Big-city Christmas: Goat cheese and roasted garlic beehive

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, “Big-city Christmas.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Christkindlmarket in Chicago’s Daley Plaza left its mark—I smell like a mixture of cinnamon, apples, and sugar. Wikipedia estimates that 1,000,000 people visit this holiday market in December and I think every one of them was there today. I took the #29 bus from State & Grand, passing the House of Blues, the Marina Towers Condominiums, the Gene Siskel Film Center, and Harry Carry’s Italian Steakhouse.


A line of people, contained by yellow tape and black poles, snaked up and down the sidewalk in front of a small storefront. What could be the allure—free food, tickets to Hamilton, a chance to buy a Fingerling? Oh no, the prize was Bavarian Christmas ornaments, baubles, and tchotchkes. A big, gruff, man shuffling along behind me said, “There better be a large stein of beer at the end of this line.”



Michigan Avenue was even more crowded. Where do all these people come from and how did they get enough money to be laden with bags from Gucci, Tiffany, and Ferragamo? I walked into the Swarovski Store looking for a crystal bead to finish off my latest quilt. Black-tied waiters serving champagne to fancy people was my first clue that I had entered a parallel universe. A beautifully-dressed young woman looked puzzled when I asked where the bead department was. “We have beaded evening clutches,” she said brightly. 



On my way back to the hotel, I bought a $2.99 “hapless” Chicago Bears beanie baby at Osco and called it a day.

Saw this recipe from The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen. Looks too good not to try. Although it may be difficult to round up 15-20 people.


Goat Cheese and Roasted Garlic Beehive from The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen

Serves 15-20 people

  • 5 lb. whole garlic heads, unpeeled 
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2.2 lb fresh goat cheese 
  • Honey, warmed, for drizzling 
  • Crostini, crackers or crusty bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread out the garlic on a baking sheet/tray and drizzle with the olive oil. Bake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until deep, golden brown with burn spots here and there. Being careful not to burn your fingers, give the garlic heads a pinch. They should be very soft.

Let cool to room temperature and then cut each head in half hori­zontally with a serrated bread knife. Squeeze the roasted garlic pulp into a bowl, remov­ing any garlic peels that may fall into the bowl. Mix the gar­lic pulp with a whisk until smooth.

Line a 1-qt bowl with cheesecloth/muslin with plenty of overhang. Bring the goat cheese to room temperature.

Using clean and slightly damp hands, press a small amount of the cheese into the cloth-lined bowl. It should be a layer about 1-inch thick. This will be the top of the beehive. Add enough garlic puree to make a layer about 1-inch thick; repeat with the goat cheese, forming it into a disc 1-inch thick and of the same circumference of the mold. Continue with the alternating layers of goat cheese and garlic, ending with the cheese. Cover with the overhanging cheesecloth/muslin and refrigerate overnight.

An hour or so before serving, peel back the cheese­cloth/muslin. Place a cake stand upside down on the bowl and then invert the two together. Remove the bowl and peel off the cheesecloth/muslin to reveal the beehive. Any cracks in the goat cheese can be smoothed with a wet finger or spatula. Drizzle the beehive with honey to complete the theme and balance the aromatic garlic. Serve with crostini, crackers or plenty of crusty bread.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Travel | 2 Comments

Small-town Christmas: Mother Hanks’ Hot 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, “Small-town Christmas.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

1969, Sioux City, Iowa

When Ma Bell forced my dad into retirement at 58 to make way for the young, mean drones, he and Muth moved from Nebraska to Vashon Island. My heart was broken. What about Sunday dinner? How will we watch Yankee games in color? Who will babysit on bridge night? What will my kids do without their grandparents? When will I see them again? I know, I know, it wasn’t about me. I remember standing on the front steps of our just-sold family home, holding my two-year old son, watching their car back out of the driveway. 

Anyways, that year was rough. Their first visit home was at Christmas, coming in to Omaha on an early evening flight from Seattle. We woke up in the morning to scattered snow showers; by noon, there were flurries; by sunset, drifts. Flights arriving from the East were cancelled, flights from the West, delayed. Snowplows were out, highway travel was tricky. What to do? 

Dun da da dun! Dick’s new all-wheel drive Jeep to the rescue. He had inherited the car from his brother that summer and was itching to try out the adjustable drive feature that promised travel across any treachery. As per the car culture of the day, the kids floated untethered in the back seat while in the front seat, the adults relaxed without the restriction of seatbelts. Once out of the driveway, Dick jockeyed the gearshift into “Extreme” and we sped through the snow all the way to Omaha and back. The day was saved, our holiday was merry and bright, and it was the last Christmas I spent with my Dad. So, as Warren Zevon would say, “Enjoy every Christmas.”


1986, Vashon, Washington

One of my mother’s best parenting traits was her willingness to accept our choices without trying to make us feel guilty. All three of us disappointed her at one time or another but she once told me, “I don’t have to like what you do, but I always like who you are.” When the sisters were together as adults, laughing wildly or hooting inappropriately, she would shake her head and say, “Oh you girls.” We did shine at Christmas, though. 

Nikki drove from San Diego (with all four of her cats), the car packed with everything necessary for Christmas Eve tacos. The Sweetie and I came from LA, flying because I couldn’t get much time off. Ginny and Ron lived down the road, so they were already part of the fabric of Muth’s life. 

One Christmas Muth arranged to have a family portrait taken by a professional photographer. She insisted that we dress up, put on our “big girl shoes”, and drive in to Seattle. As we were trooping in to the studio from the parking lot, Ginny noticed that Nikki had stepped on three-year old Andrew’s little plastic train and it was still stuck to her high heel, dragging along on the sidewalk as she walked. We three lost all composure, doubling over in hysteria, almost peeing our collective pants. Every time we got a grip, one sister would look sideways at another and it would start up again. The photographer threatened, Muth scolded, but the mood was set. The picture turned out spectacularly—everyone was smiling.



Nikki made her own salsa by the quart and brought jars of it with her every Christmas. When I returned to Sound Food in 1989, her recipe came with me. We made gallons of it, using a grinder attached to Bob the Baker’s Hobart once he was gone for the day.

Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce 

  • 4# Roma tomatoes or 2 large cans diced-in juice tomatoes 
  • ½ red onion 
  • ½ Serrano 
  • ½ green pepper 
  • 2 stalks celery 
  • 1 bunch cilantro (cut off just below the leaves) 
  • 1 small can tomato juice 
  • 1/2 t. cumin 
  • 3 shakes of Tabasco 
  • 2 t. salt  
  • juice of three limes  
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon minced chipotles in juice, depending on your hotness tolerance

Fine dice or Cuisinart onions, drain, and reserve. You want the onions to be small and you don’t want the onion juice to overpower the salsa. 

Grind remaining ingredients in Kitchenaid grinder attachment. 

Stir in reserved onions and chipotle.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

Modern or Contemporary? Cream of Tomato Soup

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, “Modern or Contemporary.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

In the art world, Modern and Contemporary are not interchangeable terms. Modern Art refers to a period beginning in the 1880s and ending in the 1960s when Cezanne, Manet, Van Gogh, and others revolutionized the art world by breaking away from conventional, realistic art created solely for the church or for wealthy patrons and began exploring their own subjective and surreal experiences. Styles that reflect the Modern Art movement include Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism.

Contemporary Art refers to art produced after the 1960s by living artists whose work reflects current political and cultural topics and has social impact. At Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, there are no Cezannes, Manets or Van Goghs. Instead the galleries are filled with Contemporary Art familiars—Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and unfamiliars (at least to me)—Roger Brown, Yinka Shonibare, Magdelana Abakanowicz, Gabriel Kuri, and Roger Brown.


Jeff Koons, Lifeboat

Andy Warhol, Vote McGovern


Alexander Calder

Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol in the Red Room

Roger Brown, Ablaze and Ajar

Contemporary art often has hidden surprises that are easy to miss. If you stand close to Roger Brown’s Autobiography in the Shape of Alabama (Mammy’s Door) and look down into the mirror on the floor, you’ll see the underneath of the painting and the inscription, “Thanks for Barbara Allen.” 

Yinka Shonibare, Alien Obsessives, Mum, Dad, and the Kids

Gabriel Kuri, Wheelbarrows with Popcorn and Glass

Takashi Murakami, Jellyfish Eyes and Wink Sculpture (pink)


Sam Durant’s Partially Buried 1960s/1970s Dystopia Revealed includes another hidden surprise. When you bend down and listen closely to the two piles of dirt, you’ll hear Mick Jagger at Altamont coming from the left mound and Wavy Gravy at Woodstock coming from the right mound.

The museum’s gift shop was full of cool stuff and, as in all other museum restaurants I’ve visited, MCA’s restaurant set-up was confusing. Do I seat myself? Do I order at the counter? Where are the napkins? I’m never quite sure what to do—I always drift and hesitate. Maybe clear signage is just too mundane.


I’ll bet they always know what to do.

BTW, the weather has been spring-like in Chicago—in the upper 60s. Then yesterday, the temperature dropped 35 degrees to a high of 31.

Cream of tomato soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 medium onion, julienned or sliced 
  • 1 large fennel bulb (optional) you can also use 1⁄2- 1 teaspoons fennel seeds 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper 
  • 1⁄2 cup Pernod (optional) 
  • 4-6 ripe Romas, seeded & chopped or 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes (best quality possible) 
  • 2 cups chicken stock 
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream 
  • 1⁄2 cup half & half
  • Dash of Tabasco 

Trim fennel, discarding stem. Thinly slice stalks.Melt butter over moderate heat in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onions and cook with salt and pepper until soft, about 10 minutes. Add fennel, reduce heat to low, cook additional ten minutes. 

Add Pernod and reduce liquid by half. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Reduce to simmer and cook, covered about 20 minutes.  

Puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot and add cream and half and half. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Add Tabasco. 

Fennel bulb and Pernod are optional. I usually don’t have either so almost always make the soup without. Good quality canned tomatoes are preferred, but I often use regular old grocery store Hunt’s. The imported Italian are the best but cost plenty more—San Marzano or Muir Glen are both good brands. 

Heavy cream and half and half make for a silky delicious soup, but you can substitute less caloric milk for part of the dairy or leave it out and use only stock. Thin to your preference. 

Restaurants make many variations on this method for soup of the day, substituting any other vegetable: broccoli, mushroom, spinach, asparagus, potato/leek, squash, beet, carrot, etc.  

Posted in Museums, Recipes, Travel | Leave a comment

Cooking without Fire, Part II: Marinated skirt steak

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the video below by clicking on the post title, Cooking Without Fire, Part II. You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Remember when MTV was cool?

Throw some money at a problem—works every time. Our problem today—feeding two adults in a small hotel kitchen using two burners, cheap pans, and a microwave. Daily spending options: eat lunch and dinner in local restaurants—$100.00; buy prepared food—Osco, $20.00, Whole Foods, $35.00, Eataly, $50.00; open a can and heat—Spaghettios, canned ravioli, Chun King chop suey, $5.00. Or…invest in a countertop appliance and a good sauté pan.

The Sweetie texted me from work, “There’s a package for you at the front desk.” 

“I’ll go get it.”

“No, you’d better let them bring it up, it’s big and heavy.”

I was at the desk in two minutes, the box was indeed big and heavy. Barbells? Our concrete Buddha from home? All my high-school yearbooks? No indeed, gentle readers, it was a Philips “Smoke-less indoor grill: “delicious grilled food with virtually no smoke” using infra-ray technology. 

Where in the world will I put it? Can this possibly work? Aren’t there dire consequences if you grill indoors? How will we ever get it home?

The Sweetie was jonzin’ for chicken breasts, grilled-vegetable pasta, a halloumi/peach salad, maybe a toasty slice of garlic bread, or spicy shrimp and cherry tomato skewers. How about hanger steak and mushrooms, lime-marinated skirt steak, or perhaps a $40.00 dry-aged New York ribeye from Eataly? 

As promised, the set-up consisted of removing the grill from the box and setting it on the counter, with no screws, grates or handles to attach. Controls are few and simple—one off/on switch and one power cord. Once I understood that l was “On” and }}} was “Warm” (Who knew?), the experimental chicken breasts cooked quickly, with very little smoke. Marinated beef tenderloin was next—another ripping success. Can grilled pizza be far behind?

So the answers are: on top of the refrigerator; yes; not with the Philip’s smokeless grill; and FedEx it home. Thanks to the Sweetie for finding a solution.

Skirt Steak Marinade 

  • ½ c. olive oil 
  • 3 T. lime juice or red wine vinegar 
  • 2/3 c. soy sauce 
  • 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 T. dry mustard 
  • 1 T. Tabasco 
  • 1 T. minced garlic 
  • 1 tsp. black pepper   

Marinate skirt steaks, rib eye or sirloin overnight.   

Serve with Horseradish/Mustard: Mix 1 c. stone-ground mustard with 3 T. horseradish.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Travel | 3 Comments

Molto Mario: Arancini

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, watch the videos below by clicking on the post title, Molto Mario. You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.


Or this?

Before Food Network aired cutthroat culinary competition and created stars out of psycho Chefs, terrible cooks, and precocious tots, there was Molto Mario. In 1996, when Food Network featured professional cooks—Mario Batali was one of the first and one of the best. His show, Molto Mario, was simple—he cooked behind the counter while three of his friends watched and chatted. He supplied no recipes, moved along at a quick clip, and he never repeated himself, so if you wanted to reproduce his dish of the day, you’d better pay attention.

As Mario cooked, he talked about Italy, its history, his favorite spots, and the ingredients he was using. The first show I watched starred arancini: stuffed, fried, rice balls made from leftover risotto. During the show’s nine-year run, he shared his recipes for tortelli, pizza, wild boar, grilled smoked mozzarella, and other examples of regional Italian cuisine. In 2005, when Food Network moved away from skilled, professional chefs demonstrating cooking techniques toward amateur cooks competing in staged, chaos-driven productions, Mario dropped “Molto” and added “Iron Chef” to his name. I just read a piece in Variety that said Food Network is bringing back Molto Mario in 2018—music to my ears.

One of the best restaurant meals I ever had was at Batali’s Los Angeles-based, Osteria Mozza: every bite was exceptional, with  impeccable service, a golden, romantic setting, and painfully loud, head-banging rock and roll in the background. Restaurant industry rumors suggest that Mario’s preference for loud music also turns the tables at his restaurants more quickly. I do remember that our desire for peace and quiet did outweigh our desire to linger over dessert. 

Anyways, in 2010, Mario and his partners Joe and Lidia Bastianich, opened the first North American Eataly in New York City to lines around the block. So, imagine my delight when I realized that the Chicago version was directly behind our hotel. I can actually run over when I need a shallot, a lemon, or a pound of white truffles. 

I want to love Eataly, but it’s taken me five visits to understand the layout, figure out how to pay, locate the gelato and coffee beans, and find my way out. The Italian superstore isn’t big on first-timer orientation, product information, or well-informed clerks. And it is arrogantly expensive—I paid $10.00 for a shot of espresso poured over a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream, $9.00 for a jar of spaghetti sauce, and $5.00 for a single arancini. But a loaf of excellent “rustic” bread was $3.00, a pound of fresh tagliatelle was $4.00, and a shallot, just $1.50. Anyways, for now it’s my go-to store for milk, bread, and an occasional snack at the Nutella Bar. Needless to say, I won’t have Eataly to complain about in Lacey.

 Mario Batali’s Arancini

  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 4 ounces yellow onion, finely diced
  • 10 cups lightly salted water
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ¾ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 20 ½-inch dice
  • 20 peas
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs, passed through a seive
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • Salt, to taste

Bring a large pot with the 10 cups of water to a boil, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place a saucepan over medium heat, and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add the diced onions to the pan and cook until they become tender. When the onions are translucent, add the rice and toast the grains, making sure to coat them with the oil and mixing for 5 minutes. Using a large ladle, add 1 cup of hot water until the rice is just covered, stirring continuously until the water is just above the surface of the rice, keeping the liquid at a consistent boil. Repeat this process until you have added all the water and the risotto is cooked through.

When the risotto is al dente, stir in the cubed butter, lemon zest, and grated Parmigiano Reggiano until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Season with salt, to taste.

Remove the pan from the heat and spread the risotto on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper to allow it to cool. Once it has cooled, roll portions of the risotto in your hands to form balls of about 4 ounces, and stuff each one with a piece of mozzarella and a pea, sealing any holes.

Place the flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Coat one risotto ball first with the flour, then with the egg, and finally with the breadcrumbs, then place it back on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat this process until all the risotto balls have been coated thoroughly.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil until it is almost smoking. Cook the arancini in the oil until they become golden brown all over. Remove each rice ball to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve warm, topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Posted in Chefs, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

You can’t see the tree for the forest: Ginny’s Chicken Cheddar Chowder

Here’s a tune for our friends who love dogs and for the dogs who love our friends, compliments of Ginny, the ultimate dog lover. If you receive this post from Marla in the Kitchen, rather than an email from me, click on the post title, “You can’t see the tree”  and you will be taken to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Some of our family dogs. See, we don’t need a dog of our own, we have plenty. 

From left to right: Lucy, Susie, Palouse, Gracie, Jack, Rusty, Bayer, Gina, Riva, Arthur, and Louie.




Anyways, back to life in Chicago. Once again, we have a minor medical mishap and no bandaids. But without a car, a quick trip to the drugstore is out of the question. I can see a Walgreen’s sign from the hotel window, so it can’t be far. iPhone and I head out the door and turn left on Grand. The blue Google Maps arrow dances around, finally resting at “left on Michigan” and we’re off. 

What? “right on Rush”? I don’t see any “Rush.” (I figured out today that at every other downtown Chicago intersection, the street sign faces the opposite direction of the one before. So if you are lost, just go to the middle of the street, turn around, pause, and look up. If you don’t get run over, you can see what street you’re on.) My Google choices are to climb up two flights of stairs (to who knows where) or to walk straight on, through a dark underpass. I choose the stairs, climb up toward the light, stepping away from the herd once to catch my breath, and reach a beautiful courtyard plaza and an open, blue sky. Photo-worthy, but where’s Walgreen’s? The building front is old and ornate, farmer’s produce stands line the courtyard, statues grace the perimeter, someone is installing a skating rink, selfie-taking abounds. All very cool, but where’s Walgreen’s?

I sit down on a bench, pondering my options. Pulsing blue orb has replaced dancing arrow, so I’ve gotta be close. Then I notice walkers with Walgreen’s sacks coming out of the first floor of that old, ornate building in the middle of the plaza. Ta Da! Walgreen’s is inside the famous Wrigley Building, who knew? Chicago, your secret is safe with me.

We are camp cooking again: this time, it’s with two small burners and a microwave. Can Mr. Coffee vegetables be far behind? As for kitchen equipment: three cheap stainless steel pans (certain to burn everything), no peeler, no grater, one knife, no cutting board—but there is a sink. Everything has to be one-pot: one pot pasta, sautéed chicken breasts, pork chops, or soup—forget anything stuffed, pounded, or having more than three ingredients. TJ’s is two blocks away, so look for microwaved brown rice, pre-made polenta, cooked chicken strips, and the occasional steak. Last night we had a passable creamy broccoli, potato, cheesy (enough good cheddar makes anything taste better) soup, similar to Ginny’s Chicken Cheddar Chowder, and a pre-made TJ’s spinach salad. 

Mario Batali’s amazing (but outrageously expensive), two-story Italian supermarket, Eataly, is a block away. So, for the cost of a vacation in Sicily, we can have burrata, arancini, truffled risotto, Lidia Bastianich’s spaghetti sauce with house-made pasta, dry-aged New York steaks, veal chops, and “rustic bread.” But Eataly is a post for another time.

Chicken Cheddar Chowder

  • 1 cup cooked chicken pieces (one sautéed, raw, diced, chicken breast, chicken pieces from roasted chicken, or canned chicken breast.)
  • 4 ounces bacon, chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced 
  • 1 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 tablespoon flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 4 cups chicken stock 
  • 1  cup diced potatoes
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half 
  • 4 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated

In a stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. 

If you are using an uncooked skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut raw breast into cubes. Sauté in rendered bacon fat until cooked through. Remove and reserve. 

Add the onions and butter to the bacon fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. 

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain. (If using frozen corn you can skip this step.) Add the corn, cooked chicken pieces to the soup, then add the half-and-half and grated Cheddar. 

Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Serve with a garnish of bacon. 

Posted in Travel | 4 Comments

Big city girl

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Chicago by clicking on the post title, “Big city girl.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

We’re getting used to living in downtown Chicago. The background din has softened; the audible impatience of a honk, the hum of too many cars, and the urgency of intermittent sirens are all blending in. If I open the window of our 11th floor room, the sound is harshly symphonic—both intrusive and soothing; close the window and I am hermetically sealed. When I step out into the streets, I become part of the beehive swarm and the noise is manageable.

The view out of our window

We don’t have a clock in our room, but we do have the Wrigley Building’s clock tower. How cool is that!

Here we are.

I’ve never lived downtown in a big city before. Here are a few impressions from this small-city rube.

  • The majority of pedestrians are under 30, dressed in black-casual (if you want to stick out on the streets of downtown Chicago, wear a bright color), carrying backpacks. The stereotypical “old”, bent over a walker, doesn’t exist. Chicago “grays” stride with purpose in stylish sneakers, wear black, and carry backpacks—maybe it’s survival of the fittest.
  • There are few noticeably overweight people walking on the sidewalks. Again, natural selection at work, I assume.
  • Oncoming pedestrians don’t move to the side. Shoulder brushes, met at home with a murmured apology, are run of the mill (no offense given/no offense taken) encounters. 
  • Street birds are scruffy and sad.
  • Pre-made, grocery-store food, whether from Whole Foods or 7-Eleven, is mediocre.
  • Don’t be fooled by a sunny day—if it’s after Halloween, it’s cold.
  • Chicago pedestrians don’t wait for the walking man’s go-ahead light to cross the street and they don’t hesitate to jay walk. Chicago police have meaner fish to fry.
  • Big-city hotel rooms are small.
West Park neighborhood
Fannie May, Dearborn Street
Divvy, Chicago’s bike share program
This week’s edition of “You Had To Be There”
Don’t assume it’s about you: 
I walk through the door of After Words, a Seattle-style, independent book store. I am the only customer. A city hipster, sitting behind the check-out desk sporting a scruffy beard and knit watch cap, is reading David Foster Wallace’s latest book and doesn’t look up. I browse a bit: sci-fi, young adult, philosophy, a few New York Times’ Best Sellers. I notice steps leading downstairs. “What’s downstairs?” “More books,” said hipster, not looking up from his book. 
Hmph, more books, indeed. Found a collection of Alice Munro stories, approach hipster to pay, “Sorry, didn’t mean to ignore you,” he beamed. “I’m having a hard time getting through this one.”
Posted in Travel | 4 Comments

Three nights, three beds: Chicago-style hot dog

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Frank Sinatra by clicking on the post title, “Three nights, three beds.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played

It was a dark and stormy night when we left our heroine tied to a moving truck, with her Sweetie far, far away. The large white truck did show up on Wednesday; three small, but wirey, Russians did move all her possessions from two storage units; the Sweetie did gallop in from Chicago on Friday night to her rescue; the happy couple did spend Saturday night in their new house, in their own bed, surrounded by boxes; they did catch the Sunday noon flight back to Chicago; she did learn how to wire transfer funds and she didn’t lock all the pertinent keys in the car. All in all, the move was a huge success.

My middle-of-the-night yips starring no-show trucks, lost keys, misplaced documents, and doors that refused to open didn’t materialize—however, the movers were two hours late and it rained off and on all day. Two of the guys spoke no English (except, “Excuse me…?”), but they set everything up, stacked all the boxes in the garage, took their shoes off every time they walked in the door, and worked politely, swiftly, and efficiently from 4:00-10:00. The move took at least twice as long as I thought it would, cost twice as much as I thought it would, and was more difficult than I imagined. As I said in July, if you’re thinking of moving, reconsider.

Chicago is a hoot: deep dish pizza or hot dogs tonight at the Hotel Allerton’s Tip Top Tap at the Sweetie’s meet and mingle, so all’s well that ends well. 

The Tip Top Tap in the 100 year-old Allerton Hotel

Bloomingdales’s on Michigan Ave

La Salle Street, River North

Thought I would add a short Chicago feature, “You had to be there.”

Honking does not necessarily result in forward motion: a fortyish woman walks across the street, struggling with a large box, her carry-all purse slipping off her shoulder. She steps up her pace to cross before the walking-man light turns into the orange hand. A long, impatient honk blatts from behind the privacy windows of an imposing, black SUV. Fortyish woman stops in the middle of the street, puts the box down, adjusts her purse, turns around, hands-on-her-hips, to face the SUV, and says, “Really?”

Chicago-style hot dog, “dragged through the garden”

  • all-beef hot dog
  • 1 poppyseed hot dog bun 
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon sweet green (bright green, if possible) pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion
  • chopped tomato
  • 1 dill pickle spear
  • 2 sport peppers 
  • celery salt

Place hot dog in the steamed bun. Pile on the toppings in this order: yellow mustard, sweet green pickle relish, onion, chopped tomato, pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. The tomatoes should be nestled between the hot dog and the top of the bun. Place the pickle between the hot dog and the bottom of the bun. Shake celery salt over everything. Don’t even think about using ketchup.

BTW, not only is winter right around the corner, tomorrow is the end of daylight savings time. As a New Yorker piece said, “At 2:01 on the first Sunday in November, the clock is turned back an hour; in an instant, “now” becomes “then”, and we live sixty minutes all over again.”

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 3 Comments

The Move

If you received this new post as an email from Marla in the Kitchen, listen to Carole King by clicking on the post title, “The Move.” You’ll be redirected to the blog’s website where YouTube videos can be played.

Here we go, ready or not. After three months of couch surfing, wandering, and renting—our new house is ready, papers have been signed, and the move is on. The Sweetie is working in Chicago, squeezed into a tiny downtown hotel room, washing his clothes at the Laundromat, hunting for food, and picking out his own tie. I’m home, wrangling funds transfers, storage units, and packing boxes. 

We were in our thirties when we met, both independent, hard-working, and individually involved with our families and friends. We had separate lives, separate bank accounts, and separate living spaces. We combined resources, moved to Los Angeles, and began a forty-year relationship. Over the years, we have settled into more traditional roles: I am the nurturer, Sweetie is the decider. It makes more sense for me to cook (I know how), I don’t mind cleaning, I fold a mean fitted sheet, and I truly enjoy taking care of our home. Sweetie has a good mind for financial details, prepares our taxes, takes care of the cars, and knows his way around a tool-box. 

So, we have become specialists—each proficient in our chosen field. I am glad he wants to drive, set the agenda, and take care of the details. Unfortunately, for the past fifteen years, I haven’t paid that much attention to his part of our equation. I day dream when we’re in the car, my mind blurs when he talks about Vanguard, I don’t always remember which credit card to use, and I have no idea how to wire transfer funds. Well, the jig is up, it’s time for me to pay the piper, face the music, and get this move moved. 

The process as a whole is impossible. How can I possibly stay on top of the myriad financial details that accompany an enormous purchase, keep track of all the keys, and wrangle three big strong movers without my partner? How in the world can I move every item we possess from one reality to another? Using one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, “Bird by bird, buddy, bird by bird.” (Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”) 

Posted in Family and friends | 5 Comments

Me and the Blue Whale: Enchilada sauce

As soon as we got off the elevator, the smell was unmistakable—bad shrimp, old fish sticks, and rotten crab cakes, with just a hint of room-temperature lobster tails. As we walked into the restaurant’s kitchen, a murky leak coming from beneath the large commercial freezer in the prep area confirmed my worst fears. My first week in the Los Angeles Pacific Design Center’s Blue Whale was not off to a good start. 

Pacific Design Center 

The Blue Whale building

My new job as kitchen manager at a corporate, Mexican-ish restaurant came with a a good salary, health benefits, and a regular 7:00 am-6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, work week. I liked the front manager, knew I could improve the bland, American-Mexican menu, and thought I could turn the tightly knit, subtly hostile, kitchen staff into allies. I had never worked with pre-battered, boxed, seafood (thawed and deep-fried into submission), and frozen vegetables, so I started there. Using my old Border Grill contacts, I ordered local produce and fresh seafood and by Friday, the walk-in was filled with tomatillos, cactus paddles, Ortega chiles, fresh mahi mahi, sturgeon, and oysters, ready to shine on my revised menu. 

Eager to organize the kitchen, I tackled the walk-in freezer trying to find the profitable and create order. On Friday night, I set the white elephant in the room to “Defrost”, turned off the kitchen, and went home. I expected to come in on Sunday, plan the week’s menu around the usable, and throw out the rest. But defrost apparently meant off, and by the time I returned, all the food in the freezer had melted into a smelly, lukewarm, mess. 

The Sweetie (drafted into service) and I spent the day scooping food into garbage bags, pushbrooming sludge toward the drain, and swabbing the kitchen. It took us well into evening, but eventually, we shoved all the dripping bags down the garbage chute, Lysoled the floors and hallway, and hosed down the freezer. 

The menu stayed the same (corporate food czars said, “No input is necessary from you”), I learned to live with the fried and the frozen, the food didn’t get much better, and most of the kitchen staff remained subtly hostile. I only lasted five months but one of my allies did give me his Mom’s recipe for enchilada sauce.

Enchilada Sauce 

  • 2-3 T. oil 
  • ½ onion, fine-dice
  • 2 T. garlic  
  • ½ tsp. salt 
  • 1 t. cumin 
  • 1 t. oregano 
  • 5 T. chili powder  
  • 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder 
  • 1 T. flour 
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or jarred salsa 
  • 3 c. chicken stock or water 
  • 1 T. sugar 
  • 2 drops Liquid Smoke 

Sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add salt, chili powders, cumin, and oregano, sauté until spices are browned and onions are soft. Add flour, sauté until well mixed. 

Add tomato sauce, and stock or water. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until smooth and glossy. If you have a hand blender, use it to blend the enchilada sauce. Otherwise, use a regular blender, no need to strain. You may wish to thin the sauce more, so use either water or stock.  

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants | 3 Comments