In the late 1980s, the Sweetie and I watched the television series, Beauty and the Beast—a fantasy/romance/crime drama about the relationship between noble Vincent, the man/beast who looked like a lion, and beautiful Catherine, the smart, successful Manhattan lawyer. Vincent lived in “the World Below”, with like-minded misfits who had been shunned by society, and Catherine moved freely between the World Below and the World Above. The secret, subterranean community, hidden in caves and tunnels miles below Fifth Avenue, was furnished with books, artwork, and faded elegance taken from the World Above. The imagery of the World Below was as romantic and appealing to me as were the story’s plot and characters.
So, when a breakfast-room acquaintance told me about Chicago’s “Pedway”, a complex, forty block underground passageway linking more than 50 buildings in the Loop to the CTA’s Red and Blue lines, I planned my trip that day. Construction to provide weatherproof passage between the buildings began in the 1950s and has continued haphazardly ever since. Each section is independently owned and maintained by the building above and has different lights, different wall and floor composition, different decoration or lack thereof, and even different air temperatures.
The route is illogical, with hidden entrances leading to dead end exits and dark, mysterious hallways. Signage is sketchy and obscure, so there are urban legends of lost souls still wandering the Pedway looking for a way out. There’s an entire world under those fifty buildings: the beautiful, ornate, old Marshall Field’s (now a Macy’s), an LA Fitness swimming pool, restaurants, bars, barber shops, and a Walgreens. Old-school Chicagoans pride themselves on being able to use the Pedway and are usually willing to help, while some long-time residents don’t even know that the Pedway’s exists.
My subterranean tour was brief but spectacular—I was there to see the 22 American Victorian, non-religious stained glass window installation displayed next to the Wabash Street Macy’s entrance. The windows are backlit, adding a strange glow to the dimly lit corridor.
Spiderweb, attributed to Louis Tiffany
Twins supporting a knight’s plumed helmet, 1890s
A Chicagoan led the way to the World Above, and I took the Red Line back to the hotel. Vincent and Catherine would love Chicago’s Pedway.
In November 1998, after twenty hours in the air and a two-hour layover in London, we walked out of the Mumbai airport into a hot, sultry night and were immediately surrounded by a push of taxi drivers vying for our business. Nothing was familiar: weather, alphabet, language, sounds—all completely new. This out-of-body experience intensified on the white-knuckle, three-hour drive to Ahmednagar as we hurtled down the two-lane road, narrowly avoiding certain collisions with Tata trucks, rickshaws, scooters, and cows. I was completely out of my element, but exhilarated and strangely at home. The sights, smells, colors, music, and food of India I so enjoyed during our stay have become consistent favorites.
Last week when I saw a billboard on the bus advertising “Holi Festival Celebration at the Navy Pier”, the event went straight to my calendar. I picked up the NB #65 at the usual stop, but the crowd waiting to board was not usual. There was no need to worry about stumbling, as we were packed into the bus vertically (and intimately) like books on a shelf.
Holi, known as the festival of lights, is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, the end of Winter, and the arrival of Spring. Holi has become best known for its color-throwing free-for-all, where no one is exempt from being smeared, covered, and sprinkled with colored powder and doused with water-filled balloons and water guns.
The color throwing and water drenching took place in a cordoned off outdoor area surrounded by blue plastic tarps and carefully protected sidewalks. Inside the Aon Ballroom, a standing-room-only audience watched dancers, musicians, and storytellers backed by the Surabhi Ensemble. Exotically dressed performance artists wandered around the perimeter dispensing iridescent bubbles, candy pops, and colorful yarn bracelets.
I‘m surprised how busy downtown Chicago is on the weekend. The hotel fills up with theater, museum, and concert goers, couples looking for no-drive, no-DUI party time, singles doing whatever it is singles do, and young families swimming in my pool. Restaurants are packed with brunch, happy hour and dinner customers and clubs stay open until early morning. Maybe all big cities sparkle on the weekend, I wouldn’t know, I stay home. Anyways, it’s all fun to see, but I’ll choose a snuggle, a baseball game, and the Sweetie.
Thanks to my dear friend Patty for the use of her beautiful photos of India.
Cauliflower or Potato Pea Curry
1 T. ghee
1 T. coconut oil
1 T. mustard seeds
1 diced onion
1 T. fresh garlic
1 T. grated ginger
1 t. cumin
1⁄2 t. turmeric
1 t. cardamom
1 fine-dice Serrano
1 can diced in juice tomatoes
1⁄2 c. tomato sauce
2 t. sugar
1 head cauliflower or 4-6 waxy-type potatoes
1 c. frozen peas (defrosted and cooked 2-3 minutes)
Sauté mustard seeds in hot oil—add onions, garlic, ginger and spices.
Add serranos, tomatoes, tomato sauce and sugar. Simmer 10-15 minutes to thicken.
Add 1 head cauliflower divided into small florets or peeled and diced potatoes. Simmer the raw cauliflower or potatoes in the sauce; it will absorb the rich spiciness.
Simmer until cauliflower or potato is tender. Add peas, heat through. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime.
I wish I could say that I read Shakespeare when I don’t have to—I would seem so much deeper. Maybe it’s the language that looks artificial to my shallow, modern eye or maybe it’s the discipline of reading rhyme, but I never pull out my old “Chaucer to Shakespeare” textbook when I want to curl up with a good book.
Watching a play in person is another story—after a few minutes, the awkwardness of hearing 16th Century English fades away and the drama, or comedy, takes hold. I wanted to visit Chicago’s Navy Pier anyway, so when I saw that there was a Saturday matinee of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I bought an on-line ticket and took the #65 bus to the pier.
It was a bright, sunny day, the Pier was crowded with the young and hip, Mom, Dad, and the kids, olds like me, and packs of roaming teens followed by an occasional adult. Prominent signs declaring that “No one under 18 allowed on the Navy Pier after 5:00 pm without an escort” assured even the most timid that tomfoolery and shenanigans were unlikely.
I found my seat in the intimate theater and settled in as the lights flickered to quiet the audience. An actor dressed as his character bounded onto the stage, welcomed us, and encouraged everyone to relax, not to worry about the plot, and to just enjoy the experience. The actors, who were skilled professionals, changed characters and costumes offstage frequently and presented the play confidently, without hesitation.
After the last bow was taken, the entire cast sat down on the stage floor and opened the floor to remarks from the audience. There were grade school, middle school, and high school English classes in attendance and many eager hands shot up, waving to be the one chosen to ask a question. Anyways, I enjoyed it all and vowed to see another play soon.
Navy Pier yacht, Odyssey, available to book for cruises on Lake Michigan.
The set for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Polk Brothers Park sculpture, “Prismaticia—an installation comprised of pivoting prisms more than two metres high transforming the space into a giant kaleidoscope.”
Italian Wedding Soup
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1⁄2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
Or 3/4 tsp. Italian herb combination
Salt to taste
1 cup diced onion
1/2 lb. diced mushrooms
1 Tblsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. dried red chilies
1/4 tsp. salt
1 peeled, diced carrots
1/2 cup uncooked orzo
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups chopped spinach
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Meatballs: In medium bowl combine, meat, egg, bread crumbs, milk, parmesan cheese, seasonings, salt, and pepper; shape into small meatballs.
In large sauce pan, sauté diced onion, mushrooms, garlic, and chilies for 3-5 minutes until onions are soft. Season with salt.
Add carrots, meatballs, and orzo and sauté 3-5 minutes.
Add chicken stock, bring to simmer and cook until carrots are soft, 10-15 minutes.
Add chopped spinach.
Serve with additional Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
If you were with me in Houston, you may remember kolaches, those fruit and cream filled Czech pastries so popular in East Texas—here in Chicago, it’s paczki. Last Tuesday was Paczki Day—picture, if you will, a plump donut made with an eggy, yeasty dough, deep fried until golden brown, poked and filled to the bursting with preserves or pastry cream, then sugar-glazed, and finally iced with frosting, sprinkled with powdered sugar, or both. Available only on Fat Tuesday, a paczki may be the best possible pre-Lenten indulgence.
I listened to a local radio piece about them Tuesday morning and thus began my paczki adventure. Before we set out, a word about the word itself. How would you pronounce paczki—packs ski, pak zi, pakz kee? Oh no, it’s pōhnsch key—with an long o, an n, and a sch. I guess that pronunciation shouldn’t come as a surprise. Mike Shih shef ski, Duke University’s Polish basketball coach, spells his name, Krzyzewski—now where does the K, the R, the Z, and the EW fit in?
Anyways, both the Chicago Tribune and WBEZ, my radio companion, warned that today was the only day in the year that paczki would be available, that I’d better have my pre-order in, and that lines were already forming, so I skipped my swim for the better good. I Googled “Chicago’s best paczki,” but Dinkle’s and Bridgeport Bakery both required a 45-minute Red Line ride, so I kept scrolling and found Do-Rite Do-nuts, a ten minute walk from the hotel. The media was right—lines were formed, I hadn’t placed an order, and they were already out of strawberry buttercream, Fat Elvis, and lemon curd. I gratefully settled on four Glazed Chocolate Nutella paczki, four Frosted Raspberry Cream paczki, and threw in a couple Buttermilk Old Fashioneds.
Paczkis are traditionally shared, so I stopped at our hotel’s valet kiosk where Dimitri and Hector rock/paper/scissored to choose a Nutella. Next stop, the front desk where one raspberry and one Nutella vanished. A guest from Pittsburg checking in didn’t hesitate to pick his favorite, a raspberry. Lupe the housekeeper also wanted a raspberry, leaving me a Nutella to immediately consume with a glass of milk (the recommended beverage), plus two for later.
Sorry Houston, so much for kolaches. And you Portland, meet the paczki—even better than a Voodoo Doughnut.
2 cups whole milk
4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (2 standard sized envelopes)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
5 cups (22.5 ounces) all purpose flour
4 eggs yolks plus one whole egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 quarts canola oil for frying
1 1/2 cups of your favorite preserves
1 cup powdered sugar for dusting
In a small saucepan heat milk to between 110 an 115°F. Pour warmed milk into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve yeast in milk. Add one Tablespoon sugar and two cups of flour. Mix until consistency of pancake batter then cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to allow yeast to activate. Let rest for 30 minutes or until starter is very bubbly.
In a medium bowl combine egg and yolks. Whisk until light and frothy, about 4 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup sugar, salt and vanilla.
Slowly stir cooled melted butter into yeast starter until combined. Then slowly incorporate egg mixture until just combined. Fit mixer with dough hook. Stir in flour, working 1/2 a cup in at a time until a soft dough comes together. Note: this dough is very sticky.
Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer dough to bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until double in size. About an hour.
Turn out dough on a very generously floured surface. Dust surface of dough with flour then punch down dough to about half an inch high. Using a floured two- or three-inch biscuit cutter, cut out doughnuts. Carefully transfer doughnut rounds to parchment lined baking sheets. Cover sheets with a clean dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Pour canola oil into a large dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 360°F. Once oil reaches the proper temperature use a heat resistant spatula or shallow strainer to carefully drop doughnuts in, one at a time, cooking a maximum of 3 at once. Cook doughnuts until a warm, deep brown on one side, then using heat resistance tongs turn the doughnut and cook the other side until it reaches the same degree of doneness. Remove from oil letting any excess oil drain off then transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Test your first doughnut to make sure that the insides are completely cooked, if not adjust your cooking time accordingly. Let doughnut cool.
Prepare a wide and shallow bowl with powdered sugar. Fill your pastry bag with your favorite preserves and fit the bag with a filling tip. Pipe filling into pączki then dip each side in powdered sugar until covered
Every day, the hosts and servers at Sound Food threatened to yank this tape out of the machine and throw it into the blender.
The Me Too movement pointed a finger at politicians, TV hosts, the clergy, military personnel, restaurant chefs and managers, financial wizards, corporate higher ups, athletic trainers, comedians, and Hollywood players but it seems to have skipped rock stars. It’s hard to imagine that rock stars never took advantage of their stardom—I’m just sayin’.
Until this year, I hadn’t thought much about sexual harassment in my old work world. I started my restaurant career on Vashon Island when I was thirty—past the “sell-by” date in restaurant years. Sound Food wasn’t a brutal, pressure cooker stereotype but a hippie-tinged cafe where hostility and aggression were rare and bullies or predators just didn’t fit in. Women played major roles: three of the night cooks, two of the bakers, a janitor, most of the waitron units, half of the owners, and four of the hosts were women. Oh, there was definitely crude language, inappropriate humor, politically incorrect banter, sharp criticism, and personalty clashes but it was always out in the open and part of the everyday fabric of restaurant life.
Sexual harassment didn’t show up for me in Los Angeles either. Although sharp-tongued, perfectionist men ran both Stratton’s and Trumps kitchens, as far as I knew, neither used his power to force favors from the people in his employ. When I worked for the 1984 Olympics Committee, two women (my supervisor and her boss) hired me to replace the existing chef because they didn’t like working with his aggressive attitude and large ego. And in a Susan Feniger/Mary Sue Milliken or Tom Douglas restaurant, tolerance for threatening behavior was inconceivable. Anyways, I never did have to resort to a defense recommended by one of my mentors: “Just give him a good kick in the shins.”
I am not dismissing or discounting anyone else’s experiences and maybe I was just lucky, but it just never happened to me. Oh I was yelled at, fired, criticized, blamed, and ridiculed—but never groped. Maybe I was too old or too happily-married, or perhaps an encounter with someone who wore baggy hound’s tooth-checked pants and a ridiculous paper hat, smelled like duck fat, and was so sweaty her socks squished doused the fire before it was lit.
So while I didn’t see sexual harassment, I did see an industry that treats its employees poorly. Food service workers are routinely overworked and underpaid, in a physically demanding, poorly equipped, marginally safe, and just plain unpleasant work environment. Breaks are few and either discouraged or not allowed—so cooks, dishwashers, and prep staff often work eight to twelve hours without a rest. Again, in my experience, Feniger/Milliken and Tom Douglas were the exceptions and ran kitchens where staff meal was planned and break hours paid for.
There’s pressure on restaurant kitchens today to develop a more enlightened attitude and to transition from the exploitative, old-school culture into one that supports an employee’s physical and mental well-being. Of course that means higher prices which neither management nor the customer wants. Hiring that considers more women for management positions and puts less emphasis on the wonders of young men could also go a long way toward creating a better work environment. So, maybe it is time for a good shakeup.
Here are a few random Chicago shots.
In a previous post, I mentioned Chicago’s winter tradition of calling dibs on just-shoveled parking spaces with lawn chairs. Yesterday on my way to the cleaners, I saw this window display about a neighborhood shelter raising money by auctioning chairs painted by local artists.
Tom Douglas’ Pear Tarts with Caramel Sauce
3 ripe but firm pears
2 c. sugar
4 c. water
1 t. vanilla
Dissolve sugar in water over medium heat. Peel, core, and half pears. Add to liquid and poach gently until pears are soft. Will take approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove pears from liquid, cool. Blend ingredients in mixer or food processor until smooth.
4 oz. almond paste
1⁄2 c. sugar
3 T. soft butter
2 egg yolks
To make the almond cream, mix the almond paste and sugar using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer. The mixture will look crumbly. Beat in the butter, bit by bit. Add the egg yolk and mix until creamy and smooth, set aside.
2 c. sugar
1⁄2 c. water
1 1⁄2 c. heavy cream
3 T. soft butter
Dissolve sugar in water over low heat, shaking constantly. When sugar is dissolved, raise heat to high until sugar is warm brown. Remove from heat and add cream—be careful, it will splatter. When caramel stops bubbling, return to medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add butter, keep warm.
Using purchased frozen puff pastry, cut into squares 5” by 5”. Place squares on parchment-papered baking sheet. Spread 2 T. almond cream in a circle on each unbaked square. Top each with a thinly sliced poached pear half. Dot with butter and bake 20-25 minutes at 400°. Pour small amount of caramel sauce on dessert plate. Set tart next to sauce, garnish with whipped cream. Serve with extra sauce.
If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, “Space, the final frontier.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played. If you like the music, check out HBO’s new documentary, “May it Last: The Avett Brothers.”
The Sweetie and I wonder, where are Chicago’s wider citizens, pastel clothing, baggy blue jeans, pickup trucks, pedestrians who stroll, drivers who don’t honk at every perceived insult, and chain restaurants? We now know: they’re in DeKalb.
Last week the Sweetie’s team supported a short Go Live at Kishawalkie Hospital in DeKalb, IL (60 miles NW of Chicago), so Friday night we lugged a suitcase full of clothes and coffee to the Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue to pick up a charter bus, destination—Country Inn & Suites. Twenty-five people with twenty-five pieces of luggage lined up in front of a large van, not a bus (as it turned out).
We boarded first (thanks in no small part to my sharp elbows) and got two seats in the back, but found ourselves trapped behind a center aisle filled with heavy suitcases—no rest stops for us. Hilarity ensued as twenty-three trainers (and two tagalong wives) fought for a place to sit, space to rest arms, a lap for a laptop, leverage to cram legs over the wheel-wells, and room to unwrap tuna sandwiches. Luckily the front windows wouldn’t roll up, so everyone kept their coats on, staying warm and avoiding accidental whacks as a bonus. When the bus driver admonished, “Now, buckle up!”, there were no obedient seatbelt clicks, only the sound of fifty eyes rolling. No one sang Kumbaya or exchanged jolly tales as the van crept along, stuck in Friday night, stop-and-go traffic.
Three hours later when the driver parked in front of the Country Inn & Suites, we all limped off, headed for the bathrooms, then lined up to check in. When I opened the curtains in the morning and looked out—we had been dropped off on a different planet.
Friday, out the window
Saturday, out the window
What a difference a day makes. On Friday I could lunch in downtown Chicago on tlayudas at XOCO, arancini at Eataly, a pork belly bowl at Sweetgreen’s, or sushi at Oysy. On Saturday I browsed Walgreen’s Snack aisle, opting for Pringles and a Thin Mint. Down the block, instead of Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus, there was Blain’s Farm and Fleet, home to plaid shirts, Dad jeans, tractor accessories, and seeds. Lest I sound like a city brat, I did enjoy the quiet streets, the wide store aisles, a large hotel room that wasn’t next to the elevator, and crispy waffles in an empty breakfast room.
No wonder big cities and rural towns don’t agree on political matters—it’s all about space. Navigating crowded Chicago sidewalks requires constant compromise among pedestrians—move over a bit, deal with transit delays, accept the occasional weird encounter, live with the shoulder brush, and rely on access to everything on foot. In rural DeKalb there is minimal contact with strangers, wide streets, enormous parking lots, expansive space between businesses, houses on half-acre lots, but no sidewalks or mass transit. Apparently, there is no life without a car.
Anyways, rural living is not for me but then, as it turns out, downtown city living is not for me either. How about, the outskirts of an interesting small city, Olympia perhaps?
“You had to be there, Chicago”
Back in Chicago, the Sweetie has no clean hankies. My Bridget keeps the Sweetie supplied, but even her special ones, engraved with an “A”, are at the bottom of the dirty clothes pile. Now I understand that carrying a handkerchief is a dying art, but nevertheless, we decide to buy some new ones.
Nordstrom is across the street from the hotel, therefore the logical spot to shop. We avoid the perfume counters, wind through aisles of Prada purses and Gucci shoulder bags, ride up the escalator to Men’s Furnishings, walk past skimpy Tom Ford suits, indolent Italian loafers, and trendy wool shoes to “ Accessories.” Italian silk ties, leather wallets soft as a baby’s cheek, neatly folded designer pocket squares—but no white cotton hankies.
A young retail salesperson, sleek as a greyhound, Jimmy Choos over to us, “Can I help you find something?”
“Hankies”, says the Sweetie waving his last one.
“For the nose?”, she asks in wonder and disbelief.
Crust: 1 1⁄2 c. graham cracker crumbs, 1⁄2 c. melted butter, 1⁄2 c. powdered sugar. Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and powdered sugar. Press into bottom of 8” springform pan.
Cheesecake: Three 8 oz. packages softened cream cheese, 4 eggs, 1 c. sugar, 1 t. vanilla, 1 pint sour cream. In large bowl beat cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Pour mixture over crust.
Bake at 325° for 50 minutes. To minimize cracking, place shallow pan half full of water on lower rack of oven during baking. Remove from oven, spread sour cream over cake. Be sure sour cream is room temperature. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven, cool. Serves 16.
If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, “Living for The City.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.
In the heart of downtown Chicago there are endless products to buy, places to go, and things to eat, all within walking distance. Eataly (guess we can’t call it Mario Batalli’s Eataly anymore) is a half block away, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and an AMC “Dine-In” Movie Theatre are within one block, and there’s a Nordstrom, a Rolex, and a Burberry across the street. You can find Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Mediterranean, vegan, raw food food without pausing to take a breath. There are enough dive bars and taverns selling burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and wings to support a pop-up Maalox kiosk.
I can find a $2000 pair of shoes, a $5700 watch, a $175 throw pillow, $100 Lucky jeans, $800 sheets, or a $350 Swarovski bauble without having to cross the street. What I can’t find is thread, push pins, or packing tape. The Jewel Osco, a block away, is crammed with groceries, health and beauty aids, rows of assorted Scotch and flavored vodka, a million artisan beers, two aisles of prepared food, and three aisles of frozen entrees but it got rid of the office supply section and never did carry thread or needles. I did find a two-spool travel pack and some scotch tape at Walgreens, a six-block walk away and the sales clerk did breezily suggest an Office Depot for packing tape only a short Uber away. What? So, no push pins or packing tape for me.
But I really need fabric and thread for my current quilt, so I asked Mr. Google what to do. His advice: walk to Michigan and Erie, take the #157 bus, get off 17 stops later at Jefferson, walk three blocks, turn on DesPlaines and there you are at Fishman’s Fabrics.
Desplaines & Taylor
Chicago Fire Academy Memorial
Ginny would love it. Fishman’s is a wonderful old Chicago institution with giraffe prints, animal hides, high-end upholstery material, three aisles of sparkly prom dress material, enough tulle to make a bride swoon, commercial-grade zippers, satins, laces, and bows—but no quilting fabric. I so wanted to buy fabric at such an authentic, old-school warehouse but no…where did I have to go? Down the block and across the street to my least favorite store: JoAnne’s, easily found at any strip mall across America. Oh well, the outside temperature was above 30°, I waited on the right side of the street for the bus, and came back fueled with fabric and plenty of thread—I’m still looking for pushpins and packing tape.
If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, “Saturday in Chicago.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.
Neighborhood streets in downtown Chicago move with specific rhythms. Michigan Avenue hums to the tune of retail consumerism: sidewalks bustle with tourists window shopping along the Magnificent Mile and locals in-store shopping for Hermes bags, jewelry, Needless Markup glamour, and Nordstrom shoes. Walk a block over to St. Claire and the song is a business-like drone: blue-scrubbed doctors, nurses, blue-suited office workers, and bleary-eyed medical students. A few blocks across State to Dearborn, sidewalk storefronts reflect ballads about ordinary life and routine errands: Kathy’s Cleaner, the Post Office, Bank of America, the X5 barbershop. Walk toward the La Salle Street Bridge and you’ll hear the beat of wholesale commerce at the Chicago Merchandise Mart (so large it has its own zip code), home to architectural/design vendors and showrooms.
Weekend early-morning streets are quiet—sidewalks empty, construction sites silent, cranes unmoving, taxis still in line at the airport, city dogs and toddlers asleep, Starbuck windows just beginning to fog over; but by 9:00 am, black puffy coats and backpacks cruise along the sidewalk ready to eat.
Weekend routines revolve around food. City residents love brunch, a chance to sleep off Friday night and celebrate weekend freedom with biscuits and gravy or chicken and waffles, washed down with a little hair of the dog. By 2:00, it’s time to eat again: tacos at XOCO, nachos at Rockbottom, jazz and wings at Buddy Guy’s, Lou Malnati’s for deep-dish pizza, beers and dogs at Mom’s, a burger at the Billy Goat Tavern, or Irish whiskey at Fado. Last Saturday afternoon, my choice was Ramen-san for okonomiyaki, served on Saturdays before 3:00.
When I got there at 1:30, the dining room was packed and the bar in full swing. A sweet hostess showed me to a table, gave me a menu, and disappeared. As I slipped off my puffy coat and looked around, I noticed that I was one of two people in the room over 30. I also counted eight out of ten customers holding their phone in their hand, looking down at the phone in their hand, or sharing what was on the phone in their hand. No one actually talks on phones anymore.
But I digress, I was there for the okonomiyaki. I have had a better one in Seattle, but this version, served in a bowl with pork belly and a fried egg, hit my savory-pancake spot. I ordered a bowl of “tonkotsu » traditional broth, chashu, molten egg” for two to go, bundled up, and walked home.
Osaka-style Okonomiyaki (Savory Japanese pancake)
1 cup okonomiyaki flour, regular flour can be substituted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
2/3 cup water (if you use nagaimo root, omit water)
1/2-3/4 cup peeled, grated nagaimo root – tuberous vegetable, similar to a potato found in most Asian markets. Authentic but not necessary. Peeled, grated nagaimo is starchy and somewhat gluey, with a slightly sweet taste and crunchy texture, used mostly as a binder.
3 large eggs
1 cup shredded green cabbage
1/2 pound pork belly or bacon slices
Tenkasu (bits of fried tempura batter, available in Asian markets)
Shrimp with green onion
Beef with grilled onions, and kimchi
Pork with green peas, and bean sprouts
Octopus, crab, or squid
Cooked Yakisoba noodles
4 tablespoons ketchup, 3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar. Change proportions to suit your taste. This sauce can also be purchased ready-made at Asian grocery stores.
Bonito (fish flakes)
Green dried seaweed (aonori)
Step 1: Combine okonomiyaki flour, baking powder, salt, sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix well.
Step 2: Trim one end off the nagaimo root. With a sharp knife, peel off the light brown skin. Grate about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of nagaimo into the bowl. Try not to grate your knuckles; the nagaimo has a very slimy consistency. Add water or grated nagaimo to flour mixture. Refrigerate for one hour.
Step 3: Thinly slice about 1 cup of green cabbage.
Step 4: Add raw eggs, grated cabbage, and tempura scraps to flour/nagaimo mixture. Add your choice of fillings and mix well.
Step 5: Heat a large, flat skillet or griddle. Evenly spread 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on the surface. When oil shimmers, spread okonomiyaki batter in a circle, 6 inches across and 3/4 inch thick. You will get several servings out of the batter, so don’t use all the batter at once. Don’t make the pancake too big. You will flip it twice, so don’t make the pancake bigger than your spatula.
Place pork belly or bacon slices on top of okonomiyaki and cook covered for 7-10 minutes.
Step 6: When pancake is browned on one side, flip the okonomiyaki and cook the other side for 7 to 9 minutes. Flip it over again, and cook for 3 minutes more.
Step 7: Remove the okonomiyaki to a plate and with a pastry brush, brush the brown okonomiyaki sauce over the surface. Take the bottle of Kewpie and squeeze lines of mayonnaise across the surface in a criss-cross pattern; it should look like lattice. Sprinkle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of fish flakes and aonori on top. Place a tablespoon of pickled ginger in the middle.
In February 1983, the twenty-five hours a week I worked at Stratton’s Restaurant didn’t produce enough revenue from my side of the bed, so I answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times—“Line cook for busy, Beverly Hills restaurant.” I was full of confidence as I drove to the West Hollywood address for a 4:00 interview until I saw the small lettered sign, “Trumps.” Trumps (no connection to the on-going White House drama) was the latest in-spot: stark architectural details, a celebrity chef, a daring menu, and hard-to-come-by reservations. Knowing my place, I walked around to the back door and met Dean, the sous chef. “What can you do?” “Whatever you want.” “Put on some whites and prep for dinner.”
The dark, employee dressing room had little in common with the elegant illusion created for Hollywood’s A-list. The smell of old socks and over-worked bodies hung over banged up metal lockers with their doors agape, spilling out K-Swiss shoes and rumpled T-shirts. Not wasting any time there, I changed and entered the fray. I diced, minced, whisked, butchered, grilled, sautéed, and sweated until midnight. “Show up tomorrow,” said Dean. “Five to one, six nights a week.” I passed another test, and started another new job.
Michael Roberts, Chef/owner of Trumps, was a 1980’s Renaissance Man. Like Dennis, my first LA chef, Michael was tall and handsome with a temper and an attraction to the bottle. But his interests were found at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, rather than at Chavez Ravine. Michael Roberts cared nothing about sports, had a Batchelor’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition from NYU, and studied cooking in Paris at the prestigious Ecole Superieure de Cuisine. The wait staff loved Michael and Michael, in return, protected them from Dean’s sharp tongue.
“Cheffie’s” protection did not, however, extend to the line cooks. By eight o’clock his glass had been filled too often and he was flushed with the heat and the drink. As the demands of service intensified and the orders piled up, he forgave no omissions or mistakes. He adjusted every plate that left the kitchen, tasting for quality, checking for presentation, and demanding perfection for each table. One busy Saturday night after an over-cooked lobster and a badly trimmed rack of lamb from the grill, he wheeled around, pointed at me, and yelled, “Out! Get Out! And don’t come back!” I looked at Dean, who hadn’t missed a beat, and muttered “Now what?” “Don’t you dare leave, he won’t remember a thing.” Sure enough, by midnight Michael was his sweet self—congratulating the cooks on a wonderful night’s work and pouring champagne into our huge 7-11 glasses.
Whenever my Mother visited from Vashon, she and I went to my current work environment—that is, the front-door-linen-on-the-table environment. The more realistic back-door-blood-on-the-floor version remained unknown to her. As a Trumps employee, however, it was difficult for me to become a customer. Due to the brisk drug trade carried on at the bar by members of the wait staff, employee reservations had to be approved by the restaurant manager. My first virtue—doesn’t do drugs—came in handy, I aced the front office interview, Muth and I were cleared, and we showed up one afternoon for high tea.
We walked in through the front door, I smelled good, there was no food on my clothes, and I carried a purse, not a knife roll. We had a marvelous time—the servers (whose big tips I’d saved many a night) came in strong for me. They bowed, scraped, and treated us like the Queens of England.
I had never been in the front of the house at Trumps and could not believe the difference. Life on the golden side of the swinging door was stunning. Diners never know the havoc and controlled chaos that reign on the florescent side of the kitchen door. Their candlelit side was sparkling crystal and Limoges—our fluorescent side was plastic 7-11 glasses and dented sauté pans; the candlelit side, a jazz piano and the murmur of conversation—the fluorescent side, ear-splitting salsa music and shouted obscenities; the candlelit side, a recent manicure and a well-kept coiffure—the fluorescent side, rag-wrapped wounds and greasy hair stuffed into baseball caps.
Occasionally, some residents of the candlelit side came through the swinging doors to watch life on the florescent side. The women Jimmychooed cautiously into the kitchen, side-stepping overflowing laundry bags and just-mopped spills. The men struck up manly conversations with Bart, the burly, red-bearded grill man, giving him “barbecue” tips. We, the unwashed kitchen rats, rolled our eyes, swore under our breath, and waited for the washed glittterati to return to their own side. It worked for everyone.
Trumps’ Bread Pudding
1 cup dried fruit—prunes, cherries, apricots, mangos
3 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
3 cups half & half
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Marinate prunes or other dried fruit: Heat white wine, pour over 1 cup dried fruit and let stand 1-2 hours. Drain & chop in Cuisinart.
8 cups cubed white bread (preferably stale)
Line loaf pan with buttered parchment paper.
Combine eggs, egg yolks, and sugar—whisk until light yellow colored.
Heat half & half and vanilla. Add to egg mixture. Strain.
Alternate: 1) Layer of bread 2) Prunes or other dried fruit 3) Sprinkle of sugar.
Pour custard over layers in loaf pans. Press down top cubes of bread to soak with custard. Bake in water bath for 1-1 ½ hours at 325 degrees or until knife comes out clean.
Chicken with Port
Add butter to hot sauté pan. When foaming has stopped, brown chicken breast, skin side down. Pour off fat.
Add 2 T. shallots, 2 parts red Port to one part chicken stock to sauté pan with chicken. Roast in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, remove chicken breast and keep warm. Reduce liquid (port/chicken stock) to syrup.
Add ½ c. heavy cream—reduce until thickened.
Add 2 T. stilton cheese, and whisk in 2 T. cold butter. If the cream sauce separates, just add a little water to the pan and swirl.
If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, “We The North.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.
As we flew into O’Hare, I could see the “crushed ice” on Lake Michigan from my window seat but I still wasn’t prepared for the eye-watering, nose-running winter chill when we walked outside to wait in the taxi line.
One year we spent November/December/January on the shores of Lake Superior and February/March on the wind-swept prairies of North Dakota but this Chicago cold is brutal. The City opened thirty “warming shelters”, canceled the “Polar Plunge”, lit fires along the railroad tracks to keep them from freezing, and magically cleared the downtown sidewalks of all ice. Now that’s your tax dollars in action.
Chicagoans are smug about their ability to handle cold weather—but this sub-zero freeze has everyone talking. Local news shows are full of “how to” tips: thaw your pipes, dress up your dog, tow your car, “frostbite can lead to amputation” and other words of encouragement. Chirpy weather blonde is unrecognizable in her hooded puffy coat and lace-up boots. Luckily both the Sweetie and I have warm coats and mittens, so we can venture out and retain all our limbs. If you ever find yourself in We The North, here are a few of my own tips.
Don’t go out with wet hair when it’s -10°. No kidding, it will break off. Not a good look.
Calling dibs by saving a just-shoveled parking space with lawn chairs, brooms, shovels, etc. is a cherished, inviolable Chicago tradition. There will be retaliation if you move the stuff and park there. The CPD will not sympathize with you.
Chicago car owners resign themselves to driving dirty, salt-crusted, snow-plow hidden cars from December through March.
Wear plastic framed glasses—need I say more.
Join the throngs and invest in a serious coat—preferably a long, puffy one with a fur-lined hood.
Dress in layers—lots of layers, frost can bite exposed skin in fifteen minutes. The Sweetie dons five layers for his six-block walk to work. Ear muffs are a necessity, even under a wool cap. Forget the art of French scarf tying. Just start with a big one and wrap it around and around on the outside of your coat.
The blast of unexpected warmth from sidewalk grates overrides my reluctance to walk on them (and brings Marilyn Monroe to mind).
Unless you plan to rob a convenience store, a neck gaiter or buff may be a safer bet than a balaclava. (I had never heard of any of these until we came to Chicago.)
Neck gaiter Buff Balaclava
Even though wearing mittens makes you feel like a nine-year old, your hands will be warmer.
The City of Chicago does a good job of keeping the sidewalks passable—either magnanimous compassion or savvy litigation avoidance, who’s to say.
Turkey Noodle Soup
Step 1. Roast the bones (You can skip this step, go right on to Step 2, and still make acceptable turkey stock for your soup, but roasting the raw bones and the cooked turkey carcass does make for a richer-tasting turkey soup.)
To roast the bones for the stock: place raw turkey or chicken bones (legs, necks, backs, wings, wing tips, and tail) and the cooked turkey carcass in a flat, heavy bottomed pan or large sheet-pan along with one quartered onion quartered, 3 large-chop carrots, and 2-3 large chop stalks of celery. Roast in a preheated 425° oven for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the bones are well-browned, stirring a couple times.
If I don’t have a cooked turkey carcass, I usually roast a couple turkey wings, backs, necks, a whole drumstick, and chicken backs and necks. My best ever turkey soup was made using a stock from three roasted turkey carcasses and 5 pounds roasted chicken bones—the more the merrier.
Step 2. Build the stock
If you skipped the roasting part, put the raw bones and cooked turkey carcass in the stockpot, add carrots, celery, onion, leftover mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and cover with chicken stock or cold water.
If you roasted the bones and carcass, once they’re well-browned, place them and the roasted vegetables in a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Add two bay leaves (optional), a sprinkle of dried thyme, 8-10 black peppercorns, leftover dressing gravy, and mashed potatoes (if you have any) and cover with chicken stock or cold water. If you prefer a thicker soup, wait until you’re making the soup to add the leftovers.
The quantity of chicken stock or water to use varies with how many bones you use. Whatever the amount, just cover the bones and vegetables. This year I used a stock made from one roasted turkey leg, one roasted turkey wing, and a half cooked turkey breast carcass, covered with three boxes of chicken stock and a couple cups water.
Step 3. Simmer the stock
Bring to a boil, turn down immediately and simmer gently (uncovered) until bones are soft and falling apart, probably at least 2-3 hours. You can also put the stock pot in a 325° oven for four or so hours.
Step 4. Strain the stock
Turn off, let cool for 15 minutes, then strain (don’t save stock vegetables, you’ll want to add fresh ones for the soup). Any turkey meat that was on the bones may be tasteless and not worth saving.
Bring strained broth back to a simmer, salt to taste, skim to remove as much fat as possible, and let broth reduce at a simmer for 10 minutes.
Step 5. Turkey soup
In a clean stock pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Add fresh diced carrots, celery, onion, sprinkle of salt, some white pepper, sprinkle of thyme, and half as much dried sage.
Sauté until vegetables are slightly softened, add 2 tablespoons flour and sauté, stirring constantly over medium low heat until flour is completely mixed in.
Cover vegetables with your hot stock or chicken stock and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft. To make a thicker soup, you can add the leftover mashed potatoes, dressing, and gravy at this point.
Add cooked noodles (You can also cook the noodles in the soup. Just add them 10-15 minutes before the soup is done and vegetables are soft.) and diced or shredded turkey meat. Don’t be shy with salt—it makes a big difference.