outsize interest in food and restaurant reporting, but it feels like a disservice to Baltimoreans to not be able to get solid news on restaurants from a source other than, say, foodie Instagram "influencers." The point being, I guess: RIP City Paper/Baltimore Beat.

Extra helpings


Buckwheat pancakes, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and getting old

This week I’ve had quite a reckoning. (It also just took me forever to spell that word?) I finished the novel that I’ve been saving as a reward for finishing a challenging non-fiction read on the future of food (look for that next week), and I felt … different. Usually, when I dive back into the world of fiction after a slog through a technical, intense couple hundred of pages, I feel a kind of sick relief. Like “OH THANK GOD, FAKE THINGS.” But this time was different.

This time, as I finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I felt kind of empty. More dissatisfied than I usually do with the fact that it was a fiction book I had just read. More .. bored. More like you do when you accidentally eat half the bag of chips. You know what I mean. “Well, I just consumed a bunch of potato and salt flavored air. Now what?” What does this mean? Does it mean I’m getting old? Does it mean that soon I’ll forget what I ever loved about fiction and be ten episodes deep in Planet Earth?

I wouldn’t feel so panicked about this if I hadn’t opened my big mouth and said “What if we made buckwheat pancakes instead?” when Colin suggested a big pancake breakfast the other morning. I mean come on. Buckwheat. At breakfast. In pancake form! Who am I turning into? AH!

Buckwheat Pancakes and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

To make myself feel a little bit younger and hipper (if that’s even what the youths are calling it these days), I made a nice toasted oat and almond crumble for the pancakes too, and that made me feel a little bit better. Until I realized that I’m basically eating oatmeal for breakfast. Sigh. Stay tuned.

Eggplant Parmesan, Pasta Pane Vino, and Meeting Phil

A couple of weeks ago while I was trolling through Instagram instead of putting up a post here (heh heh oops), I found a Chicago Food Bowl event that centered around my current TV obsession, Netflix's Somebody Feed PhilIt was free. It was a screening of the Dublin episode. And I freaked out. (Below is me being totally starstruck and Colin looking totally normal.)

 What is wrong with my face? PHIL.

What is wrong with my face? PHIL.

Colin and I have been loving Phil Rosenthal's food and travel show (previously called I'll Have What Phil's Having when it aired on PBS). When we started it on a whim, I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that made the show so magical, but as a now-seasoned viewer, let me tell you all about it. It's a food and travel show, sure, but at its core, it’s really about human connections and why they’re important in today’s climate (both political and weather-wise, am I right?). It’s amazing. I love it. Everyone should watch it.

One of the reasons I love it is that food has indeed served as the great connector in my life too. I often joke with people that if it weren't for my chicken parmesan recipe, I wouldn't have any friends from college. I'm ~mostly~ joking about that, but there's definitely a connection between the people for whom I made chicken parmesan freshman year and the people I'm in touch with from college. It’s something that I cook that is more than just a recipe: it’s a reminder of cooking for the people I would come to count as my best friends. Sniff.

Someday, I'll give away that recipe, but today is not that day. Today is a day to celebrate the beautiful emoji vegetable we all love and its glorious fate as eggplant parmesan. And also, the Italian cooking culture from whence it came, as beautifully described by Matt Goulding in Pasta Pane Vino. Go forth in red wine and eggplant.

IMG_5720.jpg

Smoked veggie tacos, Sharp Objects, and hype

When I was little, I had a paralyzing fear that if I got too excited for something, it would inevitably turn out to be the worst thing ever. I'm fairly certain that this was a result of some totally innocent and well-meaning advice my father gave me about how sometimes, the things we are least excited for turn out to be amazing. Clearly, I was a difficult child to advise. Sorry, Dad. It was great advice. I just ruined it.

The point I'm trying to get to here is that since then, I've kept that sneaking suspicion in the back of my head. If I'm really looking forward to something, I have an irrational fear that it might be disappointing. And if I'm really not looking forward to something, I have a feeling that the universe is going to pull a fast one on me and make it a genuinely great experience. I'm not superstitious, I'm a little-stitious. 

Okay, point made. So when I got home the other day dreading what I was going to try to pull out of my back pocket to make a great dinner, veggie tacos kind of sounded lame. And, if we're being completely honest, disgusto-gross. But, lucky me, my stitious-self was right, and my veggie tacos that I really wasn't looking forward to turned out to be just plain yummy. And gorgeous.

Smoked Veggie Tacos and Sharp Objects

Conversely, I was really pumped to read another Gillian Flynn novel. I flew through Gone Girl when it was a thing, and so the prospect of Sharp Objects was exciting for me. I was, in fact, looking forward to it so much that I decided to postpone my reading until I got through a few other less exciting-sounding books. Well, guess what? Joke's on me. I hated it. 

As always, check out the review, check out the recipe, and let me know what you think of both. If you think Sharp Objects was the best book you read this year, I want to hear about it because I love a good argument. If you think that the cilantro I reference might be parsley, you're totally right and there's no argument to be had. 

Love War Stories, Apricot Almond Muffins, and Impending Seasonal Changes

I can't help but feel like summer is on a timer here. I mean sure, I'm as ready as anyone else to leave these 95-degree, 110% humidity-filled days behind, but am I the only one who starts to panic just a little when contemplating snow?

The good news is that not only do we have some time before boots and parkas rule the wardrobe, but the time in between now and then, popularly known as fall, is the best time to be a human who eats. Need proof? Get thee to a farmers' market and take in all of the beautiful produce that you thought was done growing. And if you're anything like me, you'll start to hyperventilate about all of the amazing food you want to cook with this fresh produce and how little time you have to cook it. My advice: don't worry. Take a deep breath. Then, go talk to your farmer and order in bulk. I came home last weekend with 20 pounds of tomatoes and 10 pounds of peaches from Mick Klug farm, and I couldn't be happier. 

Apricot Almond Muffins and Love War Stories

I spent the morning canning plain tomatoes, roasted tomatoes for pizza and pasta, and making crazy salsa that I promise I will post the recipe for, and I couldn't be happier. I feel a little less terrified at the prospect of winter, especially because I just made these gorgeous apricot almond muffins, which would be just as delicious with dried apricots. Probably. And they would definitely still match with Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez, which rocked my world. 

TLDR enjoy summer while it lasts, steal a little summer for your winter, and read the books I tell you to read. Cool. Happy Sunday eve!

Feminist Press provided a copy of Love War Stories to Page & Plate for the purpose of this independent review. 

Sunset Salmon, Kitchen Confidential, and Other Things I Learned from Bourdain

I know, I know. The fact that I'm just now getting around to reading Kitchen Confidential is something that I should be suitably ashamed of, right? Certainly not something I should be admitting, let alone boasting about in a blog post. But here we are. I'm admitting it. I'm owning up to having missed out on a great literary, culinary work. I'm saying I was wrong for not having read this before, and I'm compelling you to do the same if you haven't already because this is not a book to miss. 

As I really hope you already know, Anthony Bourdain was the guy. The guy who exposed the world of restaurants and cooking in gritty behind-the-scenes details to the rest of us schmucks who usually only see the polished final product. The guy who brought the world the world on a plate. The guy who, although he knew he wasn't perfect, called out people in a position of power for not striving to be better. If you've seen his show, read any one of his books, or even just glanced at an interview he gave, like the one I'm about to reference, you know the deal. 

Kitchen Confidential and Sunset Salmon

In the last interview he gave, Bourdain talked about how lucky he was to have the gig he had. "To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment."

I had that quote in the back of my mind as I finished Kitchen Confidential and went to make this beautiful sunset-like salmon for dinner. Simple ingredients. Basically no recipe. Just the promise of a quiet dinner at the end of a hectic weekend, and a really good few moments. 

Do yourself a favor: read the book. Even if you've already read it once. Pick it up again, savor it for what it is, and enjoy it with a great dinner with people you love. 

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe, Six Four, and Other Important Life Updates

As I think we all know, I have some obsessive tendencies when it comes to cooking. When I get into cooking or eating something, I get REALLY into it, and I have been known, occasionally, every so often, to go a tiny bit overboard. Most recently, I double whammied and obsessed over chocolate chip cookies and true crime.

My (most recent) deep dive into true crime got started with a crash course on the podcast My Favorite Murder. If you're not familiar and even the tiniest bit into true crime, run, don't walk. I know I'm a little late to the game here, but trust me, this is definitely a case of the better late than never. But alas, this blog isn't about podcasts, it's about books, and so, with MFM playing in my ears, I turned to my bookshelves for a true crime novel I had yet to read. 

I found it in Six Four, which won the Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year in 2003. While I thought it leaned a little more towards a political drama than crime fiction, it satisfied my craving for a gritty police novel with mystery, intrigue, and, yes, crime. I'm betting it'll someday become an HBO mini-series starring lots of cigarettes. You heard it here first. 

Six Four and Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Simultaneously, I was also on the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe. And, with the help of my co-workers, who patiently taste-tested and gave feedback during my last week at work, I found it. This is a recipe worth memorizing, if I do say so myself. 

If you read that last paragraph carefully, you'll notice that I managed to sneak in a life update: I am officially two weeks into a brand new position about which I'm really excited. As of late July, I'm the Director of Admissions and Community Outreach at the GCE Lab School in Lincoln Park, Chicago. It's been a wild transition, which I'll use as a great excuse for not having posted in a while, and I'm just really, really pumped to be a part of this great new community of learners. If you're in Chicago, or know someone who is, get in touch and let me talk your ear off about this amazing school. 

I think that's it for now. More obsessions and updates to come. PEACE, LOVE, COOKIES.

Happy Cake Day: I Was Told There'd Be Cake and Blueberry Citrus Cake

If it wasn't already clear to you, I have a cake problem. I LOVE baking cakes (sometimes, when the time is right, and when the mood strikes me), but I am not the hugest cake fan. I will stare at a cake all day. I will watch videos of a cake being iced until my eyes roll back in my head and pop out of my skull. But give me an entire cake, and I'll make it through a bite or two before asking for a bag of chips.

I consider this lack of passionate love for cake to be one of my greatest character weaknesses, and I understand if this makes you as a reader suspicious of my validity as a baker. (Well, kind of.) BUT, to you skeptics, I offer this short, cake-related rebuttal: Today's blueberry citrus cake has not only grown on me in the last 48 hours, but made a huge splash at the office potluck that I had to bring it back in after I took it home because people FREAKED OUT. You know who you are. 

Just look at that beauty. It's no wonder people called it crack cake and made me sign a blood oath to bake it at their wedding. So cake lover or not, get your butt over to that recipe and whip up the cake critics are describing as "the best cake I've ever had" and "no, seriously, did you put cocaine in it?" Answer: no. I'm not that fun.

Speaking of fun though, if you read one book this week, please have it be I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. I think you'll snort with laughter and really enjoy it, but even if you don't, she might catch wind of the buzz and want to be my friend, which would really mean a lot to me. Thanks in advance.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake and Blueberry Citrus Cake

Walking a line: turkey burgers and Betwixt-and-Between

Here is the thing about being a vegetarian: people assume that you either hate all meat-eaters forever until the end of the world or that you hate fun or both. For me, it's both. 

KIDDING. Geez. As I think I've preached before on this blog, I'm a vegetarian because I simply prefer not eating meat, and that is that. I'm not overly picky about chicken broth in risotto or gelatin in pudding or anything. I always try at least a bite of the meat that I cook because I have a deep paranoia that one day I will accidentally give someone food poisoning and then be blamed for that person's demise as I, the vegetarian, stand over them, totally healthy and laughing.

There are a few foods that I make a definite exception for and indulge in more than just one bite: shrimp is one. Salmon also makes the list. These turkey burgers, with the delicious addition of feta cheese (hello) and spinach, are another. Thanks, Mom! (No, seriously, it's her recipe, and she ROCKS it.) They walk the line perfectly between a healthy choice for your body and the planet AND between tasting as indulgent as a half-pound burger stuffed with extra cheddar cheese. I did them on the stove, but they get EVEN HEALTHIER if you toss them on the grill. Just be sure to use a sheet of tin foil to prevent them from falling through the cracks.

Also walking a line, in my opinion, between a story collection and a book of philosophical essays, is this week’s book from Coffee House Press, Betwixt-and-Between. While it does win the title of the most beautiful book cover I’ve seen this year, I just couldn’t connect with the text and author Jenny Boully’s message. Check out the review, give it a read, and prove me wrong.

Coffee House Press provided a copy of Betwixt-and-Between for the purposes of this independent review.

Just so much butter: summer berry galette and Butter: A Rich History

Today's post is all about my favorite ingredient: butter. 

I love butter. Not margarine. Not Oleo. Butter. Why do you think we went to Ireland? The butter. Why do you think I go to the store so often? Butter. Why do you think I force myself to run as often as I do? You guessed it: butter (also, bread, but that's for another post). I feel almost as passionate about butter as I do about salt, and for those of you who know me, you know what a statement that is for me to make. 

For Christmas, Colin bought my mom a book called Butter: A Rich History, and I immediately began plotting to steal it from her at the first chance I got. And then, last time I was home, I did, even though she wasn't finished reading it. Mom, if you're reading this, don't worry, I'll deliver it the next time I see you and then we can talk about butter. ANYWAY, this gem of a book was every bit as buttery, wonderful, and smart as I thought it would be. Case closed.

Butter: A Rich History and Summer Berry Galette

Like any good book about butter, cooking, or an ingredient, this one has a hefty recipe section at the back, filled with recipes that highlight and illustrate the magical properties of butter. I knew that if I didn't blog this book with a recipe involving at least a stick of butter, there would be questions about my integrity as a blogger, so here we are: more galette. This time, with a vodka-y riff on Alison Roman's pie crust recipe and summer berries, it's a summery sister to our savory friend from this winter. And it's good. Real good. So run off, grab some berries, and rejoice in butter. Which is how I'm going to sign off every post from now on.

WE BACK with Sweet Jerk Pork Chops and Missing Persons

HELLO. If you follow this blog enough to notice that I didn't blog last week, I mean, wow. Thanks. I'm truly honored that you noticed my laziness. You have my congratulations and respect. To reward you, I will now return to my regularly scheduled content. Bam.

Between weddings, holidays, and time off, I've had plenty of time to cook up a storm. However, between days of 97 and 101 degrees with one hundred percent humidity, I wanted to do anything BUT cook up a storm. For those of you who are with me and have a grill, welcome. I have a great recipe that you can do on your grill without heating your house up a single degree. For those of you who are with me and don't have a grill, bear with me, heat up your house a tiny bit, and enjoy these delicious sweet jerk pork chops anyway. You gotta do the best you can with what you have, and in this case, what you have are some sweet spices and barbecue sauces from Savory Spice Shop (thanks, guys!). 

While you're sitting in the room furthest from the kitchen avoiding the heat pouring from your oven (I feel you), might I recommend checking out Stephanie Carpenter's Missing Persons? It's a beautiful little collection that just miiiiight make you forget how big your hair has gotten from the humidity. But no promises. It's silly to promise anything when the humidity is this high.

Sweet Jerk Pork Chops and Missing Persons