Royal Corona Bean Soup

Royal Corona Bean Soup

I haven't written about a recipe here in ages, but I'm hoping to change that.

Let's jump back in with a simple bean soup. This soup could be made with any type of bean (with adjustments to the cooking time based on size), but is especially nice for showing off an heirloom variety. Last time I was in San Francisco I stopped by Rancho Gordo's Ferry Building outpost and picked up a bag of their enormous royal corona beans. Their flavor and texture really shine with this preparation.

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Raw Corn & Cashew Chowder

Thank you to everyone for all of your kind words after I was robbed in December. I was especially moved that a few of you even offered to contribute to a new camera fund. I'm happy to say that I was finally able to replace my camera on my own, even though I am incredibly grateful for the generous offers.

Tall Ships 8

A lot has changed over the last few months. I'm happy to be back in my old neighborhood in Chicago after grad school. I love my work and my ever-growing professional network. I met excellent people at the Midwest UX conference in June and the Chicago UX Book Club has continued to be fun and thought-provoking.

Tall Ships 5

I spent a lovely long weekend in the Bay Area in May and I'm heading on my annual Glacier backpacking trip with my Dad in a few weeks. The summer has been busy with six weddings and various out-of-town guests. But, I've still found the time to slow down with warm evenings on restaurant patios and a picturesque sailboat ride on Lake Michigan

Chowder and Lighthouse

In addition to my new camera, my other large purchase over the last six months was finally acquiring a fancy blender. I'd coveted a Vitamix for half a decade, but after quite a bit of research I decided on a Blendtec blender and I couldn't be happier with my choice. I have kale smoothies every morning and I've recently fallen in love with this raw summer soup.

Raw Sweet Corn, Cashew & Avocado Chowder


4 ears sweet corn
1/2 C raw cashews
1 avocado
1 1/2 garlic cloves
4 Tbl good olive oil
1 1/2 C water
2 tsp kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper


Husk the corn and remove the silk. In a large shallow bowl, stand the corn on an end cut off the kernals with a sharp knife. Set aside half a cup of corn kernals. Combine the remaining kernals and the rest of the ingredients in your blender, and blend until very smooth. (I used the "soup" setting on my Blendtec.) Adjust the seasoning as desired.

Pour the soup into bowls and top with the reserved corn kernals and a bit more black pepper. Serve at room temperature, or chill if preferred.

Rosemary, Black Pepper & Brown Butter Soda Bread

This wonderful recipe was suggested by my friend Joanna.  I liked the idea of adding rosemary, fresh black pepper and browned butter to this quick bread base to create a decidedly non traditional version.

The end result of the recipe was wonderful. A few notes: I found that my dough was quite wet after following the instructions, so I ended up adding about half a cup more flour than the original recipe calls for. Be sure to have a some extra flour on hand so that you can get the texture just right. You want a moist dough that just comes together in your hands.  I didn't knead this bread at all. I simply mixed the dough in the bowl until it formed a smooth ball and then formed the loaves.

Rosemary, Black Pepper & Brown Butter Soda Bread

Adapted from Bon Appetit


1/4 C butter
3 1/2 C flour, plus 1/2 C
1/2 C old-fashioned oats
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 3/4 C buttermilk


Place a baking stone in your oven and preheat oven to 375F.  (Don't worry if you don't have a baking stone, you can simply use an ungreased baking sheet. Don't place it in the oven as it heats. If you'd like a baking stone, check out this great post on making your own for $3.)

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat and cook until golden brown and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the buttermilk and butter.  Mix well and add the buttermilk and butter.  Mix until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. Add more flour if you need it (I did). Form dough into two rounds with your hands and transfer to the baking stone or baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut an "X" in the top of each loaf - about 1/2 an inch deep.

Bake until breads are a deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center -- about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool for a least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve with plenty of high quality butter.

Pumpkin Pancakes

I'm sincerely touched by all of the kind emails I received after my last post. Today marks the seventh anniversary for Pro Bono Baker (!) and I'm grateful for all of the friends and opportunities this little blog has introduced me to over the years.

Champaign Prairie Grass

I'm still without a camera and expect to be for at least a few more months (student debt is my priority now that I have graduated and, thankfully, found a job). My camera rarely left my side and it's been an adjustment to be without it. My first impulse when enjoying a well-plated brunch or seeing a beautiful sunset is to reach for it. Luckily, I have a few posts saved up to share with you. These shots are from November and December in Champaign just before I moved.

Part of me still feels like I'll be heading back to Champaign after winter break. I'm getting settled in Chicago and it has been wonderful to reconnect with old friends, restaurants, and neighborhoods. But, I know I will miss many people and the easy pace of central Illinois when the semester starts again.


It's hard to believe that seven years have past since I started this blog. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to share this part of my life with so many of you. I wish you all the very best in the new year!

Roommate Brunch

Pumpkin Pancakes

Adapted from Chef Kenny Shopsin


1 3⁄4 C flour
3 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp ground allspice
1 C canned pumpkin purée
1 C heavy cream
1⁄2 C milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tbl canola oil
Butter and maple syrup, for serving


Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, ginger, salt, and allspice. Add the pumpkin purée, cream, milk, and eggs and whisk everything until the batter is fairly smooth (don't go too crazy though).

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour a quarter-cup of batter into the skillet for each pancake, cooking two to four at a time depending on the size of your pan. Cook the pancakes until bubbles begin to form on the edges, about two minutes. Flip and cook for another one to two minutes on the other side.

Repeat with the remaining oil and pancake batter. Serve hot with butter and syrup.

Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka

The last month has been an exciting one! I finished graduate school and earned my Master's in library and information science at the University of Illinois this month. I feel ready to leave, but Champaign, Illinois grew on me more than I expected. I learned a lot about myself and how I want to use my education, I met great friends and colleagues, and I reveled in the markets, theaters, and restaurants of a charming university town. It was sad to pack up and leave this week.

I'm happy to be back home with my parents for the next week and a half, and I have a great job to look forward to in January. I'll be working as a user experience researcher & designer for a small Chicago company. I will be able to use my librarian side to interact with people and learn about their information needs, use my nerdy side to organize information by developing taxonomies and interaction flows, and use my creative side to incorporate these elements into prototypes and visual designs. The work suits me perfectly.

I also just found out that Pro Bono Baker was voted one of the Top 5 Independent Food Websites/blogs by Chicago's New City Magazine! I'm incredibly flattered.

35 mm 1.4 1

The last month has had a few low points to balance all this great news. Just after Thanksgiving I came down with a debilitating tension headache/migraine that left me bed-ridden and full of pain killers and muscle relaxers for the better part of two weeks. The stress of feeling so incapacitated during my last few weeks of school and work didn't help.

Worst of all, Nick and I were mugged by two jerks as we were leaving brunch at the Publican recently. Nick had just treated me to a lovely meal to celebrate my new job. We've spent the last two weeks dealing with the aftermath of police reports, credit checks, and card replacements. They made off with my camera (among other things). So... You might not be seeing too many photos around here for a bit. I'm saving up to replace my Canon 60D body and 50mm f/1.4 lens, but it will be a while. Of course, we are grateful that we weren't really hurt.

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I hope all of you are enjoying some holiday cooking with friends and family. I was recently asked to shoot a photo for Travel + Leisure to include in their slideshow of traditional holiday foods. This Russian soup is one of twelve courses served in early January to celebrate the Holy Supper. The soup is thickened with zaprashka - a roux of oil, flour, and the liquid rendered from sautéing onions. There are a number of different recipes available for this unique soup. It has a strong flavor, thanks to sauerkraut juice, and it is great served with a bit of sour cream and chives or dill.

Mushroom Soup with Zaprashka


1 small onion, diced
5 Tbl vegetable oil (divided)
3 Tbl flour
1 C of mushrooms, cleaned and diced
3/4 C of sauerkraut juice 1 quart of vegetable stock (or water)
1 potato, cubed
salt & pepper


Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large stockpot over medium/high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Add the sauerkraut juice and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the onions in a skillet in 1 tablespoon of oil. Pour off any liquid into a different skillet. Turn off the heat.

After the stock has simmered for 20 minutes add the onions (not the liquid). Begin making the roux by browning the flour in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the skillet along with the onion liquid. Whisk constantly and be careful not to burn. When it is browned, add one cup of the stock and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into the soup.

Simmer for 15 more minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chard with Olives, Lemon & Mozzarella

Over the weekend I received a call from my friend Ariel. Her community garden was closing up shop for the season, but she had a huge quantity of chard that was still growing. She asked if I would like some of it, and of course I said yes. She came right over with a grocery bag full of beautiful rainbow chard.

Preparing Swiss Chard Salad

I thought about making a stir fry or a savory pie, but something about this late season treat called for a less wintry treatment. Instead, I thinly sliced the raw chard leaves and assembled a flavorful salad with sauteed chard ribs, olives, garlic, lemon, and mozzarella. The result was a gorgeous and richly flavored seasonal dish.

Preparing Swiss Chard Salad

Chard with Olives, Lemon & Mozzarella


1 1/2 lbs chard
2 Tbl olive oil
1/3 C oil-cured black olives, quartered and pitted
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1 Tbl lemon zest
1 C grated fresh mozzarella
salt and pepper


Rinse and dry the chard. Tear the leaves from the ribs (reserve) and slice the ribs into 1/4 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olives, garlic, and chard ribs and saute with some salt and pepper for about five minutes or until the ribs are tender. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Take the chard leaves and stack them about five-high. Roll the leaves into cigar shapes and thinly slice crosswise. Toss in a large serving bowl with the lemon juice and lemon zest. Allow to rest for about ten minutes. The lemon juice will make the chard leaves slightly tender.

When the chard rib mixture has cooled to room temperature, add to the salad along with the mozzarella. Toss to combine and add salt and pepper to taste.

Halloween Severed Finger Cookies

One of my favorite things about graduate school is how seriously most of the people I know take Halloween, and costume parties in general. Gone are the days of purely revealing or unimaginative attire - instead, many people expend considerable effort to pull off witty homemade costumes. A welcome symptom of student procrastination.

Late October

Some of my favorites this year included Firefox (the web browser), a nine-foot tall raven, a dust bunny, and an entire village of Spartans. I dressed as Daria and Nick went as Harpo. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and hoping that the grown-up-looking house I share with my roommates means we will have some trick-or-treaters.


I hope everyone has had a great Halloween weekend. If you haven't had your fill of sugar yet, give these ghoulish cookies a try. There are many variations of this recipe available online. I read through a half dozen and distilled my own. A couple versions suggested using red jam to secure the almonds. I didn't have any jam on hand, but I think this would be a great addition.

Late October

Severed Finger Cookies Makes about 4 dozen


1 C butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
2 3/4 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt 1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
50 whole almonds (I used raw)


In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the egg and extracts, and mix until thoroughly combined. (I found it was easiest to use my hands to mix.) Form the dough into a ball and cover in plastic. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using about a tablespoon of dough, roll the dough into finger length pieces and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Use a sharp paring knife to cut three creases into the "knuckles" and add an almond to one end of the cookie for a "fingernail." Be sure to secure the almond well. I pushed it down and formed the cookie dough around the sides.

Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until the edges just being to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before moving the cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Herb Roasted Red Kuri Squash & The Kentucky Bourbon Chase

In early October I left my Thursday night Interface Design class and headed straight to Louisville, Kentucky. It was my first visit to this lovely state and I was excited to explore while running in the Bourbon Chase - a 12 person, 200 mile relay race through distilleries, horse farms, and charming small towns. While training for the big event, we also raised over $6,000 for the National Hospice Foundation.

Bourbon Chase

Our team began in the afternoon on Friday and ran straight through until the evening - on Saturday! We were able to catch a few minutes of sleep in dewy fields and crowded vans, but for the most part this was an around-the-clock event.

Lebanon, KY

The race began at the Jim Beam Distillery and headed to Bardstown and Heaven Hill Distillery, continuing on to Maker's Mark Distillery, Lebanon, Perryville Battlefield, Stanford, Danville, Harrodsburg, Four Roses Distillery, Wild Turkey Distillery, the Tyrone Bridge, Versailles, Woodford Reserve Distillery, Midway, and finally into Lexington where we enjoyed our much anticipated first taste of Kentucky Bourbon.

I ran with a group of people that, for the most part, I'd never met before. It was a really awesome and intense experience, and I miss them all dearly. It was a wonderful way to make new friends and I'm already looking forward to next year.

Bourbon Chase

Kentucky was unbelievably beautiful. We visited during the peak of autumn colors and were welcomed with inspiring hospitality in every town. We stumbled upon an old abandoned distillery, saw multi-story mash tubs, visited Keeneland, and made a detour to the charming little town of Columbus, Indiana on the way back north. You can find more photos here.

Squash 11

After running 18 miles over 36 hours with little sleep and few proper meals, I've been reveling in kale salads, homemade soup, and autumn squash. I suspect that few of you need a recipe for squash preparation, but let this serve as simple encouragement to enjoy the current seasonal bounty.

Herb Roasted Red Kuri Squash


1 squash
2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl butter
Fresh rosemary
Fresh thyme
1 tsp roasted ground cumin
1 tsp sweet curry powder
1 tsp turmeric salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 400F. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds from the cavity (reserve the seeds, see recipe below). Arrange the squash halves face-up on a heavy baking sheet. Rub the olive oil over the squash (including the skin) and place the remaining ingredients in the squash cavity.

Roast the squash for about 50 minutes. Check the squash periodically and spoon the butter-herb mixture over the rest of the squash surface to season. When you can easily pierce the flesh with a knife, the squash is done. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm. Any leftovers can be tossed with pasta and parmesan for a simple dinner.

Cumin & Parmesan Roasted Squash Seeds


Seeds from one squash 1 Tbl olive oil 1/2 tsp roasted ground cumin salt and pepper to season 2 Tbl grated Parmesan


Preheat oven to 350F.* Remove any large pieces of squash from the seeds and place the seeds in a large bowl. Don't worry if a bit of squash remains on the seeds.Toss with the olive oil, cumin, and salt and pepper.

Spread the seeds evenly over a heavy baking sheet lined with a Silpat mat or parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the seeds are golden brown. Check and stir frequently.

When the seeds are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the grated Parmesan.

*(You can also put them in the oven with the squash at 400F. Just watch them carefully.)

Spicy Roasted Garlic & Lentil Stew

I spent this past weekend visiting Kentucky for the first time and running the Bourbon Chase (more on that soon when I finish editing my photos). The autumn color was truly spectacular and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful weekend.

30th Birthday

Even though we are experiencing a bit of warm snap right now, October has me thinking of peppermint tea and hearty soup as I rustle through falling leaves on my walk to school. The first task on my fall cooking list was this lentil stew that I fell in love with last year. I don't think I have ever met a lentil soup I didn't like, but this might be my favorite.

Mom and Dad Visiting 40

The cayenne and smoked paprika give this stew some snap, but the earthy flavor of the roasted garlic and vegetables balance the dish. It keeps well and makes an excellent workday lunch. You can make this stew with any type of lentil, but I am fond of French green lentils. They hold their shape after cooking, unlike other varieties that tend to fall apart.

Spicy Roasted Garlic & Lentil Soup

Spicy Roasted Garlic & Lentil Stew Serves 6


1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled
5 Tbl olive oil
1 tsp salt Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large shallots, sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, quartered
1 C chopped celery
1/2 Tbl fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
dash of red pepper flakes
dash of cinnamon
1 C french green lentils
4 1/2 C vegetable stock


Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange the carrots on a baking sheet and coat with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn the carrots and add the shallot and garlic. Roast 15 more minutes. Allow the carrots to cool and chop into half inch pieces.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large stockpot. Add the carrots, shallots, garlic, celery, cayenne, red pepper flakes, paprika, and cinnamon. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occassionally. Season to taste.

Zucchini Turmeric Pickles

Like many of you, early fall is my favorite time of year. I've unpacked extra blankets and sweaters, started to visit our local apple orchard on a nearly weekly basis, and I'm taking every opportunity to spend time outside before the daylight hours fade.

The last few weekends have been been full of visitors and it has been a pleasure to show friends and family around town. I took advantage of the associated car access and we visited abandoned train cars, historic round barns, the Allerton estate, and the former Chanute Air Force Base. It's hard to believe that I'll be done with my degree in December. Time has flown by and this little town has grown on me.

Zucchini Pickles

To welcome my guests I bought a few bottles of wine and made a double batch of my favorite pickles. This recipe is perfect for late summer/early fall when zucchini is plentiful. The pickles have a familiar sweet and sour flavor with a few extra special touches: turmeric and mustard.

Zucchini Turmeric Pickles

Adapted from the Zuni Café


1 lb zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 Tbl kosher salt
2 C cider vinegar
1 C sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds (I used brown)
Scant 1 tsp ground turmeric


Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; I used a mandoline. Do the same with the onion. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt.

After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini -- it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric. Simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (You don't want the brine to cook your crisp pickles.)

Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.

Peach Coffee Cake

How is it that I never seem to realize the days are getting shorter until the first cool September day? Suddenly the sunlight looks a bit warmer on my bike ride home from work, summer flowers are few and far between, and neighborhood gardens are bursting with tomatoes and zucchinis. I'm one of the most enthusiastic autumn-lovers you can find, but the changing seasons aren't without a bit of sadness to see another summer come to a close. Luckily, Peach Coffee Cake is the perfect recipe to ease the transition.

September in Champaign

Midwesterners, be sure to visit your farmers market over the next two weeks to get the last of the juicy freestone peaches. Tell them you are baking, and perhaps your farmer will throw in a few slightly bruised extras like mine did. (What a nice treat!) Though, if you can't find any, this recipe will also work well with plums or apricots.

Peach Coffee Cake Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Dimply Plum Cake


1 1/2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt Scant
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
5 Tbl unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 C flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 freestone peaches, pitted and halved*


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In a second medium bowl and working with a mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each egg goes in. Still working on medium speed, beat in the oil, zest and vanilla—the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the peaches cut side up in the batter, jiggling the peaches a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and puffed around the peaches and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes—during which time the peach juice will seep back into the cake—then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.

Once cool, dust the cake with powdered sugar to serve.

(*I used four halves in the center of the cake. Then, I cut away the bruised parts of large peach and sliced the remaining pieces. I placed these smaller pieces along the perimeter of the cake, making sure a bit of batter remained between the baking pan and the peach slices.)

Quinoa Tabbouleh

My final semester of graduate school began last week. It's hard to believe that it has been a year since I moved away from Chicago. I left the city overwhelmed and burned out after several years in nonprofit development. I didn't have much of an end goal when I started library school. I was simply eager for a change. In the last twelve months I've had the opportunity to meet many fascinating and brilliant people, to visit new places, to commute by bike for the first time in years, to encounter new ways of thinking about information, how people seek it, and how to organize it. I've even started to find my own focus in the field. It's been wonderful to be back in school. I plan to thoroughly enjoy these last few months.


In additional to my library courses, I stepped a bit out of my comfort zone and signed up for a studio art course on RAW photography. I haven't taken an art class since middle school and I'm ecstatic to be doing so again. I'm the only student from outside the art department, and while I'm slightly afraid of looking foolish, I couldn't be happier.


The start of the academic year means that falling leaves and sweaters are right around the corner. These last few weeks of late summer are always my favorite, with milder temperatures and perfect tomatoes. Here is a healthier take on traditional tabbouleh that calls for some of the abundant summer herbs and vegetables that are still available.

Quinoa Tabbouleh


1 C black quinoa - rinsed
1/2 medium cucumber - peeled, seeded, and diced
2 medium tomatoes - seeds squeezed out and diced (I used one red and one yellow)
1/4 medium red onion - diced
3 garlic cloves - minced
2 C flat-leaf parsley - stems removed and chopped
1/2 C mint - stems removed and chopped
2 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil salt and pepper to taste


Bring two cups of salted water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the quinoa, turn down the heat to medium-low, and cover. Simmer about 20 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked and fluffy.

When the quinoa is cooked, pour off any excess water and add the quinoa to a large bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and salt and pour the dressing over the quinoa. Stir to combine evenly. Add the cucumber, tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, and mint. Stir to combine. Add additional salt and lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate and serve chilled.

Strawberry Shortcake

This has been the first summer that has really felt like summer to me in a long time. Soaring temperatures, breezy bike rides, patio drinking, vacations, great food, old friends, new friends, grad school classes, and barely a moment to sit still - just the way I like it.

Summer Dinner Party 23

I've been fortunate to spend a lot of time with my family this summer and we recently had a large reunion for my father's side of the family. My grandparents had six children and - counting spouses and great grandchildren - there are about 40 of us now. We are lucky to be so close-knit for a large family, especially considering that we are spread throughout the country and the world.

Grandpa Then Grandpa Now

The driving force behind this family reunion was to celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday. That's the two of us in 1986 and again just recently. We spent three days in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin dining, going through old photos, and enjoying my grandfather's land. I'm hoping I inherited some of my grandparent's good genes - they are both in excellent shape. In fact, my grandfather's birthday gift was a new chainsaw and he and my father are out at the land clearing away fallen trees from the most recent storm as I write this.

It's hard to believe it is already August. I've started to frantically make all of the summer dishes that I know I will miss when late September rolls around. Growing up, strawberry shortcake usually included store bought angel food cake. While I still have a special place in my heart for that distinctive flavor, you can't beat the real thing. The shortcakes in this recipe are easy to make and it's worth turning on the oven for in the hot August heat.

Strawberry Shortcake Serves 10

For the shortcakes:


4 C all-purpose flour
2 Tbl baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
6 Tbl sugar
1 ½ sticks (12 Tbl) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ C cold heavy cream


I use Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Tender Shortcakes, which you can find here.

For the strawberries and cream:


2 lb fresh strawberries, rinsed 2 Tbl sugar 1 ½ C cold heavy cream


Thinly slice the strawberries. Add to a medium bowl and add the sugar. Gently toss the strawberries to coat and let them sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, periodically stirring to distribute the sugar. Refrigerate until you are ready to use the mixture.

Just before you are ready to serve the strawberry shortcakes, add the heavy cream to medium bowl and whip with a hand mixer until light and airy. Don't over mix.

To serve, place a shortcake on a plate (you can gently slice them in half if you'd like, but I leave them whole), top with a few dallops of whipped cream and a few spoonfuls of strawberries.

Porch Beer

It is sweltering in Illinois as I write this. I glanced at the weather report before I biked to work this morning, and to my dismay saw that it would feel like 112 F outside. And, it did. Look out east coast, this heat wave is coming for you. I'd recommend that you stock a few ingredients in your home in preparation. This is my favorite way to keep cool on these hot, hot summer nights.

Porch Beer


12 oz. lager beer (I use Tecate)
1 lime Kosher flake salt
4 large ice cubes


Cut the lime into quarters and run one of the wedges around the rim of a 20 oz pint glass. Pour a tablespoon of salt into a flat dish and coat the glass rim.  Add four large ice cubes to the glass, squeeze in the lime juice, and add the lime quarters. Top with beer.

Beet Ice Cream

It never feels like summer until July, when the midwest gets hit with the first dangerous heat wave and the humidity becomes overwhelming. Everyone likes to complain about it, including me, but I secretly appreciate the extreme temperatures that mark our seasons in this region. When I lived in Oregon, I was always felt a bit melancholy when fall, winter, and spring would blend together into one entirely tolerable season.

I recently spent a nice weekend in Milwaukee with part of Nick's family. I always forget how different Lake Michigan looks further north. It appears more accessible, without a messy Navy Pier and fewer people.

Lake Michigan

I've been traveling non-stop this summer (usually only as far as Chicago, thankfully). Between the beginning of May and the end of August, I'll have spent only three weekends here, and one of those was to move. I'm lucky to be so busy, but I hardly know what to do with myself when I don't have to scramble to catch a train on a Friday these days.

My weekend plans include a bike tune-up, a visit to the Urbana Farmers Market, and a long run. I'll also be finishing off a batch of Beet Ice Cream as the next heat wave rolls in. I used this recipe from Serious Eats (omitting the chocolate), but next time I am going to try Thomas Keller's. The Serious Eats recipe was nice, but it didn't end up as creamy as I'd hoped. (For those of you questioning whether beets and ice cream should be paired, let me assure you that while it is different, I think it is delicious. There is a natural sweetness to beets, of course, and the earthiness mellows out the rest of the sugar in the recipe.)

Lemon & Tahini Peas

I spent a busy Father's Day weekend between Chicago and northern Illinois. My mother is renting a fantastic apartment in a high-rise near Millennium Park this summer. I spent some time enjoying the view with her on Friday, followed by a fantastic dinner at Province with Nick.

Father's Day Weekend 4

Saturday and Sunday I spent at home with my parents, and in Lake Geneva with my Grandparents. We had a picnic at my Grandparent's land for Father's Day and enjoyed an excited hail storm that evening.

Father's Day Weekend 14

My brother came into Chicago for work on Monday evening and my father and I met him for dinner on the Small Bar patio in Logan Square. It was odd being there now that neither of us live in the neighborhood. It was a busy weekend, but I am glad I was able to visit with so many people.

I catch the train to New Orleans this evening for the American Library Association Conference. Feel free to share any recommendations you have for my stay!

Father's Day Weekend 2

Summer has officially arrived and I've been keeping cool with recipes that require very little heat to prepare. (Sometimes, I just eat an entire melon for a meal.) This recipe for peas in a flavorful lemon and tahini dressing is great on its own, or served with toasted pita.

Lemon & Tahini Peas


2 C frozen peas
1/4 C plain yogurt
2 Tbl tahini
2 Tbl red onion, finely diced
2 Tbl lemon zest
1 Tbl water
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp salt


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the frozen peas for a minute or two -- just until they turn bright green. Remove from the heat, drain, and run cold water over them. You don't want the peas to cook, just to thoroughly thaw.

In a medium bowl, combine all of the other ingredients and mix well. Add another tablespoon or two of water if the consistency of the dressing seems too thick.

Add the peas, tossing to coat. With a fork or a potato masher, gently crush some of the peas. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Poached Egg Soup

The sky threatened to rain all day yesterday, and around 5 am the storm we were promised finally arrived with a magnificent display of thunder and lightening.

I can be a bit hard on the midwest sometimes. For much the year, it is intensely hot and humid or dangerously cold. But, nothing compares to a midwestern summer storm, the exhilarating feeling of a hot night and heat lightening, or the surprising beauty of a farm field lighting up with lightening bugs at dusk.

Baby Robins

This will be my first summer away from Chicago in several years. While there are many things I will miss -- like the Hoyle Brothers at the Empty Bottle, Veggie Bingo at the Hideout, and the hop-fringed patio at Small Bar -- I suddenly feel quite comfortable here in Champaign. I never thought I would live in a town this small again, and while I am certain it is temporary, it is growing on me.


Last summer's routine of waiting for the Western bus on scorching hot asphalt in exhaust heavy air, to head to a job that slowly crushed my will to work for good in the nonprofit sector, seems long ago now. I feel lucky. While I look forward to the next transition when I graduate, for these last few months, I'm happy.

This dish, while appropriate for any meal, makes a great weekend breakfast for chilly mornings.

Zuppa alla Pavese Adapted from Ciao Italia Serves 2


2 thick slices of rustic bread, toasted and buttered
2 fresh eggs
2 Tbl grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 C hot broth (beef or vegetable)
Black pepper
Fresh thyme leaves, optional


Preheat the oven to 375F. Place each slice of bread in a large oven-safe serving bowl. Crack an egg on top of each slice, carefully ensuring it doesn't slip under the bread. Top the egg with a tablespoon of cheese and carefully pour a cup of broth down the side of each bowl. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. The dish is ready when egg whites have set and the bread is golden brown. Serve with freshly ground black pepper and fresh thyme leaves.

Sweet Sourdough Cake

In the last seven years I have lived in no less than seven different homes. I'm sure many of you can relate. I've always loved getting to know new streets and neighborhoods -- enough to put up with an annual schedule of packing and moving and unpacking. My latest summer move took place last weekend and I couldn't be happier with the change.

New House

When I first left Chicago for grad school last year, I found a suitable home and roommates by way of Craigslist. It was a fine arrangement, but the house was small for three people and we didn't have anything in common. Ultimately, it was just a place to sleep and fix quick meals.

I'm thrilled to be recently installed in a gorgeous, sun-filled house with two great women from my program. The family that owns the house is on sabbatical in Switzerland until late December -- exactly when we all plan to be graduating. Not only is the timing perfect, but the big dining room and garden patio already have dinner party planning in full swing.


This recipe comes to me couresty of my parent's neighbor Audrey (who you might remember from her amazing Raspberry Chocolate Torte recipe). Audrey gave me a portion of starter and a print out of the recipe, and after a bit of research, I found that the recipe is from a popular "chain-letter" starter called Amish Friendship Bread. The original cautions not to use metal containers or utensils, to keep the starter un-refrigerated, and to use only ceramic or plastic bowls. I haven't tested these recommendations.

You can find the recipe here. I modified the recipe by adding one cup of whole wheat flour to the starter on the tenth day instead of all-purpose. I also omitted the vanilla instant pudding and the nuts entirely and I didn't miss either of them. The cake is a bit like a quick bread, but the sweet sourdough starter gives it a more complex flavor. The cake is excellent served wtih some berries and plain yogurt.

Next & Aviary

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to visit Next and The Aviary, the new Chicago restaurant and cocktail bar from Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. It was an incredibly decadent evening and one of the best dining experiences of my life. The theme of the first Next menu is Paris 1906 - Escoffier at the Ritz. Every detail - from the silver serving platters to the superb wine pairings - created a unique and memorable dining experience.

First course: Hors d’Oeuvres

First course: Hors d’Oeuvres. Eggshell filled with truffle-topped egg custard, toast with foie gras and apricot jam, quail egg with anchovy, cracker with pork rillettes, and mushroom and leek.

Third course: Filet de Sole Daumont

Third course: Filet de Sole Daumont. Sole and crawfish including a crawfish-stuffed mushroom and breaded sole roe.

Fifth course: Caneton Rouennais à la Presse

Fifth course: Caneton Rouennais à la Presse. Duck breast and leg with duck jus prepared using an antique duck press. You can see the duck press in action here.

Eighth course: Mignardises

Eighth course: Mignardises. Included beet pate de fruit, salted caramel and pistachio nougat. You can view pictures of all eight courses on my flickr page.


After dinner, we were welcomed into the Next kitchen to watch the talented staff at work and chat with Next Chef Dave Beran (pictured on the right).

Amuse: Bloody Mary

We were then escorted next door for drinks at The Aviary. When we arrived at our table, a server brought out bloody mary amuse bouches.

Dark and stormy

Aviary cocktails pictured above: Blueberry with verjus, sweet vermouth, rye, blood orange peel, strawberries, pomegranate seeds and peppercorns and the Dark and Stormy, served capped in a brown paper bag.

Red drink

Rhubarb with lemon balm, cocchi, gin, and Peychaud bitter round ice cubes. Martini in three glasses: aged, vermouth, gin. Truffle negroni with Campari and black truffle being poured in the background.

With seven people, we were able to sample a large number of the drinks available at the Aviary. They were all wonderful, but I especially enjoyed the Aviary take on the classic Negroni. There isn't much a black truffle won't improve, but the deep, earthly flavor combined with the bitter alcohol made for a truly remarkable cocktail.

A very special thank you to Nick for getting tickets to Next and treating me to dinner. I hope Aviary drinks and Dolly Parton tickets made up for it.

Grape & Cilantro Salad

I recently completed my second semester of graduate school. Spring was packed with multiple jobs, extra credit hours, and training for my second marathon (it went great!). It was an exciting semester, but it was truly a relief to turn in my final projects and take a short break from everything. I'm back at it though; my position with the University continues throughout the summer, I'm working on an information architecture and usability independent study project, trying to visit Chicago often, packing for a move, and my summer courses begin in just a few weeks.

May in Champaign
May in Champaign

Summer in a university town is different experience from the rest of the year. With the vast majority of undergraduate students out of town, it is easier to feel connected to a real community. I feel like I am finally getting my footing here and truly enjoying it. I've made some wonderful friends, I'm moving into a charming house, and I finally know what I want to do with myself when I graduate in December with my MLIS. It feels great.

The heat and heavy storms of summer have made their way to the midwest in the last few weeks. This is the time of year when I begin making one of my favorite salads on a frequent basis. I've posted about it before, but I thought it deserved an update. This recipe comes from my friend Ellen and it calls for just a few ingredients: Red grapes, raw almonds, cilantro, olive oil, lemon, and salt. It's simple, quick, and a bit of a departure from a typical fruit salad. You can find the recipe on Ellen's website.