I decided to go for it.

Girl in the world…but mostly Illinois

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C-O-O-K-I-E Spells “Comfort”

Last week marked the end of my scholastic career. All of a sudden I’m lacking the predictable structure of student life. Before when I would lay on my bed with a glass of tea or read a book in the lawn I was taking a break. Relaxing with purpose. Now I’ve got (relatively) all the time in the world to lay around and stare at the clouds or whatever and all of a sudden, hanging out, doing my fave relaxing activities makes me feel LAZY. It’s just too much of a good thing.

I think it’s probably pretty natural to take a few weeks to adjust to a wildly different schedule in a new location but it would be comforting to have an answer for questions like “What are you going to do?” and “Where are you going to go?”. Really, answering these questions is a matter of scope. RIGHT NOW= I’m going to celebrate the reclamation of my personal time by making a ton of chocolate chip cookies while rocking The Fugees. LATER= I’m going home to my parents where I’ll undoubtedly be having some quality family time. Hopefully I’ll get to take advantage of not having a regular schedule by visiting friends who live out of town. And it would be great if sometime in the next few weeks I could pinpoint how exactly I want to spend the rest of my life.

Butta and suga

In an world where the future is uncertain, I find solace in the predictable awesomeness of this chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s the one my mom has made forever and it was probably the first recipe hers I ever wrote down for my own personal use. Supposedly it’s the recipe for Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies, so I have to give some credit to the good lady Fields, but we’ve made it so many times I’ve come to think of it as a family recipe.

Batter up

This recipe makes so much dough. SO MUCH. If you’re like my family, this is perfect because it means that on any given day there will be a cache of cookie dough in the freezer. The majority of this dough will never realize it’s cookie potential, but rather will stay forever young and be enjoyed as a doughy treat.


Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two tips: Chilling the balled dough for 15 minutes or so before baking will give you a taller cookie. Also, if you want to cut the recipe in half (like I said, it makes a ridiculous amount of dough) half all the ingredients but use 2 eggs instead of 3.

1 pound of butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
2 T vanilla
5 1/2 cups flour
1 cup quick oats
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
3 cups chocolate chips

Combine the butter and sugars. Add in eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add the dry to the wet, mixing well until creamed. Finally, add in the chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.


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The Last Spring Break

Last week was the last spring break I’ll (hopefully) ever have. Not that Future-Me wouldn’t happily take a week off…

With school winding up, I stuck around town for most of the week in an effort to get my life together. I’ll spare you pictures of me looking dumbfounded, staring at excel documents, surrounded by a mess of articles and highlighters. Work aside, I still managed to have a lot of fun. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and all that. My sister visited the first weekend and came bearing a slew of flowers- spoils from her flower arranging class.


My first exposure to MMA. We went to an amateur mixed martial arts “beat down”. It got pretty real.


…Visited the Ropp Jersey Cheese farm. They have a cheese-making trailer with big plexiglass windows so you can check out the process before making your selection. The barns were also open so we got to pet some calves and barn kitties. They’re so smart. How could I not buy cheese made by these adorable babies’ mamas?

Baby cow

Cheese on cheese! Brought home a cheddar with green onion and a cheddar with cranberry (Ropp is known for their cheddar).

Ropp cheese

At the end of the week, my friend Lauren and I made a whirlwind trip out to Dallas for a girlfriend’s wedding. Aside from jerky and gas station coffee, I’m not much for eating out on the road, so the car was just as full of snacks as it was clothes and such. If I’m going to be in the car for 14 hours I need lots of treats. The best treat of all (with marinated mushrooms coming in as a close second) was listening to the Divergent audiobook. Post-book discussion (this will only makes sense if you’ve read/listened to the book): if we were to pick our own faction I’d gravitate towards Amity (the peaceful) and she’d lean towards Erudite (the intelligent) but we both fancy ourselves Divergent (uncategorizable, well-rounded rebels). And our collective Fear Landscape would include Dallas traffic.

roadtrip snacks

Claire and Jarrod’s wedding was really nice and, not just saying this, I’ve never seen a more beautiful bride. We were some of the few guests not from Texas so we ended up talking to people from both sides of the family. Every stranger I chatted with was so full of love for the couple. A wedding highlight: at the end of the toasts, Grandma surprised everyone with a special guest- the King. Hilarious.

The king

Even though it was quick trip, it was great having the opportunity to catch up with some old friends. It reminded me of how many LDRs (long distance relationships) I’m actually in. It would be awesome to get to see everyone more often but such is life, and (silver lining) being in different locations gives us the excuse to plan vacations around visiting each other.


Some more familiar faces!


…Rushing out to the getaway car. Congrats, Claire and Jarrod!


Lauren, channeling James Dean while waiting for our ride.


For the rest of our trip we made sure to soak up as much of the Texas warmth as possible. Windows were down in the car. I got up early and read journals on the porch, which quickly turned into chasing the dogs in the backyard. When other people woke up this morphed into playing cards for hours and cocktailing on the deck.  Our last day in Dallas ended with hanging out on the driveway, watching the sun set.


TX> OK> MO> IL…driving MACHINE! Snacks, snacks, sugar-free Redbull (an homage to a random quote in Death Proof), further Divergent discussion, and the Macklemore album on repeat.

mad driver

GPS, thank you for guiding us towards the most direct route.

back road


Nearly home! Caught a pretty So.-Ill sunset…


…Annnnd back to “springtime” in Illinois. Not bad for the final spring break!

still winter


Guest Blogger: Derek shows us how to cure salmon

Today’s Guest Blogger is the multitalented Derek Nurkowski! He could have talked about quite a few different topics today but the public demanded his recipe for cured salmon. In case you feel like curing meat is out of your league, he’s here to walk you through the process with step-by-step pictures and expert instruction. See for yourself…

Cool kids cure their own fish.

Today we are going to be curing some salmon which serves as an excellent platter for a party and appetizer. Curing is an ancient process of preserving food that people have used to keep meat safe to eat much longer. It may seem intimidating, especially since most people have very little experience with curing, but it is actually a very easy process. Believe me, I had never cured anything before attempting this recipe and I executed it just fine. It is nowhere near as dangerous as home canning or mushroom hunting, so let’s give it a shot.

To start let’s gather the necessary ingredients:

  • 1 whole salmon fillet pin bones removed, as far a quality is concerned I have found that Jewel   has plenty good enough cuts, no need to stake out a farmers market
  • ½ cup sugar. The recipe calls for white but I only keep brown sugar and haven’t noticed an issue
  • ¼ cup salt.
  • 1.5 tbsp. pepper.
  • 1 cup fresh chopped dill
  • Olive oil- just enough to coat the fillet

Potential Sides (these aren’t needed until you intend to serve the dish but if you can save a trip…)

  • 2-3 chopped/crumbled hard boiled eggs
  • 1-1.5 cup chopped red onion.
  • 1 jar capers (leave them in the jar unless presentation is an issue)
  • 1-2 sleeves saltine crackers (feel free to experiment with other crackers, I feel the mild flavor of saltines won’t overwhelm the flavor)
Here are the dry ingredients we will use to cure the salmon

Here are the dry ingredients we will use to cure the salmon

To kick things off we will mix our salt, sugar, and pepper in a big bowl. Be sure to mix all the powders evenly. For the fillet, you will need a flat dish with a lip that can sustain the liquid that will be drawn from the meat. With the skin side down evenly press the mixture over the fillet. Be sure to cover all the flesh. Then apply half of the chopped dill to the powder-coated fillet.


Carefully flip the fillets so they are now skin side up. Some of the powder mix will fall off- pack it around the edges of the fillet.

Flipped fish

Now find yourself a flat board and at least two pounds of weights. Depending on what you use it may be prudent to wrap it in cling wrap. Be sure to check that when pressing the fillets your board doesn’t rest on the lip of the dish and take weight off the fillet.

This compression is key to the curing. Note how the metal tray I used rests on the fillet and not on the lip of my plate, which has a significant lip to catch runoff.

This compression is key to the curing. Note how the metal tray I used rests on the fillet and not on the lip of my plate, which has a significant lip to catch runoff.

Make some room and slide it into the fridge now uncovered. This will be the actual curing process and will take at least 24 hours, feel free to leave it in there longer if your schedule is tight.


With the fillet now cured it is time to wash off our curing agent. Wash your fillet in the sink under cold water. Do this briskly and don’t soak it!

You don’t need to scrub and remove all the spices, just give it a few swipes under the faucet

You don’t need to scrub and remove all the spices, just give it a few swipes under the faucet

Once you are done pat dry and rub with olive oil. I prefer to keep the coat light. With the filets cured and coated in olive oil you can leave it in your fridge for a very long time. Keep it covered in saran wrap and it can last for weeks (I personally don’t know how long it will last, but it’s at least 2-1/2 weeks.)

When it comes time to prepare your fillet to be served you will need a sharp, thin blade, a cutting board, and any of the side dish ingredients discussed earlier. Your first step is to remove the skin.

My preferred method is to slide the knife between the skin and the meat on a cutting board

My preferred method is to slide the knife between the skin and the meat on a cutting board

After the skin has been removed flip the fillet over and remove any traces of the skin, which has a very ‘fishy’ taste most people aren’t accustomed to. It will appear grey. You can go also go back and remove any extra meat you left on the skin.

Cleaning up the filet and getting extra meat off the skin

Cleaning up the fillet and getting extra meat off the skin

Slice the fillet as thinly as practical. Some may prefer thicker slices, so feel free to play around and find your own tastes.

Slice the fillet as thinly as practical. Some may prefer thicker slices, so feel free to play around and find your own tastes

Mix in the remaining dill. Looking at this image I think I should have chopped up the dill a bit more.

This is just one filet- that's a lot of fish!

This is just one filet- that’s a lot of fish!

 Your fish in now ready to be served. Now all that’s left is your presentation.

If you have guests, you may want to provide a fork or spoon for each of the ingredients. Take the capers out of the jar you bought them in as it is difficult to fish out of and the juice presents a spill hazard (sudden thought, try the juice in a martini). As your guests top their crackers some will spill off and fall- it may be a good idea to place all your ingredients on a platter. Also, move this ensemble closer to the edge of the table so guests don’t have to lean over other dishes to make their crackers.

Who would have thought such a classy hors d'oeuvres could be so easy to make?

Who would have thought such classy hors d’oeuvres could be so easy to make?


Are Homemade Sprinkles Worth the Trouble?

Did you know you can make your own sprinkles? When I saw this post, detailing the many (*ahem..3) benefits of making/eating homemade sprinkles I immediately thought to myself, why have I not been doing this? It makes so much sense. You can flavor and color them however you want. You know exactly what’s in them. And just, how cool.

And so I set about making my own sprinkles. I went on a wild goose chase looking for powdered egg whites. Was unsuccessful. Seriously, no where in town sells that stuff. Decided to use a regular egg white instead. You’re only really dealing with one dry ingredient (powdered sugar) so you can just keep adding little portions of powdered sugar and water until you get the desired consistency.


Whisking out lumps

I also didn’t have the proper set up for piping out hundreds of little lines of frosting so the first few unsuccessful tries involved exploding plastic sandwich bags. A good portion of the frosting that leaked out somehow ended up in my mouth. Waste not, want not, right?

Do you know how much food dye is required to make red sprinkles? More than I'm ready to commit to.

Do you know how much food dye is required to make red sprinkles? More than I’m ready to commit to. Bright pink it is.

Something this recipe neglected to mention was that making little lines of frosting takes HOURS and you have to stop because your hands cramp the-F-up from squeezing so hard. I have to acknowledge that if I wasn’t using a sandwich bag, containing the frosting may have been less of a chore. But still, the recipe said this whole production was going to be a “piece of cake”. At the time I was sure she had meant to describe it as a “pain in the ass”. And how could she have forgotten to mention the stomach ache that accompanied the inevitable consumption of half a cup of frosting?

Sugar sticks

It took a while, but after an hour I realized that if I was cool with slightly larger sprinkles, using a larger pastry tip would make the job a lot easier. And if I put less frosting in the bag I could get a much better grip. By the time the sprinkles had completely dried (24 hours later) and I had cut them into sprinkle-sized bits, I had almost forgotten about damning sprinkle production to hell. I even caught myself thinking about when I could make more and what kind of cake would go best with “creamsicle” flavored sprinkles.


It’s funny, when I was reflecting on my change of heart the first thing that came to mind was that this experience was a lot like my time in grad school. *Side note: I graduate in May so I finally feel like I can look back on the past 3 years and make some conclusions. When I first went back to school I hated it. I felt like my life was a comedy of errors and I was in way over my head. Who did I think I was, enrolling in a geology program when I had no special interest in rocks and had never taken a geology class. That first semester I contemplated throwing the towel in on the daily and if it wasn’t for a few encouraging friends reminding me to take it day-by-day, I might have let myself off the hook. School isn’t something I love but I knew hoped that if I stuck with it it would give me the skills I needed to find a career I’d be happy with. Now that the end is in sight, I can say with confidence that sticking with school was the right choice, hands down. It feels so good to say that. There were challenges, I cried in frustration, but every semester was easier than the last. It wasn’t that the material was getting any simpler- it was that I was learning how to deal…how to deal with stress, how to deal with realization that there is SO much I don’t know, and how to deal with using my inevitable failures to make myself better. I learned some geology-related lessons too (thank goodness- I do need a job) but what I really took away from the past few years was that if you can manage to stick with giving 100%, you’ll eventually toughen up/wise up and as a result, you’ll end up a better version of yourself.


In retrospect, this jar is half full.

Whether or not these sprinkles are worth making is up to you. I’ll give it to you straight- if you make as many as I did it will take forever and you will somehow get frosting all over your body. On the other hand, the recipe is nearly impossible to mess up and making your own sprinkles is undeniably impressive (at least I think so). Isn’t that combination kind of the point of DIY projects? I know when I make these again I’ll be much faster and will have a better attitude to boot. And now I’m that girl who can make her own sprinkles. My personal conclusion: they’re not for every day but if you’re looking for something extra-special homemade sprinkles are worth the trouble.

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“Be Mein”

I made you some pink candy and a little homemade card. I sent you good morning texts full of emoticon hearts. I made you a mix of my favorite love songs. It’s because I like you a lot, friend. And I’m not too cool to say I actually enjoy Valentine’s Day.

I Wuv You Mix (click HERE to listen to it as a playlist)

1. Our House– Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
2. In My Life– The Beatles
3. You’re the One– The Black Keys
4. Laundry Room– The Avett Brothers
5. We Don’t Need to Make Love to Know That We’ve Got It– Mathien
6. God Only Knows– The Beach Boys
7. Jet Ski Accidents– The Blow
8. This Modern Love– Bloc Party
9. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)– The Proclaimers
10. Whole Wide World– Wreckless Eric
11. Maps– Yeah Yeah Yeahs
12. Baby It’s You– Smith
13. At Last– Etta James
14. I Only Have Eyes For You– The Flamingos
15. Turn Me On– Norah Jones
16. Nothing Even Matters– Lauryn Hill feat. D’angelo
17. Cigarettes And Coffee– Otis Redding
18. Leather and Lace– Stevie Nicks and Don Henley
19. Wagon Wheel– Old Crow Medicine Show
20. Restless– Alison Krauss
21. Naked As We Came– Iron and Wine
22. Speak Plainly Diana– Joe Pug
23. First Day of My Life– Bright Eyes

To go with the cute mix, some punny valentines from history’s favorite communist/Marxist/dictators.

Oh Trotsky, you old flirt.

Oh Trotsky, you old flirt.

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Guest Blogger: Laura brings us home to New England

My second Guest Blogger is the lovely Laura Hanna! From the moment I met this classy lady, I knew we were going to be good friends. Anyone who approaches exploring central Illinois with the same enthusiasm she would for a major city is an extremely valuable friend, in my book. She’s a world traveler but in this post she’s taking us home with her for the holidays and telling us a little about what’s good on the East Coast…

Awesome Laura

Oh Laura, flashing us with those pearly whites.

You often don’t appreciate the places that are close to home.  Here are a few ‘must see’ places from where I call home- New England.

NYC is a city of mind blowing oddities that easily become your norm. There are ample coffee shops, restaurants, retail, commercial, and museums to visit.  Museums – every time I head to NYC, I visit one of the many.  This time it was the Guggenheim in the upper east side of Manhattan.  The Guggenheim is almost as well known for its unique architecture as the artists that rotate through it. This winter, a black and white exhibit of Picasso’s work was on display along with a medley of other world renown artists like Velazquez, van Gogh, and Kandinsky. Pictures are not allowed inside but the view from lobby is not bad, displaying the distinct spiraling staircase that transcends the museum.  Coffee shops and subway rides always make for good people watching too.


Out and about in NYC

Side note- most cities have a plethora of museums to offer, potentially very random, but from my experience, there is always a story you can tell about it after.  For example, the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont which exhibits anything and everything.  Seriously – name the most random thing you can think of and they have it on display. Another good museum is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Jaw dropping. You don’t expect an old brownstone to host the contemporary art collection, indoor garden or historical architectural preservation work that is found here under one roof.

One of my all-time favorite places is New Hampshire.  Almost anywhere in NH is high on my list. You have the ocean, mountains, and city all very close together in Portsmouth, NH.  The downtown is a quaint, historical New England distinct built around industry and the port.  Off the beaten path is Newmarket, NH, which has been revived in the past five years.  It stands as a small town on the Lamprey River where the old mills have been recently renovated and now boast shops and apartments.  The Big Bean restaurant which has great veggie options for breakfast and the Stone Church bar/music venue are worth the trip inland.


The mills, a bit of downtown Portsmouth, and the Lamprey River

You have probably heard of Lexington and Concord, think back to 7th grade history class.  This is where the fight for American’s freedom began on April 19, 1775 along the Battle Road at the North Bridge. And so begun the Revolutionary War.  The battlefields are now a mix of wetlands and forests of stonewalls. The Minuteman National Historical Park is a walking trail paying tribute to the soldiers and people that fought against the British. Fun tidbit: you can run/bike the trail that Paul Revere rode from Boston to Concord to warn the colonists that the British were coming.

NH beauty

Overgrown battlefields, a home that was amidst the fighting of the Revolutionary War, and some of the natural beauty New England as to offer.

New England is well worth the visit if you have the chance!


Green Lentil Coconut Curry Soup from “Super Natural Every Day”

Everyone in the Midwest has been talking about the weather for the past few weeks- I know, it’s shocking. It’s actually cold out. But come on people, it is January after all. Accept the temperature. Layer up. Put on some cozy socks.  Remember how much more enjoyable it is to use a stove in the winter and how comforting it is being all cuddly in a pile of blankets.

My sister and I stayed in for New Years Eve this year. She had recently gotten her wisdom teeth out and was on some drugs that didn’t mix well with parties so we hung out with our parents’ dogs, ate some tasty soft foods, and reflected on the year. Around midnight some local reinforcements came over for a champagne toast and to watch fireworks over the lake. It was a far more low-key night than was had by most but it ended up being one of my favorite New Years celebrations OFALLTIME.

On the top right, Sister is posing next to a piece at the Art Institute of Chicago that best expresses what the inside of her mouth looks like. Bottom right is a picture from a crisp winter walk on the first of the year.

On the top right, Sister is posing next to a piece at the Art Institute of Chicago which best represents the gaping holes in her mouth. Bottom right is a picture from a crisp winter walk taken on the first of the year.

Our main course on New Years Eve was a delicious and surprisingly hearty soup from a Christmas present cookbook, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. Her velvety Green Lentil Soup is made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and is guaranteed to warm you from the inside out (even on a cold January day like this). I’ve already made it twice since the holidays (once with split peas instead of lentils) and mmmmm I’m going to keep making a batch every few weeks until the weather warms up.

Green Lentil Soup

Heidi Swanson’s Green Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 ½ cups veggie broth
1 ½ cups green lentils
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon curry powder
½ cup coconut milk
A pinch of sea salt
Fresh chives, minced

Combine onions, 2 T butter, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a soup pot until onions soften. Add veggie broth and lentils and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender (20-30 minutes).

While the lentils are cooking, warm 3 T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it browns. Stir in curry powder until they’re “fragrant” (less than 1 minute) and then remove from heat.

When the lentils are soft, stir in coconut milk, salt, and puree. Stir in half of the spiced butter (save the other half for creative drizzling) and serve with minced chives.

Creamy lentil soup, all ready to be taken for lunch the next day.



Challah at your girl!

Baking my own bread is something I’ve been slow to get into. For years I stuck with quick breads, then I moved to beer bread (which is pretty much a quick bread because the dough doesn’t need to rise), and did a little flat bread and pizza dough-ing. The thing is that all that tastes great but it doesn’t look like much. But you know what looks awesome? Challah bread. All braided and beautifully golden! A true show stopper.

And guess what- though it’s kinda time intensive (with all that rising and rising again), it’s surprisingly easy to put together. So here we go. Step-by-step with pics:

First, mix the yeast, warm water, and sugar. Put it aside for 10 minutes or so…let the yeast do it’s thing and froth up. That's the yeast, baby!

Whisk up the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Make a little “well” in the middle. Crack 2 eggs and an additional yolk into the well (save the white of the last egg for later). Add the olive oil. As you whisk the oil and eggs, start incorporating a little flour, aka make an “egg slurry”. Well 'o eggs

Pour in the yeasty water and incorporate the rest of the flour until the dough looks “shaggy”. Set up the bread hook attachment on a stand mixer (if you have it) or get ready to bust out the muscles. This is what "shaggy" looks like

Mix/knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, adding in additional flour until you get a “silky” ball. Broken lock...

Place the dough ball in an oiled, covered bowl (that’s big enough for the dough to double in size) and let it rise for about 2 hours. It has risen!

While the dough is rising, start getting together whatever kinds of mix-ins you want to use. The recipe I was working off used a fig spread so I was about to go sweet and do a sugar and spice mixture when my sister assured me “savory” was the way to go. I took her advice and went with a grilled onion-garlic-parmesan-herb mix. YUM.

All the non-dairy mix-ins were sauteed in olive oil but I waited until the mixture was cool to add in the cheese.Mix-ins

Cut the risen dough in half and flatten each piece out into a rough rectangle. Spread the mixture on evenly and roll the dough into 2 long ropes.Roll it up

Each rope ‘o dough is chopped in half and then each of those is stretched out a bit. You want to have 4 pieces of dough that are long enough to weave together. Start with a woven dough cross…Dough cross

Then move the bottom strands to the left, over the top strands. Move the original top strands over to the right. And then…? Just do what you can to make it look pretty. Start weaving

This is the free-styled final product. Looks all right to me!

That doesn't look to bad

Put the dough ball on parchment paper on a baking sheet and give it a first coating of the egg wash. Let it rise for another hour. After the rise, give it a second coating of the egg wash and sprinkle the top with sea salt.Egg-washed and ready

Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes and you’ve got beautiful and delicious homemade challah bread!Done!

Adaptable Challah Bread Recipe

2 teaspoons active dry  or instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (plus 1/4 cup more if making a sweet bread)
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs, plus 1 more yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (I know this is vague but it’s about how the dough feels)

SAVORY Filling Option: Onions and Herbs
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup parmesan cheese

SWEET Filling Option: Fig (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 cup stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, or more as desired
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Few grinds black pepper

Egg wash
1 egg white
Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Do It

  • Activate the yeast: mix the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar/honey into 2/3 cup of warm water. This needs to sit until there’s a nice frothy layer on top…like 10 minutes or so.
  • Get the dough ingredients together: whisk the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Make a little well in the middle of the flour and crack in 2 eggs plus one more egg yolk (save the egg white for the egg wash).
  • Make the dough: whisk the eggs and slowly incorporate some of the surrounding flour. Add the yeast mixture. Bring in more and more flour until it’s all been incorporated but it’s not totally homogenous…the dough should look “shaggy” at this point.
  • Knead the dough: if you’re using a stand mixer, set up the bread hook attachment. If you’re working by hand (I feel your pain and admire your guns), start kneading. The dough should be worked for 6-8 minutes. Here’s the tricky part: you need to keep adding flour until the dough looks right. I’m still trying to figure what exactly this means myself, but here’s what other people have to say on the subject: MY DAD- “Add flour until the dough feels silky and it stops pulling at the bottom of the mixing bowl”. MARCELLA HAZAN (of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking): Dough should be “smooth and elastic. It should spring back when poked with a finger”. When you’ve got the best dough you can manage, roll it into a ball and place it in an oiled, covered bowl to rise for 1.5-2 hours (until it doubles in size).
  • While the dough is rising, start the filling: saute the onions in butter for 3 minutes or so. Add the garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper and saute for 2 more minutes. Let cool. When the mixture is at room temperature add in the cheese.
  • Add the filling and make dough ropes: turn the risen dough out on a floured surface. Cut it in half. Roll out each ball into a rough rectangle. Spread the filling out on the top of the dough and roll it up, hotdog style. Cut each of the ropes in half. Pinch the ends of the ropes so the filling can’t get out and stretch them out so they’re about a foot and a half long.
  • Weave the ropes: start with two ropes side by side- one set in a vertical direction and the other horizontal so they’re like a woven cross (see the pics). Move the bottom strands to the left (over the top strands). Then move the original top strands to the left. Then do what you have to do to make it look pretty. If you’re looking for more direction (or would like to try a 6 stranded braid), check out The Kitchn.
  • Second rise: move the dough ball to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Give it a coating of egg wash and let it rise for 1 hour. *45 minutes in to the rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Final touches: give the dough a second coat of egg wash and sprinkle the loaf with salt.
  • Bake: for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. If you notice the top of the loaf is getting too dark, cover it with tinfoil.
  • EAT!: Wait until the loaf just a little warm and dig in.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I am a holiday enthusiast. Any and all holidays. Especially ones occurring between October and February when the weather in Illinois can be particularly uninviting. The obvious gem of the holiday season is Christmas. People need something to look forward to when the weather gets cold. They need it so bad that they decorate their entire homes in tinsel, lights, and intricate mantle displays. So bad they created a genre of music and radio stations deviate from their regularly scheduled programming to play 1000 versions of the same 20 songs. And this all starts up to two months before the actual day. I’m not complaining- I cover this mess in royal icing and eat it for breakfast.Highlights from the tree

As for my personal celebration, the X-mas tunes come out in November, decorations in December, and sugar intake reaches an all time high around the December 24. This year I’ve managed to stay on schedule but I’m feeling a bit quieter about it than usual. I feel more like cuddling up with a hot drink and watching the lake freeze than I do embracing the chaos that is…anywhere that sells anything.

On the dock

Coming home is what really makes it feel like Christmas for me. I love the smell of the tree and that there’s always a neighborhood or family get together that requires making some homemade treats. I baked with my dad all morning today. He made 2 epic apple pies and I made chocolate fudge, toffee-chocolate chip shortbread, and an apple thyme cake for Christmas morning. Sugarsugarsugar. Of course, the Christmas vibe wouldn’t be complete without some holiday tunes. Here’s a mix of some of my favorites. Yes, a few songs are on their more than once but repetition is a hallmark of Christmas music.

Holiday Party Mix (click HERE to listen to it as a playlist)

  1. Christmas is All Around– Billy Mack
  2. Merry Christmas Baby– Otis Redding
  3. The Christmas Song– Nat King Cole
  4. Stay a Little Longer– Shemekia Copeland
  5. Baby It’s Cold Outside– Ray Charles
  6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas– Lou Rawls
  7. Santa Baby– Madonna
  8. Cool Yule– Louis Armstrong
  9. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve– Nancy Wilson
  10. White Christmas– The Drifters
  11. Merry Christmas, Baby– Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra
  12. I Want You for Christmas– Dick Robertson
  13. Christmas Fais Do Do– Marcia Ball
  14. Boogie Woogie Santa Claus– Patti Page
  15. Happy Christmas (War is Over)– John Lennon
  16. Baby It’s Cold Outside– Leon Redbone and Zoey Deschanel
  17. White Christmas– Otis Redding
  18. Happy New Year, Baby– Johnny Otis and His Orchestra
  19. Zat You, Santa Claus?– Louis Armstrong and The Commanders
  20. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!– Les Brown and His Band of Renown
  21. What are You Doing New Year’s Eve– Johnny Mathis

Happy holidays, everyone! Be safe out there!


Guest Blogger: Shawn on The Blues

Welcome to the first Guest Blogger post! This series dedicated sharing the knowledge and experiences of my friends and family who know a thing or two about a thing or two. Getting it started with a BANG is a friend I call Brother, Mr. Shawn Loga. He’s crafted us a killer blues mix, complete with song-by-song descriptions and lesson in what it means to have the blues. Without further ado, I give you The Blues Mix.

Yes. He threatens jellyfish with his teeth and beer bastes salmon from the inside out. This is a person you should listen to.

The Blues is the music of America.  I got into the Blues, like most people these days, through Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash- these all drove me closer and closer to their shared ancestor.

You will notice that most of these songs are a cover of this or that, or originally done by some other band.  This is prevalent and common within the Blues genre, and a good cover is almost tantamount to inclusion: for example, if you never play a cover of Robert Johnson, you are NOT a bluesman.  If you cannot play John Lee Hooker on command, you are NOT a bluesman.

The Blues are about sex, booze, violence, and misery.  It is also about confidence, happiness, and love.  The Blues are the most human of music, and emotion and passion are the root of every song.  Without love and anger, without alcohol and guns and cocaine, without heartbreak and passion, there would be no Blues.

John Lee Hooker has a song titled ‘Whiskey and Wimmen.’  The opening lyrics are, “whiskey and wimmen almost wrecked my life.”  “Almost” is the operative word.  The Blues are founded on scratching the bottom of experience, taking the booze-soaked, tear-stained letters of last night and putting a good beat to it.

If you think this list is too long and you don’t have the time, you work too much.  Sit back with a nice glass of bourbon (The Official Drink of The Blues!) and just jive.  Enjoy!  Below you will hear the voice of America.

*You can listen to the songs track-by-track or click here to listen to them straight through as a playlist. Track #8 is so old school its not even on youtube so if you playlist the mix you’ll have to click on that one seperately.


1. Boogie Chillen’ – John Lee Hooker: The Blues incarnate, John Lee Hooker is raw and rough and drunk and sexual.  His basic approach is instantly recognizable: just a guitar, and a stomping foot for bass.  If I could point to any single person as the definitive bluesman, I would point squarely at Mr. Hooker.

2. Moanin’At Midnight – Howlin’ Wolf: Another giant of the Blues, Howlin’ Wolf has a very distinct style and growl.

3. Cross Road Blues – Robert Johnson: King of the Blues, Robert Johnson gave Blues the mystic is has today.  He is the apocryphal guitarist at the crossroads, ready to sell his soul to the Devil.  He disappeared for years during his youth and reappeared, playing guitar like no one had ever seen before (thus giving rise to the Devil legend).  Robert was given a poisoned bottle of whiskey by a jealous husband (it seems RJ was giving a certain young lady too much attention).  Robert died young (27), only recording a handful of songs.  Even given the scant recordings by this pioneer of Blues, he is regarded as the Father and classic originator of the Blues style.

4. Still a Fool – Muddy Waters: Along with John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters helped shaped the Blues as it is today.  His distinct voice and guitar have inspired countless covers.  Besides Robert Johnson, probably no other bluesman has been covered so many times.  This is one of my all time favorites.

5. Numb– Gary Clark Jr.: This is the future of the Blues.  The repetition in this song is reminiscent of the Mississippi Blues as made famous by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside.  Heavy bass, monster guitar riffs, and repetitive vocals make this a worthy successor.

6. Can’t Be Satisfied – Scott H. Biram: A cover of the classic Muddy Waters song, this has feeling and emotion and shows what a simple backcountry blues tune can turn into over the years.  Biram is a perfect example why bluesmen cannot be pigeonholed.  A redneck who bleeds the muddy Delta blues.

7. Meet Me In The City – The Black Keys: This song is a cover of a Junior Kimbrough tune.  It has become my favorite song of all time.  It is slow and sexy, it hits hard, the passion is felt, and the listener is carried on an electric pulsing wave.  Strap on your best stereophones and turn this baby up.  Close your eyes and imagine the sexy lady of your dreams undressing slowly on a hot Mississippi night.

8. Travelin’Riverside Blues – Dion: This is a cover of the classic Robert Johnson song (maybe the most influential song in the history of the Blues).  Dion has released three very awesome blues albums, and his simple approach is perfect.  You don’t see too many old white men playing the Blues, but this guy warrants attention.  This song is on Grooveshark so just follow the link and press “play”.

9. I’d Rather Go Blind – Etta James: Why? Because there are not enough women singing the Blues.  Etta James is the most classic female Blues singer of all time (along with Koko Taylor – check out her version of Wang Dang Doodle).  This song aches with heartbreak.

10. Baby Please Don’t Leave Me – Buddy Guy: Yet another cover of Junior Kimbrough, this song just rumbles with madness and sex.  The drum-line repetition and backbone give this song its apocalyptic vibe, and then Buddy steps in to shred on the guitar.  You better have a subwoofer, because this song is best listened to at a high volume while laying on the floor playing air guitar feeling the bass shake your whole body.

11. The Hunter – Albert King: A nice upbeat Blues number, often quoted by Led Zeppelin.

12. Feels So Good #1 – Junior Kimbrough: This is included as a prime example of what the Mississippi Hills Blues are, as contrasted to the Blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson, which are all the original Delta Blues.  The gritty dirty sweaty repetitive style of the Mississippi Hills is, in my mind, much better suited for dancing and fucking and drinking.

13. Yer Blues – The Beatles: I included this for a few reasons.  One, it shows how varied the Blues can be, and by a band so popular as The Beatles.  Two, it is a damn good song.  Go on, turn up the volume.  Three, I know how much Maddie likes this song, which makes me like it even more.

14. You Shook Me – Willie Dixon: Besides Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon is probably responsible for more Blues hits than any other artist.  Led Zeppelin’s first album alone had two Dixon covers on it.  Dixon will be remembered for his song-writing skills more than his bass playing or singing.

15. I Believe to My Soul – Ray Charles: Better known as a Soul and R&B singer, Ray nonetheless sang the Blues better than anyone.  His voice, the best in the business, was made for crying and shouting and telling women to fuck off.  This is a classic example of Ray singing the Blues (listen to the backup vocals closely- they too are sung by Ray).

16. I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You – Joss Stone: Again, not enough women singing the Blues.  This woman can sing, that’s for sure.  Another modern example (along with The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr.) of what contemporary Blues sounds like.  Please ignore the awful video. 

17. What Kind of Woman Is This – Buddy Guy: I included this because it sounds sufficiently different from the other Buddy song on this list, and it is a great representative of the “Chicago style” of Blues.  One of my favorites.

18. Bird Without A Feather – R.L. Burnside: This is a classic song, even though it is relatively ‘new’ in the Blues genre.  It hits all of the bases.  Love, heartbreak, cheating, guns, murder-it’s all here.

19. Next Door Neighbor Blues – Gary Clark Jr.: You know when a song has the lyric ‘came home last night, with a pistol pointed at my head,’ it’s gonna be good.  Gary Clark Jr. is keeping the Blues alive in the 21st century.  Just a good foot-stomper.

20. I’m Broke – Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: The Blues expresses whatever you’re feeling at the moment.  And at the moment, I’m broke.  At least I have this song to dance to.

21. Back Door Man – The Doors: A cover of a Willie Dixon song, I included this just to show the wide variety of Blues.

22. I’m Gonna Kill That Woman – John Lee Hooker: Open with Hooker, close with Hooker.  This is a less-known song that, again, is a great representation of the Blues.  Enjoy.


Clockwise from the top left corner: R.L. Burnside, Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters

Clockwise from the top left corner:

Clockwise from the top left corner: Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Junior Kimbrough, Ray Charles