Apr 27 2012

On Fridays.

There are things that feel like mini-revolutions to me that I realize are not that impressive. That, when you try to describe them to other people, you get a “That’s nice” and you (meaning I) want to yell that it is not only not just nice, it might just be epic. A recent lunchtime discussion led us to a new plan for Fridays. And it feels a bit revolutionary. It certainly feels closer to our end goal, a work/life teeter totter that teeters more life than work, which is still the goal but MAN it takes work.

We’ve decided that if we want to use time flexibly because we have that privilege, we should. In fact, we must.

On Fridays we will work in the mornings. Not super original.

And then? And then the afternoon becomes ours. Childcare is taken care of as Lo wiles away the day with her buddies. Rather than pay for that and a babysitter for a night out, we’ll make our days more datey.

Perhaps a long lunch. Perhaps a movie.

We’re not at a place to write the day off and will likely work Friday evenings when needed. But that feels like a smart compromise right now. Someday perhaps the whole day will be a day of rest and restoration. Having four hours set aside to attend to leisure, to partnership, to go to the movies(!) already feels like a giant running leap towards where we plan to go.

I suggested once a month we do a loud project in the house we don’t want to do and often use La Loie as an excuse. It felt grown up to say that some of that freedom could be used responsibly. Perhaps we’ll do that. I recently started organizing my writing place, The Nook. So we could do the basement. The basement makes B squirrelly.

So today we start. We’ve got passes to the Merchandise Mart’s Antiques Fair as B built their site in partnership with Kim & Kyle at Knoed. And as the inaugural Friday, we’re taking the whole damn day off. We also plan on hitting up a Creative Mornings talk with Mike McQuade, a local design star (and not in the HGTV sense). Brunch might be had. Hand-holding city walking might happen. Doesn’t feel like much of a compromise at all. And…sometimes the kid gets a fever.

Apr 22 2012

Something I Love

Oh ViaBoxes, I love you.

ViaBoxes are module storage units. They are 15x15x15x15 (or however many 15s you need to describe a box). They fit with their fellow ViaBoxes and can be customized with fun cut-out shapes in the front. You can add recessed doors and a shelf inside, which is what we did to create shoe storage.

We needed a mudroom type space since our old mudroom type space is now my much-beloved baking center and smack dab in the new kitchen. Our goal was to make it look like a custom built in without having to, ahem, pay for it. Our incredible -guy- David merged them all those Vias together and melded three different pieces of wood, staining them each slightly different shades because of their base colors for the bench, and built us some serious awesome in the bench/mantel department.

We also added mercury glass knobs from Anthropologie and reclaimed wood from Rebuilding Exchange, a cool spot on Ashland that sells just about everything ever from old buildings.

I sent the picture to their website because I like people doing good work to know their good work made me happy. I got this back: “That IS awesome! I must share this. That is a great ViaBoxes “hack”.” Well, well! A hack! How domestically subversive of us.

Apr 20 2012

Getting Our Gîte On

A major component of the Burwell grand life experiment is the ability to live%work abroad. We needed job flexibility (check!). We needed a desire to stamp the crap out of passports (check!). We needed the Magic Jack (check!). We pulled it off, I’d say with some panache, in Reykjavik nary a few weeks after moving into our house in the summer of 2010. I was aggressively confident we’d do it again in 2011. Then I got a little pregnant so last summer was not one for traveling beyond Babies ‘R Us. Have others successfully done it? Sure. I was not a natural at newborning.

Which means, friends, I’m triply jazzed about this summer. Because this summer not only will lil’ Lo get a passport stamp and we’re living abroad but we’ll be doing it with my sister and her family for the month.

This summer we’ll be here:

It’s a gîte! In Normandy! With two separate living areas so we can pretend we are French condo neighbors! For the non-gîters out there, gîtes are self-catering homes available for rent and are often converted barns (like ours) or old something-or-others that have been rehabbed.

It’s nearish a smallish village called Rânes, majorly west and a dash south of Paris. I don’t think it’s particularly close to anything, really, but that might just be the point. The family that is renting it recommended a car and then informed us they’re installing a trampoline. So we’re going to be just fine.

Now, before you plan to rob me (schmuck) you should know that I am a step ahead. We’ve rented our home to a lovely neighborhood family who will be busy renovating their place. We’ve thought about swapping and may get there someday. This felt like a fabulous, mortgage-paying first step.

In preparation, I asked for Rosetta Stone French for my birthday. My plan? A lesson every day or two and voilà, re-fluency. I spoke lovely French in high school and wrote essays in French on novels in French. Now, a few glasses of wine and I might try to start singing this song in the translation a friend and I developed at 16. “Allez, vient, je parle à toi…”

So far? Well, so far, in four months I’ve finished one lesson. I can re-comfortably address issues related to an individual or group drinking, eating, swimming or cooking. Since those are the four activities I imagine we will do the most this summer, I’m all set.

Apr 17 2012

Recipe Lesson: Half A Can Per Person

After posting about the soup exchange I committed to actually, you know, exchanging some soup. We had some neighbors (non-exchangers) over for dinner one evening and one mentioned sweet potato chili. My ears, they did perk up.

Since our exchange skews vegan I rubbed my greedy little virtual paws all over the recipe when it pinged on in my inbox. I got up early (weeks later) to get some writing done to carve out some time to make some soup. And soup was made. A glorious, hearty chili with dried chipotle spice and diced sweet potatoes sweeting things up.

The only problem? Not enough friggin soup.

There are four families. 14.5 people total (sorry, Loie is still not fully full in terms of her eating potential). In the past I’ve trebled recipes and had more than a-plenty. And by in the past, I mean the two times I did this before.

This time I doubled it because the sweet potatoes looked more medium small than the medium large desired. The result? Enough for two families. For a moment I humored three freaky small portions and thought Brett&I could play the martyrs and deliver soup while eating (hey now!) Thai take out. But I spooned and ladled into the various soup delivery vessels in my charge and it was laughable.

To be fair, there were no sizing or portion recommendations on the recipe. I just went with my past over-souping tendencies and made the jump.

Because I like to believe there are fundamental truths out there that I discover through trial and error all on my own (por ejemplo: one pepper equals half an onion in volume when chopped), I offer you this truth: half a can of beans per person. The double batch used 4 cans and could comfortably feed 8 people. I needed a 8-caner. Next time Sweet Potato Chili, next time.

Here’s the recipe, which again, is delish. Just count your beans.

Apr 13 2012

Something I Love.

Oh, Vintage Industrial Furniture, I love you.

While working on our kitchen remodel, we were a bit stuck as to what to do with the space next to the pantry. It was crying out for shelves but the depth (12″) was an odd one, a few inches too shallow for a bookshelf to work.

I got to googling. The clean, modern lines of the dark cabinets were nicely balanced by the banged up hardware but we wanted some industrial elements to fit in with the lighting and our aesthetic.

In comes Greg Hankerson of Vintage Industrial. No, wait. He didn’t really come in because he’s based out of Phoenix. But he’s good with the phone, good with email, and awesome with furniture design and construction.

We got a custom 308 shelf which fits so perfectly snug in its spot that it makes my heart happy. It’s described as French industrial which, being a description snob, sat right in the Burwell sweet spot. Greg sent us bolting supplies to secure the shelf to the wall so little Loie & Co wouldn’t bring it crashing down. We also opted to not have the castor wheels, which bummed me out but the old house and the unlevel floors and, well, it just didn’t seem like the way to go (although they can be locked down). New parent anxiety wins sometimes.

Some glass jars, a wine rack, books and it was super ready to serve. We’ve since rearranged to allow for more glass jars full of dried goods. Vintage Industrial, smooches to you.

This is an insanely bad picture, I agree. Angles just weren’t playing nicely. The shelf does.

Apr 12 2012

Delayed Gratification

Many moons ago I received a grant from my old school to write about middle school life with a favorite colleague. We take middle school seriously. It’s not the age to survive or get through but instead a complicated root system that requires attention and diligence and time, time, time.

So it’s funny that writing about it took a similar level of delayed gratification.

My colleague is a well-respected Chicago Blues musician. Yes, while most of us try to eek out one career, he has two. He’s also a brilliant chef. And a great writer and a great pal. Scheduling writing was hard. We received the grant in spring 2010. That summer I was living in Iceland for a month (you can read about it here) and he was be-bopping all over the place. We figured out ways to write together using every Google thing imaginable (which I explored here). Had Google Teleport been an option we would’ve tried that. We got a good base and then were slammed with typical start of school insanity (note: I spent the first week of every school year for a decade wondering how the hell to teach). Things settled down and then I let on that I was, ahem, many months pregnant. So we edited when we could as fast as we could. Baby came, baaaaaam, life is totally different. Time moves at a different pace. Things like focusing and paying attention are tasks unimaginable at times.

But we pulled it together, had our piece peer edited. And edited. And edited again.

And today! Today I saw this:

See that?

On page 73? That’s me.

I’m published!

Apr 7 2012

Citrus Salt Baby Food Jars

The time had come to make 101Cookbooks’ Citrus Salts as a companion favor to the rosemary salted shortbread for Party 1: Bubble, Bagels, & a Birthday.

I initially planned to outdo myself and make tons of different options for guests to choose. Whole Foods had some crazy fruits that included some new Japanese hybrid of this and that. I was going to IMPRESS. Want nine options? Great, pick from these 12!

Instead, I opted for lemon and lime. Good standards that folks could add to fish or line a margarita glass with easily. The salts last a couple months and I just don’t think anyone would be so excited by them that they’d need seven ounces of citrusy salts! And Brett would not seethe. 

We used Earth’s Best baby food to feed Loie. Pretty little glass jars. Stage 2 jars are 4 ounces. This recipe makes sets of salts, each 3.5 ounces. Yip! Some Goo Gone and some scrubbing and several runs through the dishwasher and they were ready to go. I picked up little kraft paper labels at Paper Source to designate the flavors.

Heidi recommends using Maldon sea salts and I found bulk bins available online. Much more reasonable than buying tons of boxes. AND now we have a home for all our chalkboard chalk and I get one of my beloved mixing bowls back!

After zesting, I mixed half cups of salt with 1 tbs of zest. Smooshed it up real good.

Now, I may have done something wrong but the salts definitely didn’t retain this gorgeous coloring. They have a yellow or green hint but aren’t quite this bright.

And here’s a batch, pulsed with an immersion blender, in the jars!

All those bald fruits with a limited future made me anxious. So I juiced ‘em.

And poured the juice into ice cube trays. I read about doing this so you always have juice for cooking. We now have quite a bit of frozen lemon and lime juice. My dream plan is dropping them in pitchers of water in the summer.

I loved repurposing the jars as a way of signaling the end of her babyhood. And they were lovely little favors.

Apr 5 2012

Soup Exchange, Explained.

I read in Kiwi magazine about a group of moms who exchange meals. Once a month they each cook enough for all four families. So, a herculean effort one night yields three nights of freedom. Now, I’m about about community. But DANG that’s a lot of cooking. Like four roast chickens? Yikes.

I thought about how I could do this on a lazier scale and realized I could blame Chicago winters and a friend’s dietary preference to make a soup exchange. Who doesn’t love a warm soup on a cold wintry day (minus the fact that we basically lived in Miami this winter)? And, because one of my dearests is vegan, we thought it would be a good opportunity for all of us to eat super healthy once a week.

Four families have now been working on a neighborly soup exchange. One a month we make a gigantic batch of soup, usually doubling a recipe for the four families (8 parents, six soup-eating kids under the age of five, our babe who is a total crapshoot food wise).

The rules are: A family claims a week. A reusable jar/container is dropped off or picked up. A soup is made. Then, it is delivered. Sometimes desserts or fresh baked bread accompany said soup. We all tell each other we’re amazing cooks. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

It’s been a wonderful way to open myself up to things like….kale! Who knew? And it’s pushed us all to try a new recipe here and there. And it’s been a really lovely way to build community in our tiny enclave of Skunk Hollow.
We fell off the wagon, oooph, recently due to the very rich lives of those involved but the email declaration of intent for tomorrow’s sweet potato and black bean soup went out from this girl yesterday. And, I’m already thinking about a gazpacho exchange for summer!

Apr 4 2012

Test Kitchen: Rosemary Salted Shortbread

The idea of cooking blog as game of telephone is on my mind today. One person takes a recipe, blogs about it, it goes out into the universe to be altered and edited by someone else, who blogs about it. And down the line it goes. 

I’ve been thinking about the rosemary olive oil cake over at 101 Cookbooks (oh, the life crush I have on Heidi…). I’m not super sure how I got here from there but the world of baking with rosemary was one I wanted to dig into.


A few years back I began really noticing salt in chocolate chip cookies. Not in a bad way, at all, but more a “Huh, I never thought about how critical this salty goodness was to my enjoyment of this tremendous cookie”.

Somehow those to thing met in my head, shook hands, and here we are.

With the impending 1st birthday I wanted an excuse to make the citrus salts from 101 Cookbooks as favors, putting the approximately ten million 4 oz baby food jars I saved to use. I’ll explore that process in a few days. And then, because I can’t help myself, I wanted to offer something baked as well.

And thus, the Test Kitchen for salted rosemary shortbread. I found two recipes I wanted to try out. One from Rustic Kitchen. One from The Fromagette.

Rustic Kitchen calls for coarse sea salt and an 8″ pan. I set to it. I must say, baking with rosemary is glorious. It is an aromatic dream and looks purty too. The savorier side of baking is one I’m learning to love as I emerge from whatever place of one’s youth requires sugar-caked teeth as evidence of a snack.

The single most challenging piece for me with Rustic Kitchen’s approach was figuring out how to get 16 triangles. I stared at that 8″ pan for a good couple minutes worried the freshly baked dough was going to get hard.

And then whatever teeeeeny bit of geometry was left in my left brain went to work. Quartered it, then quartered the quarters diagonally. Phew.

The sprinkled salt and rosemary on top were powerful, but in a lovely way.

Next up was The Fromagette.
She called for artisan sea salt and used salted butter but no other salt in the recipe. I was nervous because A) I had only recently made the realization to bake with unsalted butter and B) No salt anywhere else? Egads.

Her recommendation was Trader Joe’s Pink Himalayan salt so I ran right down to TJ’s and picked some up. I do so enjoy a self-grinder.

The artisan salt is just sprinkled on top. “Generous” sent me into paroxysms of anxiety that I’d somehow undersalt or oversalt these pretty little beasts. 

And voila.


Luckily, a group of OP villagers were gathering to discuss all things village-y so I brought my cookies along (And the baby. Very accommodating villagers) for a taste test. The verdict was a pretty split. Husband picked the Rustic Kitchen as did another fellow. Three women preferred the Fromagette. I opted to go Fromagette because I am a pretty-salt whore and because they were slightly more delicate (the coarse sea salt perhaps?). But Rustic Kitchen, we’ll be back.

So a salty first birthday favor was set. I couldn’t really think of a good thematic reason to hand ‘em out. “Celebrate Our Salty Daughter” perhaps.

The batch I prepped for the party were a wee bit too salty as I got a bit over-eager making them sparkly pink on top, but they looked good!

Apr 2 2012

Something I Love

Oh, pastry cloth. I love you.

This is easily one of the best gifts I’ve received in recent years. A dear friend gifted several of her baking-prone buddies a pastry cloth from Norpro for the holidays. We all looked at the rolling pin condom (?) with confusion until she explained it.

The flip side of this cloth has measurements for dough so you can roll it out to 8 or 9 inches. I’m not sure why I used this side, but I can report that it works splendidly too!

It keeps me from spraying my entire kitchen with flour as I fail miserably at creating a surface “lightly floured”.

I realize many have walked the path of the pastry cloth before. I’m ok being late to convert but now I will proselytize aggressively. Seriously, go get one. Now.