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Back at it

On Monday, I made the cinnamon-almond star cookies, that are gluten-free – Zimmetstern, and the peanut butter chocolate swirl brownies, Hootie Swirls. I tried out a new star cookie cutter, but I only made a few with it, since the points were too long and skinny, and kept getting plugged with dough. I also made two different pans of Hootie Swirls – a sheet and a deeper, 13 x 9 x 2 – and I think I over baked the sheet. Annoying, because there are twice as many from the sheet pan as the 13 x 9 x 2. You look at the pictures and decide.

Tuesday I went to a going away party at Graze, for a fellow REAP volunteer, who’s moving to the Twin Cities. When I got there, Tory Miller, our Madison star chef (and super nice guy) who owns the place was sitting in a booth eating with a friend. My first thought was, “man, that guy must be successful, if he can sit in his own restaurant”, but Terese pointed out that might be the only way he gets to eat. Especially since he just opened another place. but it does underscore what I’ve always thought about Tory – he must be a really great boss, because he trains his people so that his places run right even if he’s not at the stove.

Anyways, I didn’t get home until a little after 7:00, so my big visions for the night downsized. I made the Orangette fruit & nut balls, which still need to be glazed with chocolate (their “hats” Ms. Wizenberg calls it). I made the dough for the tiny Pfeffernüsse (Peppernuts), little spice cookies that I make with a glaze instead of tossed in powered sugar. [Prior sentence copied exactly from last year’s post on November 25th.] And I soaked the fruit for the fruitcake gems in booze, but I don’t want to bake them until tomorrow, because I don’t have enough powdered sugar to make their glaze – I’m planning to use most of what I’ve got for the Pfeffernusse glaze.  And the chex mix just came out of the oven.

Pfeffernüsse & glazed fruit balls added to slideshow.


Cinnamon stars


Hootie Swirls


unglazed fruit & nut balls


Pfeffernusse, on baking sheet


glazed fruitballs, packed for storage

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Cookie break in Chicago


Robyn Hitchcock selfie, I think on the plane from the Twins to Chicago

Robyn Hitchcock selfie, I think on the plane from the Twins to Chicago

I took a couple of days off from cookies to do a cultural weekend in Chicago.

I didn’t do any baking Friday, but I got my hair cut and then spent like 2 hours and close to $500 shopping for ingredients. I think I’ll do one last trip to Woodmans on Thanksgiving morning – they say they’re open till 1:45 – and I will have everything. I also processed some of the vegetables that came in my two giant CSA boxes. I blanched the two bunches of kale I got, one lacinto and one curly, and used some for dinner (made with whole wheat gnocchi & cottage cheese; not as good as the plain potato gnocchi & whole milk ricotta called for in recipe, but good nonetheless). I took the three giant squashes I had in the vetsibule – 2 from the market, one from CSA – and cubed and roasted the necks for quiche or quesadillas or maybe chili, and baked and puréed the bulbs for pumpkin pie, and scones. So I made more room in the vestibule for cookies.

We went to the farmers market on Saturday morning to get the turkey, and then took the train down to Chicago. We were trying to plot a pre-Robyn-Hitchcock dinner, but we sort of ran out of time. We considered this place and this one, where I think I’ve been before, but we ended up at the bar across the street, where we were able to eat and make it back with five minute to spare. I had a veggie burger, in Robyn’s honor. Or honour, I guess that would be.

It was an interesting show, too – I think he started with a new one – riding trolleys with his dad – “my eyes have seen the trolley bus”. It reminded me a bit of this interview from last summer, that I listened to, where he talked about his dad, and Percy. The first half was all Robyn (and Soft Boys, but that’s still RH), and there were a few I didn’t recognize, as much of a fan as I am. He came back for a lengthy encore, 8 songs, all covers, sung while drinking 1 1/2 plastic cups of the cheap red plonk they serve at the School. I joined and posted it.

We took the L back, Mark watched a bit of Saturday Night Live, but I just went to bed and read a bit.

In the morning we went to see the Bowie show the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. The much-hated audio tour headphones were a must. Mine got out of sync but then I changed them for a new pair, and was fine. I wish there was a little more late stuff, but, since Bowie himself seemed completely in charge, I suppose he’s saving that. I liked the glam rock, Ziggy, the best, but I always have. In the section on Bowie as other people, in movies, it was nice to see  the clip of him as Warhol, in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, one of his best roles I’ve always thought.

We walked down Michigan Avenue, getting hungry, and stopped at Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain with like four stores in Chicagoland. Mark cased it as a source of take home loafs, and we bought a baguette and a cookie to carry out. I had the Avocado tartine, and hot chocolate, which our friendly waitress said were their biggest sellers – I’m sure they say that to all the girls. The home, quick wardrobe change, and off to the Lyric for Porgy and Bess. Which I’d only seen excerpts of, or really, I just know the music, so seeing the whole story was kind of eye-opening.

When we came out it had started raining pretty hard, so we dived into the L, and back to the apartment to meet friends and go to dinner. I had a little Wisco spread – Willi bandaged cheddar, Potter crackers, and Giardiniera a la Mark Bitmann (I used cauliflower and peppers and carrots, no celery, added 2 teaspoons of sugar, and a hot pepper, and I didn’t chop the olives as they are clearly NOT chopped in the pic) that I’d made with veggies from my CSA box. We went to The Chicago Firehouse,  good steak – my fillet was tasty even medium-well, as I like it. And we got to sit right next to the arched doors that the trucks used to drive through. Discovered I do not like rosemary in creamed spinach, and I think they did the restaurant trick of adding instant granules to the whipped garlic potatoes – to make them whip better. They were good, but had a bit if granularity on the tongue.

On Monday, it was still raining, so we stopped at Walgreens to get me a new umbrella – which I promptly left on the bus back to Madison at the Janesville bus switch. Oh well easy come, easy go – it was really hard to fold up, anyhow, making for awkward getting on the bus, train, and into a taxi, events.  We sat in Intelligensia and had coffee, then Mark headed off to work and I started walking to Union Station, but ended up cabbing and had a nice woman driver, my first time for that in Chicago. I told her how I used to drive for Union Cab in Madison, and we had a nice chat. Then it was just the long sloppy bus ride back, the rain changed to slushy snow at Des Plaines. I caught up on work email and phone calls via iPhone. Back to work and cookies, that I will tell you about in the next post.

Avocado tartine at Le Pain Quotidien - I admired their smart ingredient sourcing - using mashed avocado for most of the sandwich, and only topping it with a few thin slices = less perfect avocados to purchase. the mashed part could even be frozen.

Avocado tartine at Le Pain Quotidien – I admired their smart ingredient sourcing – using mashed avocado for most of the sandwich, and only topping it with a few thin slices = less perfect avocados to purchase. I mean, the mashed part could even be made from frozen avocados.

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Here we go -

On Tuesday there was one box of cookies in the vestibule, the Joy of Cooking Lebkuchen, a cookie that’s supposed to improve with age.




I put a slice of lemon in the container to keep them moist. Usually it’s apple, but lemon seemed a good idea in this case

Wednesday night I made the jam cookies, and I thought I had six trays … obviously can’t count, since there were seven, although one tray is actually a small ceramic dish that only has a dozen in it.

Yesterday I drove to work, so that I could make it from a meeting that concluded at 4:20, to pick up my two giant Tipi produce winter share boxes, and then home in time to login for class at 5:30. I made it, but the jam cookies were setting in the sunroom where my computer is, with the heat vent closed, so I quick transferred all seven trays to the vestibule, and opened the heat vent. Then I stashed the Tipi box that had the green vegetables, the one where I could see kale peeking out, in the vestibule, closed it up, and had class. After, I wrapped all the jam cookies, and froze them, and put the produce away. It’s going to be a trick to get all the Thanksgiving food and cookie ingredients stored away, but it’s one I’ve pulled off other years.

Tipi Boxes

Tipi Boxes

What's inside

What’s inside

Then I made the Biberli, as I told Megan, the pornographic ones, because the name means “little beavers“. They’re one I struggle with every year – too big, too small, too soft, too hard … I think I got a good mix this year – a few are too big, but none seemed too hard – I didn’t even put an apple (or lemon) slice in the container to soften them, although I may do that later.



And speaking of the vestibule – after years of complaining that omigod it’s 50° (or 60°) in effing December, NOT good weather for cookie storage, this morning it was 3° in effing November, not so good for walking, but certainly good for cookies. And squash, that’s also out there.

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Last night I made dough, for the jam cookies, and nukhorns, or the mini-ruggelach that I make tons of every year, (or pounds, literally; last year it says 15 lbs.) because they’re a family favorite. They should come out something like what you see after the line below. I am not going to bake the ruggelach until after Thanksgiving, so I froze those dough balls.

2013 ruggelach

2013 ruggelach

2013 jam cookies

2013 jam cookies; close up – see long shot here

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1st weekend of cookie season

So, (I just heard a piece on NPR, where their grammarian said listeners hate it when interviewers start a sentence with “so” – but this isn’t NPR) I had huge piles of work to-dos for the weekend; not sure I made it through enough of them, but I tried.

In between work stuff, cookie season began. I made my cookie list with Megan’s cat Ham “helping” – lying across my papers and my arms while I tried to write. I’ve laid in some of the ingredients, like today I got honey and jam and various candies that go in or on cookies, like red and green M&Ms and chocolate stars. I’ve placed two King Arthur Flour orders, and have plans to do the rest of the shopping. Currently there’s about 15 lbs. of flour and 11 pounds of sugar and 7 pounds of butter in the house – a mere fraction of the total. Shopping’s a little trickier this year, since Mark’s in Chicago half time, and sometimes has the car. And I’m just so stupid busy, hard to plan a time to take off and buy mass quantities of butter, flour and sugar. The list says 30 cookie kinds in 20 days. Sure, I can. I’m hoping to not get demoralized, like I was last year – I’d take a picture, and decide that the same cookie as made the year before, or even two years before, looked a lot better. Case in point:

cinnamon stars

2013 cinnamon stars

compared to

Cinnamon stars

2012 cinnamon stars

You can see that the meringue topping is whiter and more solid in 2012. I think I didn’t whip the whites enough in ’13.

Or even:

went flat linzer thumprints

went flat linzer thumprints

from 2013, vs.



from 2011.

At least I don’t have systems analysis class this year … and the party’s got a great date – 12-13-14!

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New Mexico Trip: Taos & Santa Fe

Murals in Taos on Sunday, and breakfast and lunch in Santa Fe on Monday.


Breakfast at a combo book store cafe


BLT at Pasqual's


Pasqual's mural on Mark's phone

And now back home, pumpkin pie.

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New Mexico Trip: Albuquerque to Santa Fe

Friday was a full conference day – opening keynote by Lorcan Dempsey who said a lot of good stuff about how we’re all in the network, and the network is us. What we do online transforms our behaviors in physical spaces, & vice-versa. Guess that’s behaviours for Lorcan.

I didn’t go to as many sessions as I should have, but I got some work done instead. And I went out for a little walk and looked at psychedelic clouds. And tried to photograph the full moon through the hotel window.

On Saturday the conference wrapped up by noon. We cabbed out to the airport and got our rental car, and drove to Santa Fe by way of Madrid. We stopped for lunch in Madrid. I had a roasted red pepper & goat cheese sandwich – with local tomatoes, the menu said – and a beer, and Mark had a green tomato BLT with root beer. Because we had a biggish lunch, we had dessert at the diner on the plaza, instead of dinner.

Here’s a little gallery of some of our adventures.


Moon from hotel window, with lamp


Changed my iphone wallpaper in a session


Cheese & fruit plate in the room, because Mark's a conference bigwig


Psychedelic clouds in Albuquerque


Psychedelic clouds in Albuquerque


Psychedelic clouds in Albuquerque


New Mexico State Pen Porter, in Madrid


Roasted red pepper sandwich with sweet potato fries in Madrid


Caramel apple pie at the diner on the plaza


Butter cake at the diner on the plaza


Sunset on the way from Taos to Chimayo


Sunset with tree



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New Mexico Trip: Chicago to Albuquerque

So after the (disappointing to say the least) elections, I got up on Wednesday morning and went for a walk. To Union South, where I got a bunch of cash – for traveling and because I knew I was meeting the kids for dinner in Chicago at a restaurant that only takes cash. I got checked in for my Southwest flight and got in the As for both legs of the trip. I got a latte at Aldo’s and walked home to eat some breakfast, pack and work.


Megan & I agreed that I’d drive the car to my university lot and leave it there for her to drive home – I have the valet key, and left her the regular one. The car was only there a few minutes, and it’s $4 as soon as you drive in, but that’s still way cheaper than a cab, and I had time to go to the library and pick up my holds, for more to read on the trip.


Then it was just the long bus ride to Chicago. I had to change buses in Janesville, and the first bus had wifi, but no electrical outlets; the second no wifi but newer, cleaner, and outlets. So I arrived in Chicago with a charged laptop and 3 assignments left to grade.

I took the L up to Wicker Park, red to blue. Texting with the kids constantly to coordinate – Al put his name in for a table for 3, and John was on his way on the bus. Gotta love the CTA – Al told me the Damen stop, closest to the restaurant, was closed, but no mention of that fact on Google maps, on the platform, or even in the stop announcements on the train. I had to get off at Western, and walk back. The only place it said anything about Damen being closed was the sign on the stop, that I didn’t see until I walked past it on my way to the restaurant. I got turned around off the train, and I was in a hurry, and I fell and skinned my knee. But dinner was good, Big Star, a hipster join in Wicker Park, Al’s pic for his belated birthday dinner, and it was good to see the kids. We split a queso fundido – melted cheese with sausage & chiles and corn tortillas to dip. I had a fish taco, fried fish, and a veggie taco with potatoes and corn and chiptloe rajas, and two bottles of Flywheel Bright Lager.

Al's newest tat, on the table at Big Star. I expect he'll have this arm a full sleeve too, in  a year or two.

Al’s newest tat, on the table at Big Star. I expect he’ll have this arm a full sleeve too, in a year or two.

After dinner, John figured out how to bus east and get the subway north, but Al rode the blue line all the way to the loop with me, and he caught the red north, and I waited to get it south.

I stopped at the Jewel and bought a sixpack, and headed back to Mark’s apartment. I got in, and ordered my taxi for 4:30, showered, and opened a beer, and tried to watch a Sopranos – I drank about 1/3 of the beer, watched the first 15 minutes, and then woke up for the credits – guess I’ll have to watch that one again. I set my iPhone alarm for 3:45, and went to sleep.

The cab was prompt and cost $30 and I was at Midway before 5:00. But I had trouble pulling up my boarding passes on my phone, and I didn’t get TSA precheck, and had to go thru regular security, and the gate was way off in a corner, and I had to change planes in Houston, where my coffee choices were Peets or Duncan Donuts. First world problems. Made up for by the fact that the flight was almost empty and I got a whole row. I ate the graham snacks they gave me and a pear I brought, and mostly slept.

On the second leg of the trip, Houston to Albuquerque, I bought the $8 not-so-great wifi and finished grading. I arrived in Albuquerque, and paid for another $30 cab ride, that got me to the hotel in time for the conference opening talk. I did spend most of the day suffering from the first day of conference, hadda get up at 3:45 to get here mush brain blues. We ate dinner at Church Street Café. More on the rest of the trip, next coupla posts.

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Election Day

I’m sitting at my computer with wet socks. My day’s schedule lays out like this – 9:00 to 10:30 – meeting; 11:00 to roughly 12:45 – come home, eat, and try to do as much work as possible before heading to be a poll worker from 1:00 until closing, like 9:30 or thereabouts. It’s cleaning lady day, and I just knew I’d get here while they were here, and I’d be starving. So I came in, and made myself a bowl of cheerios and granola, with banana, walking sock foot on the freshly mopped floors. Now I’m hanging out in the sunroom, with my coffee and my cereal bowl that the cat licked out.

Licked out cereal bowl & wet sock feet

Licked out cereal bowl & wet sock feet

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Pie palooza weekend

On Thursday night, I carved my pumpkin, and went to bed a little early.


2014 jack o' lantern



On Friday morning, it snowed (just a little).

A dust of snow on Halloween morning

A dust of snow on Halloween morning

On Saturday, I had leftover twice-baked potatoes, refried with an egg on it,for breakfast. Then I baked my pie palooza pies. Cheese and onion, again. Thank you Rutles, for the inspiration. It seemed the schedule was charmed – I left home at about 11:20, and was at the community center with the salad greens & dressing ingredients and pie donation from the co-op by 12:30. I went home and finished baking the pies, and had time to bike back over to look at the checked in pies, and even though I didn’t get back until after dark, I had time to made chicken enchiladas for supper.

On Sunday, the charmed-ness lasted until about 8:00 AM. I had lots of help in the kitchen, but something  went wrong with the coffee order – when the volunteer arrived at the café to pick it up, an employee had failed to show up and there was no coffee – until she waited about 30 minutes for it to get brewed. I think it was a record turnout. We had just enough pie. By the later seatings, the selection of savory, especially vegetarian, was not the best. Two of the restaurants chose to donate organ meat pies – but they were in fact all eaten. By my lights, there was just not enough bacon. Only one pie kind – Peter Robertson of RP’s Pasta spaghetti carbonara pies had bacon. There was a quiche with chorizo, and a deep dish pie with veal sausage, the two kinds with organ meats, and chicken pot pie.

And, in an unrelated, but simultaneous disaster, Mark washed his iPhone in the pocket of his jeans.

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