I Got Doored By a Taxi

I’m the proud owner of a new road bike. She’s clean and sleek, and I bought her with the intention of long distance riding, along with some general scooting-around-the-city riding. Isn’t she pretty?

bike

I’ve lived in Chicago for 14 years, and I’ve always had a bike. My orange Trek from college was upgraded to a purple Kona. A couple years later, the purple Kona was pinched right out of the basement of my apartment building. (Bastards). The abducted Kona was begrudgingly, yet cost-effectively replaced with a second-hand Schwinn ten-speed that weighed roughly 200 pounds. It was identical to the first adult bike my parents bought me, circa 1996, and was at least that old. It cost $50 and I rode it for 7 years until both gear shifts haphazardly flew off of the handlebars mid-ride last summer. (To the guy who was sitting in the parked car that one of the gear shifts crashed into: Sorry about that! I hope it didn’t leave a mark. Also, thank you for not chasing me down.)

This spring, I upgraded. I love the feeling of being on a bike. Pedaling down the lakefront path on a sun-soaked day is about as good as it gets for me. It’s powerful and carefree at the same time, and one of the easiest ways to feel pure joy. The day after I bought this bike was cold enough for flurries to fall, but I went for a short ride anyway, because I’m hardcore. A few weeks passed, the weather gave way slightly and I got onto the lakefront path. It was great.

A couple of weeks after that, I rode to the farmer’s market on a lovely day. I sat in the grass for a while and watched the people totinh canvas bags stuffed with lettuces and apples. Afterwards, I thought that I would ride 1 mile north to visit the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, one of my favorites spots in the whole city for its serenity. I’m pedaling along, happy as can be, and then

BOOM.

I got doored.

I got doored by 20-something guy from Mississippi who was exiting a cab with his wife to check out the Lincoln Park Zoo. They were on vacation. The cab was stopped in traffic. I screamed in the split second between seeing the door swing open and making contact. He was terrified. I was too.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “getting doored” is when someone opens up a car door without checking to see if anyone or anything (in this case a cyclist) is coming up behind the car, and then the cyclist crashes head on into said door. Ouchie.

I value my life, and I’m also not a moron so I was wearing a helmet. Thanks to that helmet and a good bit of luck, the damages were minimal. I cracked three teeth and got a decent-sized bruise on my left knee, but that’s it. I didn’t fly over my handlebars, or into the parked cars next to me, or into oncoming traffic. No broken bones or disconnected joints. I didn’t even have any scratches, and miraculously, neither did my new bike. I am so, so lucky.

Before: Three cracked up teeth.
Before: Three cracked up teeth.

An hour or so later, after a very nice policeman finished up his report, and issued the cab driver a ticket for not pulling over to a safe place to release his passengers, I rode home. Credit shock for giving me the balls to do that.

It’s two weeks later. I’ve already gotten my teeth fixed and you would never know that anything had happened. I haven’t gotten back on the bike yet though. I’d like say that it’s because I haven’t had time, or that the weather has been bad, both of which are true enough. But in reality, I’m a little afraid. I had 14 glorious years of riding around Chicago fearless and unscathed, but I don’t have that fearless feeling any more. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? I’ll get back on my bike soon, maybe even tomorrow. I’ll be a little afraid, but I hope that feeling  will subside, and I’ll feel powerful and carefree again.

My new grill, good as new!
After: My new grill, good as new! Sidenote: My dentist’s office has the coolest wallpaper.
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Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

Rainbow Cone, an iconic scoop shop on Chicago’s south side, has been serving up  tall cones since 1926. The Rainbow Cone booth is a staple at Taste of Chicago festival, giving their namesake ice cream treat fame well beyond the south side of the city.

There are 5 frozen flavors in a Rainbow Cone. Each one is scraped onto the next in a downward pulling motion with a utensil that most closely resembles a wide spackle knife. A finished cone showcases each sloping color of ice cream, proudly rising up to meet its name. So what comprises a rainbow cone? The combination of flavors is quite unique, and might surprise you:

Rainbow Cone
Photo courtesy of Original Rainbow Cone

It starts with a base of chocolate ice cream, followed by pretty pink strawberry, with signature Palmer House vanilla (vanilla with toasted walnuts and cherries) at the center, creamy green pistachio, and vibrant orange sherbet topping it all off. Does that sound weird to you? Does it seem gross? If you break it down a little bit, you’ll see that each flavor compliments another. Chocolate goes well with strawberry. It goes well with pistachio, and also with orange. Same thing with strawberry. It’s refreshing with orange, great will pistachio, and a natural with Palmer House vanilla. When you put them all together and take a big lick from bottom to top, getting a little taste of each flavor all at once, it works. It just works. I suspect that it goes back to each flavor being great with the other flavors in a one-on-one basis, but let’s not over think it. Maybe it just tastes great because it is so fun to eat an ice cream cone that looks like a rainbow. I took liberties and topped mine with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles (what else?).

Whipped Cream and Rainbow Sprinkles

And what the heck is Palmer House vanilla, anyway? Well, the Palmer House is a stately and well-preserved old hotel in Chicago, and Rainbow Cone pays homage by mixing toasty walnuts and maraschino cherries into vanilla ice cream.

If your ice cream consumption spikes dramatically during the summer months, while your inclination to turn on the oven plummets, then this no-bake ice cream cake should be at the top of your to-do list. It’s perfect for summer birthdays, pool parties, outdoor meals, and even random Wednesday nights when it is hotter than you-know-what.

Slice of Rainbow Ice Cream Cake

It is not coincidental that I’ve posted this entry on National Pride Day. Love, respect, and ice cream! I’m off to the parade!

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake 

This recipe is sized perfectly for an 8 inch round springform pan. If you use a larger pan, consider using a little more than 1 pint of each flavor, as the layers will be very thin. Also note that most inexpensive ice creams are largely air. Thawing them and then spreading them into the pans will cause the ice cream to lose a lot of volume, as the air is knocked out. Splurge for the good stuff for this ice cream cake – you won’t regret it!

12 Oreo cookies, finely crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 pint chocolate ice cream
1 pint strawberry ice cream
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup (about 1/2 of a 10 oz. jar) maraschino cherries, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 pint pistachio ice cream
1 pint orange sherbet
1/2 cup whipped cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Rainbow Sprinkles

Secure the base and the sides of a springform pan by closing the hinge. Pour crushed cookies and melted butter into pan and stir until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan using the flat bottom of a pint glass. Freeze for 30 minutes.

While the crust is chilling, place chocolate ice cream on the counter top to soften. When ice cream is partially thawed, and somewhat pliable (about 30 minutes), gently spread it into an even layer over the cookie crust. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Place strawberry ice cream in the counter top to soften. When ice cream is partially thawed and somewhat pliable (about 30 minutes), gently spread it into an even layer over the cookie crust. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes

Thaw the vanilla cream until it is somewhat pliable and then mash in the walnuts and chopped cherries with a spoon. Spread into an even layer over the strawberry ice cream. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Repeat the thawing, spreading, and freezing process with the pistachio ice cream, and finally the orange sherbet. Freeze until completely solid, at least 3 hours, before cutting.

Just before serving, whip cream with confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. Pipe onto top of cake and garnish with Rainbow Sprinkles and serve immediately. For clean slices, dip knife in hot water between each cut to warm blade, dry with towel, and cut ice cream cake.

How To Trick People Into Eating Anchovies – Roughed Up Kale Salad

Roughed Up Kale Salad

I had a lovely afternoon yesterday. My sister and her daughter took me out on the town as a belated birthday present. We had matinée tickets to The Little Prince at Lookingglass Theater, and beforehand we dined at Bar Toma, a restaurant just steps off of Michigan Avenue. We were “ladies who lunch,” if just for the day.

The menu at Bar Toma includes antipasti, salads, a few sandwiches, and several pizzas baked quickly in a wood-burning oven. My sister briefly glanced at the menu, and suggested that I pick out a couple of things to share and order for the both of us.

This was a bold move on her part. She’s not picky, but she tends to stick to the standards on a menu. I, on the other hand, am a little more…adventurous when it comes to eating. I’ve willingly eaten crickets and worms. I’m in to offal. And I’m not afraid to order food from the seediest looking street vendor in a foreign country. I just want an authentic experience!

I asked her if she was sure, and then placed our order with our server. One Kale Salad, coming up! Maura and Kaia had never had kale before, which we discussed briefly before I ordered. I knew that the kale wouldn’t be an issue because they’re both salad-loving people. The salad arrived to the table looking fresh and delicious, the kale left in large pieces and fading from dark green at the edges to vibrant purple in the center. There was a soft-boiled egg quartered and laid over the top, and garlicky, crunchy breadcrumbs generously spooned over. We dug in and all three of us loved it.

Several bites into the salad I revealed that the dressing was an anchovy vinaigrette. The world stood still for a split second, before my niece’s chewing mouth fell into a frown. She was pretty disgusted, and I was pretty amused. If either one of them had seen that description on the menu, that salad wouldn’t have ended up in our bellies, much less on our table.

Anchovies get a bad wrap. Sure, as whole fillets they look totally prehistoric and disgusting. I get that. Even I’m weirded out by whole anchovies! But when finely chopped, they melt into whatever you’re combining them with, adding flavor through salt and their natural oil. If you’ve eaten a real, from scratch Caesar Salad, then you’ve eaten anchovies, because they’re a big component in Caesar dressing, too. See? No biggie! Anchovies are delicious!

So, we had a lovely meal, and both Kaia and Maura came away anchovy lovers, even if they’re not ready to admit it. I’m thinking of printing them up t-shirts that say “ANCHOVY LOVER”, with a huge whole fillet right underneath, but I suspect that they would never get worn. That’s okay. Down the road, if either of them considers eating something that contains anchovies, then my work here is done.

If you would like to ease into the flavor of anchovies, give this salad a shot. It’s a riff off of what we ate for lunch, and it’s darn good as a main course, or along side grilled chicken or shrimp.

Roughed Up Kale Salad

10 ounces red new potatoes, washed and quartered
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
3.5 ounces fresh kale (about 1/2 a bunch), cut roughly into 2 in. pieces, washed and dried
4 dried apricots, cut into strips
2 radishes, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup roasted pistachios

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and fill with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by at least an inch. Season the water with salt. Cook over high heat until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

In a saute pan, cook the breadcrumbs and butter over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Season with a bit of salt while they’re still warm, and remove from pan.

In the same saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, minced shallot, and chopped anchovy fillets and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the shallot is translucent and the garlic is very fragrant. Transfer to a small food processor or to a pestle and mortar. Add the lemon juice and dijon mustard and process until it is emulsified, but still a bit chunky from the shallot and garlic.

Pour the warm dressing over the kale and use your hands to squeeze and coat it in the dressing. This is often called “massaging” the kale, but what you really need to do is rough it up a little so that it softens to a more appealing texture. After it’s been crunched together for a minute, and the leaves are all well coated, leave the salad to rest for 10 to 15 minutes, and the leaves will continue to tenderize.

Add the cooked potatoes, sliced apricots and radishes, and pistachios and toss to coat. Give it a taste and add additional salt, pepper, lemon juice, or olive oil as needed. The flavors tend to get lost in the kale, so you will likely use more salt and pepper than you would think necessary. Just before serving, top with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish.

Snow Day In Chicago

Digging out his parking space in the back of the gingerbread condo.

This is what Chicago looks like, but with more sludge and yellow snow.

I’ve shoveled twice today, but other than that, I’ve been hunkered down in the house for over 24 hours, giving me ample time to clean both bathrooms, watch too many episodes of Dexter on Netflix, and mess with the tiny gingerbread houses that went untouched on Christmas day. No candy. No decoration. Just snow, and lots of it.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be digging out my car to get to the test kitchen, just like the poor guy in the photos. The holidays are officially over, and it’s back to work we go!

And speaking of holidays, and work, and gingerbread, I played with some Gingerbread Houses on ABC7 in Chicago just before Christmas. They were much prettier than this one, so you should check it out! Stay warm and dry!

Making A Gingerbread House.

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables

It’s mid-November, and somehow my herb garden is still kicking, despite a few days of near-freezing temps in Chicago. My sage in particular is simultaneously taking over the herb pot and giving mother nature the middle finger.

Every year when the weather turns cold, I start scheming up ways to use up the last of the growth, but truthfully, most of the greenery perishes in the pots before I get around to making 27-herb medley pesto, or to freezing small amounts in ice cubes trays for later use. Hey, we can’t all be Martha Stewart.  But it’s really not a big deal. I get a lot of use out of those plants during the warmer months. At $2-3 per herb plant, I get more than my money’s worth, so I don’t feel guilty when I leave perfectly fresh herbs to die in nature’s freezer. But every November I do try to use up small amounts of the bounty.

These Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables are one of those ideas. So much sage, so little time!

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There’s a lot more where that came from!

Don’t know what a sable is? It’s a simple French butter cookie, pronounced sah-bleh, with emphasis on the first syllable. It’s named for it’s delicate, sandy texture, similar to shortbread. Sable dough is usually rolled out and cut into shapes before baking, but rolling out sandy cookie dough can be a mess. There’s no clean way to lightly-flour a counter top. It gets everywhere, and sometimes that fine, but other times you just don’t want to deal with that chaos and clean up. Enter the squeezed sable. No rolling, no cutting, no mess. If you’re super brave and don’t mind finding random bits of cookie dough in the tiny crevices around your kitchen for the next month, you could even do the squeeze-shaping with your kids. Doesn’t that sound like a great time?

These sables are a direct take off of Clothilde Dusoulier’s Roasted Flour Squeeze Cookies. Her brilliant recipe riffs off of a traditional sable by roasting the flour, which imparts an unbelievably rich, nutty quality to the finished cookie. If you haven’t tried baking with roasted flour, make haste to your kitchen. You’ll be amazed at how easily it amplifies the flavor of cookies and cakes.

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Unroasted All Purpose Flour
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Roasted All Purpose Flour

When I think of sage, my mind immediately jumps to browned butter. Those two simple ingredients make a hell of a flavor statement, so I started wondering how they would translate into something sweet. These sables already have a nutty back note from the roasted flour, but browning the butter took it to a whole new level. This cookie dough smelled of toasty pecans, walnuts, and cashews with nary a nut in site. Do people develop nut allergies later on in life? Because if you know a nut-lover with a life-threatening nut allergy, these cookies could fill that nutless-void in a beautiful way.

And as for the backyard-harvested sage? I sprinkled a tablespoon of the chopped leaves into the butter and let them infuse into the butter as it browned. All of the roasting and browning, along with the fresh sage and a hefty pinch of crushed sea salt puts these cookies in that gorgeous gray area, where sweet and savory meld together. This is a really delicious cookie/biscuit hybrid to be eaten on it’s own, but could also easily round out a cheese plate. And if you squint a little bit these rustic beauties kind of look like seahorses. Just a little added bonus!

It’s  worth noting that you don’t need an electric mixer or food processor for this cookie recipe, as all of the mixing can be done by hand with  pastry cutter. Double bonus!

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables
Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables (not fried seahorses)

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables

adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Squeeze Cookies, originally from Chocolate & Zucchini

 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed sea salt
1 egg yolk
3-4 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and 1-2 cups of cold water, so that the ice cubes float. In a small saucepan, cook butter and sage over a medium-low flame until the butter browns and there are small dark brown flecks at the bottom of the pan. It will smell very nutty. Submerge the hot pan in the bowl of ice to stop the butter from cooking. Stir butter occassionally while it is still fluid to speed up the cooling process. Chill until the butter is completely solid.

Spread flour into a thin layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast in the oven without stirring, until the flour has gone from white to a sandy color all over, about 30-35 minutes. Cool the flour completely. You won’t use the oven again for a while, so decide if you want to keep it on or turn it off until the cookies are ready to bake.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the roasted flour, sugar, and salt until they are thoroughly incorporated. Cut the cold butter into 1/4 inch chunks and add to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter and dry ingredients, until the mixture is coarse and the butter chunks are smaller than peas. Shaking the bowl gently from time to time will force any remaining large chunks of butter to the top so that you can cut them into smaller bits. Add the egg yold and 3 tablespoons of milk and stir the mixture together until everything is well combined. Squeeze a bit of dough in your hand. If it holds together easily, you are ready to form the sables. If it crumbles instead of holding together, add an additional tablespoon of milk and stir until just combined.

Squeeze 1-2 tablespoons of dough in your fingers to form 2-1/2 inch long cookies. Place the cookies about 1-1/2 inches apart on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate the sheet for 1 hour, or until the cookie dough is chilled and firm.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the sables for 16-18 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Gently transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

WE WON CUPCAKE WARS!

Oh hell yes!

Milette Raz and I won Cupcake Wars! Milette’s Cake’s takes home $10K!

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The outpouring of support and enthusiasm from our friends and family has been truly amazing. So many amazing people cheered, screamed, cried tears of joy, tweeted, texted, called, sent smoke signals and telegrams, etc…

AND THANK YOU ALL A MILLION TIMES! I think I finally got through all of the encouraging messages last night (a full 24 hours after the show aired), but if I somehow missed thanking you in person, please accept it here.

There is a part of my interview that was edited out, and didn’t make it onto the show, so I want to say it loud and clear here.

Milette Raz is the owner of Milette’s Cakes, just in case the name didn’t give it away. Milette was not my assistant on the show. We were 50/50 partners, right down the line. If it came down to it, she would kick my ass in a cake decorating competition, and I would be happy for her victory! She taught me everything that I know about working in a bakery, but I also got an amazing friend out of the deal. If you’re lucky enough to know Milette, you have a friend for life. She might be the sweetest person ever. Nope, she is definitely the sweetest person ever, and it was a true pleasure to compete with her on Cupcake Wars. I’m glad we brought home the title for Milette’s Cakes!

In full disclosure, they also didn’t show when I nearly broke the food processor because I turned it on with part of the lid still inside of it. They also didn’t show us burning the hell out of our hands and feet while spinning sugar for our Bubbly Berries Cupcakes. I’m guessing that the subsequent cursing was just too much for television!

Due to the overwhelming response from the show, Milette’s website has been getting a whole lotta traffic, and it’s struggling to keep up. We’re working on it! For now, please go to Facebook and like Milette’s Cakes. You can also follow me on Twitter at @bethylou10.  We don’t have a retail location, but you can order online or over the phone and we’ll deliver right to you!

Custom cupcakes to your door? Sounds pretty boss to me!

Urban Gardening Part 2

There is some truly beautiful veg coming out of the backyard garden already.

Just a couple of days ago we discovered that there is a small grapevine winding its way in and out of a trellis back there. It was pretty exciting to see big bunches of unripened grapes hanging off of it. If anyone would like to offer up wine-making tips, I’m all ears.

Jon is working these into our dinner tonight.  Carrots, baby zucchini, and young garden beans. I’m beginning to realize that the term “victory garden” might have had a double meaning; all of these vegetables in the yard are a definite WIN!

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