Lottie + Doof + Spilt Milk

When we moved to Oak Park seven years ago, it was not a town with a thriving restaurant scene. We have a bunch of restaurants that are fine, but I am never really excited to eat at any of them. It bummed me out. When someone visits from out of town, we almost always leave Oak Park to eat. Seven years later things are basically the same—this isn’t a redemption story—but there is one very important exception. Last autumn, sisters Meg and Molly Svec opened Spilt Milk Pastry, a tiny storefront bakery near the center of town, and just a couple of blocks from our house. read more+++

Spinning J

Spinning J, a bakery and cafe in Chicago’s beautiful Humboldt Park neighborhood, is located down the street from The Chicago High School for the Arts. At the beginning and end of the school day, Spinning J serves as 60622’s Peach Pit and is full of fresh-faced teens sharing pastries and milk shakes. I love these kids and I wish I had a place that cool to hang out in when I was in school. And they make me love Spinning J more, because they prove it to be a place that is comfortable and fun for the truly diverse group of patrons who walk through the door each day. Old curmudgeons like me, future stars of Disney musicals, millennials, neighbors, foodies—we all love Spinning J.

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It is Happening Again

It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of David’s Lynch’s iconic 90’s television series, Twin Peaks, in my life. Nothing has had a bigger impact on my aesthetic development—almost anything I am interested in I can find some seed of in Twin Peaks. I’m not alone, the show’s influence on my generation is evident in so much of our culture. When I heard the series was coming back for a third season (I’ll see you again in 25 years.”) I was absolutely on board. People seem worried that it will be bad or disappointing or whatever, but I can’t imagine it not satisfying the part of me that just wants to return to the town where “a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up”.  It is with great excitement and emotion that I await Sunday’s premiere.

Twin Peaks had a real point of view on food that recognized the beauty of American classics like diner pies, cups of black coffee, and police station donuts; but also acknowledged the deliciousness of a baguette sandwich from Paris. It was aware of how food could be creepy (creamed corn) or sexualized (that cherry stem!). Lynch clearly cared about food. So it is important to carefully consider what you are going to serve at your viewing party. I am partial to this delicious donut cake. Basically a butter cake that is scented with nutmeg, filled with jam, and then crusted with a cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve it a little warm and you’ll be really happy. The sugar coating has a generous amount of kosher salt in it and makes this cake exceptional. I used a blueberry and blackberry jam that the original recipe suggested (see link for that recipe) but cherry might be a more obvious choice. Although, the violence implied in a black and blue jam might satisfy Lynch. Your call.

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SQIRL 4EVA

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I was both eager for, and dreading, the Sqirl cookbook (which is actually called: Everything I Want to Eat, Sqirl and the New California Cooking). The popular Los Angeles restaurant has become so beloved by both food-types and celebrity-types that it has become easy to hate. Until you eat there and kind of get it and kind of love it and wonder what it means about you. And Dave Franco is sitting next to you which is confusing and wonderful. I love Sqirl but never really wanted to discuss it with anyone; it is embarrassing, like trying to start a conversation about how great Beyoncé is—so obvious and overdone. (What can I say, I am a Gen-Xer, we were raised to dislike popular things). I had a lot of the same apprehension about the book.

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But I guess what I am learning about Jessica Koslow, the chef and owner of Sqirl, is that she is good at stuff. She manages to capture everything I love and am a little frightened of about Sqirl in the cookbook (including Dave Franco). Even from the outside, you know that something different is happening here. The book jacket clearly references one of the most beautiful cookbooks ever published, Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell. Pawson is a minimalist architect who has a weird relationship with food and aesthetics (he doesn’t cook and maybe only wants to eat white things) but somehow food writer Annie Bell turns this into an amazingly weird and wonderful lifestyle book. We should talk more about that book another time, but I bring it up because if you’re going to reference another book—that is the one to reference. Living and Eating is what I always use as an example when I get into one of my “why can’t cookbooks be weirder and more beautiful” whining fits. Koslow answers my complaints before I even open the book. read more+++

Scalded and Malted Milk Cake

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I made this cake twice. The first time I baked in a bundt pan and seriously fucked it up when trying to remove it from the pan. Pieces. Cursing. Why Does everything happen to me? LOL. It was mostly my fault,  I was lazy when preparing the pan. Luckily I was bringing it to by best friend who had just had her second son and wasn’t going to judge me, she was covered in spit-up. I threw the half I could salvage into a disposable lasagna pan and presented it as the glorious mess it was.

I made it again more recently for the same friend (she really likes malt, and I had something to prove) and this time baked it in a square muffin tin, making cute little individual cakes. I also made the glaze less of a glaze and more of a frosting. I liked it both ways. The cake is full of intense vanilla/malty flavors and feels just right for fall and cool weather and rainy days. It’s kind of my dream cake. It might be yours, too.

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[Talk about voracious!]

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Another Banana Bread

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The last few weeks have been kind of juicy in the ole’ U.S. of A.. I’ve felt everything from shame and anger to pride and joy as an American. That is my usual range of emotions related to my citizenship, I guess it has just felt very concentrated. That coupled with summer, and a series of fun visitors, has kept me pretty distracted. When we’ve been home, we’ve eaten a lot of old favorites. I’ve made this eggplant spread a couple of times and still love it. I baked these cakes for the 4th of July and they were as good as ever.

I also tried another banana bread recipe. This one from the pages of Bon Appetit. I don’t actually read Bon Appetit anymore, I just use it for recipes—some sort of reverse Playboy thing is happening?  I do find myself wondering why magazines are making such a mess of themselves. The way to compete with the internet is not to make your magazine seem more like the internet—yet we’re being given lists and infographics and stupid celebrity stuff. But like I said, there are still some good recipes. This banana bread is from El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette in New York City and is a really special riff on everyone’s favorite quick bread that adds some sesame seeds and sesame paste to the mix.

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Salted Caramel Pound Cake

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Occasionally I come across Martha Stewart’s baking show on PBS. It is strange for many reasons, not the least of which are the lighting (there seem to be multiple suns in her world because the “natural” light coming in through windows is coming from all sorts of directions), and her pronunciation of the word pretty (priht-tea, with a strong emphasis on each syllable). The whole thing is mesmerizing. I would probably join a cult if Martha Stewart started one. Maybe I already have. read more+++

Spiced Carrot, Pistachio + Almond Cake

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It’s 2015, you guys! I hope everyone’s year is off to a great start.

You know how sometimes when you stop doing something it becomes harder to start up again? You lose momentum. Like with new years resolutions, you start off exercising everyday, or flossing, and then you stop and you can’t imagine starting again. Sometimes it is like that with blogging. I took a little break for the holidays and I am now having to throw myself back into this. Not because I haven’t been cooking and wanting to tell you about (I have! I do!), but because it has been a while and so I now need to squeeze it back into my life. Squeeze it into the time slot that has been filled with things like bad tv and good books.

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The Torte

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Make this cake.

In case Deb, Amelia (whose enthusiasm inspired me), or the scores of others who have written about this cake did not convince you, I am here to repeat that this is one of the best recipes ever. If you don’t consider yourself a baker, this will change all of that. It could not be easier, and the results could not be more impressive. It looks like something you’d find in a rustic French bakery and tastes even better. Seriously, people, make this cake. read more+++

Blueberry Muffins

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Certain recipes never make their way to these pages. Blueberry muffins are a good example. I love blueberry muffins, so I try new recipes whenever I come across one that sounds good. But they’re all pretty good, because what could really be bad about blueberries and butter and sugar? Some are better than others, but it still isn’t the sort of thing that inspires me to write which means it has been six years with no blueberry muffin recipes. (Banana bread probably falls into this category, though recently I tried a recipe that may be perfect— I’ll let you know!) read more+++