Saturday in Chicago: Okonomiyaki

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)


Pancake base: 

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


Okonomiyaki sauce: 

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)

Soft-boiled eggs

Pickled ginger


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.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants, Travel | 1 Comment

Trumps: Bread pudding, Sautéed chicken with Port


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.

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

We The North: Turkey noodle 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, “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.

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 1 Comment

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