Munchies. Music. Miscellaneous

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Summer in the Pacific Northwest

What blog? I don’t have a blog…oh wait. THAT blog. The one that always seems to be the last thing on my mind. The one that I occasionally dream up topics for on the train but that’s as far as posts seem to get. Well that’s been the case this summer anyway.

I’ve even been up to some generally blogworthy activities! Lots of playing on the Chicago River, multiple weekend trips up to Wisconsin, VEGAS, zip lining, mountain biking, camping, fishing, farmers marketing, and a banner trip to Seattle and Portland…it’s been a really good past couple months.

I wish this perfect humid-but-not-too-hot-summer could go on forever but the schools around here started this week and nothing pulls me out of a summer daze like the powerful call of “Back to School”. Now is the time refocus with the changing seasons in mind. To make some sense of the good that came from all that relaxation and exploration. And to buy a fresh pack of highlighters.

My personal summer house cleaning includes posting some pics from my trip the Pacific Northwest this June. I loveLoveLOVE it out there. The people in the Midwest make it my favorite part of the country, but when a one hour drive is all it takes to get you somewhere jaw-droppingly beautiful, that is a major perk.

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Here in Our Hearts

My mom’s mom, my grandma “Kiki”, passed away last Tuesday.
So far in my life, I’ve only encountered the blink of an eye kind of death. Someone older dying of a heart attack or a young person getting snuffed out too soon in some kind of tragic accident. Watching and listening to Kiki go was a very different kind of experience.
She was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma in May and was told that if she didn’t take any action, she’d be lucky to have two months. Without much hesitation, she chose the “do nothing” option and took those two months as a gift. Her decision made perfect sense. She had had a good life. She didn’t want the negative effects of chemo to overshadow the time she had left to live like she wanted. And the woman refused to tolerate sitting on a cold, metal table…so that was that.
Two months is plenty of time to get your business in order, write your own service and obituary, and pick the perfect snacks for the funeral reception but it didn’t seem like anywhere near enough time to those of us who would still be here after she was gone. To our joy (and her partial dismay), she was around for an additional eight months longer than predicted.
The majority of that time she was living large and had a social calendar that put mine to shame. Being that I was “without work”, I was lucky enough to accompany her on many a date for crab cakes and martinis- which is probably as close as I’ll ever get to being one of the Ladies Who Lunch. On her 84th birthday she got her driver’s license renewed. She hadn’t used a car for months but, you know, might as well. Close family was coming in at least once a month and we made sure she had a never ending stockpile of cookies and fudge in her freezer. She told us that if she had any idea she’d be getting this kind of attention, she would have prematurely announced her death years ago.
Gradually things started to slow down. There were less trips out and more afternoons in, which she spent tirelessly whipping us at Scrabble. Weeks later she reluctantly began pulling around an oxygen tank. Months in, the world had focused in on her big bed. It was a boat. We were the crew. She was the captain. But instead of busting skulls or doing whatever pirates do on the high seas, we’d read articles handpicked by my Grandpa and sip sherry.
I know she was tired of living her life as a sick person. Had she known she would be doing it for so long, her decision making process may have been a little different. She signed up for two months, not ten. In a way, we all did. Living the better part of a year not knowing which day we’d leave the house and come back to find it less one grandparent, less one mother, impacted our decisions as a family in a way I’ve never experienced. Every day counted the most and time was spent accordingly.
My family is a pretty unabashed bunch so the topic of her “I.D.”, her self-coined “imminent demise” was mentioned casually in conversation. No discussion was safe. When we got too cheerful it sometimes felt like people took turns bringing it up to knock us back down into a more appropriately dark mood. It was like we were administering a dose of reality.
We talked about I.D. but that didn’t mean anyone but Kiki had come to terms with it. She was right about all the time following her diagnosis being a gift, but that didn’t mean it was easy on anyone. A beautiful afternoon could also be described as a tear-filled one. At the time it seemed like having her right there with you and knowing what was coming made it worse.
What I didn’t get at the time was that it was the constant promise that the end was near that forced the tough but important conversations, again and again. The “I’m so proud of you”, “I’ve learned from you”, and “are you nervous to move on” kinds of talks. I learned more about her these past months, not just as a relative but as an adult woman, than I ever had before. I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but I realize now that I did most of my mourning while she was still alive. It seems backwards but having her there to offer reassurance, to affirm that this was her time, has made her passing and the time following much easier. Her family was there for her in a big way the past year and as a thank you she hung around long enough to give us the time we needed to come to terms with the fact she’d be leaving us.
Many people have told me they’re sorry for my loss (which just so you know, has made me feel completely loved, thank you) but the feeling I’m left with isn’t one of sadness. She was an amazing woman who died peacefully with family at her side. And while it wasn’t easy to watch her go, the feelings of intense love and pride that grew from preparing for her passing have spilled into the other important relationships in my life. I’ve been reminded of the benefits of loving someone special right now and in a way that is deserving of that person’s immeasurable value. No one can say whether our lives will be short or long. Loving with purpose those who make your life worth living is just one of the lessons Kiki’s memory will continue to teach me. My shoulders do slump when I think about her no longer stepping up with a prepared grace for holiday dinner (featuring prayers for the world to take action to slow climate change) but the unanticipated realization that even after she’s gone, she will continue to be cherished source of strength and guidance in my life makes it hard to feel anything but lucky to have had her as a grandmother.


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Ice Cave Adventure

It looks like this endless winter is finally wrapping up…but honestly I’m glad it stayed as long as it did. It meant I got to sneak in a trip up to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore over “spring break” to check out the mainland ice caves. God, was it gorgeous.

We stayed about an hour away, at a hotel in Ashland, WI, and when we hit the road at 7am parts of the sky were still dark. The sun rose over the water as we looped around Chequamegon Bay. We got to watch it shine on Lake Superior all the way to Bayfield. The rest of the drive was equally beautiful/peaceful/dreamy as we cruised over the hills and through the woods (to the Ice Caves we go).

We got there around 8am- early enough to beat the crowds and catch the morning light. The weather COULD NOT have been more perfect. *Note: “perfect” = 45°F. Clearly I’ve lost all perspective this winter. But after hearing from friends who had been up there a couple weeks earlier that their eyes had frozen shut, being able to unzip my coat and leave the snow pants in the car was ideal.

Pictures do more to describe the beauty up there than I could hope to express so I’ll just say how much fun it was. From where you start, the caves stretch 4 miles up the coast. We took our time along the way. We “ooo”ed and “ahh”ed over unreal ice structures, slid on our stomachs into narrow caves that carved back 50 feet into the orange sandstone bluffs, and tempted fate (not really) by walking across newly frozen surface melt and sloshing down an inch onto the still serious ice below.

The whole time I was walking around I couldn’t stop picturing exploring the mainland caves again by kayak. It’s easy to see why this part of Wisconsin lights up in the summer. The thing is though, I’ve always known how pretty it’s supposed to be up there and I hadn’t felt compelled to visit until I heard about the winter caves. They’re just more special. More special because they have the kind of magic that melts away.

SandstoneHanging onAll the pretty patternsIce on iceOverhangUnderneathSheddingBubbling overInch worm iceIce castle"Sea" arch

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Finicky Veggie Chips

I don’t know what the deal is with baked veggie chip recipes. The past couple weekends I’ve burned the hell out of some perfectly good sweet potatoes, turnips, and beets, trying to find our how to make a  healthy-ish, flavor packed chip. It *could be my oven. It *could be the thickness of my veggies. But I think it’s more likely some sort of grand conspiracy or that people don’t test their recipes before putting them out into the world.

ALL I WANT is a bowl of crispy veggies that in some way resembles Terra Chips. Which are completely delicious. But expensive. And could offer a little more in the flavor department.

Like a good little scientist I did a some research and set up camp in the kitchen, prepared to run trials until I got an acceptable chip. I thought Martha would lead me down the path to truth but she was way off this time. Trial 1 was only documented via Snapchat. Just use your imagination to picture a smoking pan full of circular, black wafers. Yep.

Four batches later I discovered that what mattered the most was that:

  • The chips were a uniform thickness
  • They were cooked for a short amount of time (10 minutes in my case)
  • And they were watched like a hawk for the last minute in the oven


Other fun notes:

  • Some chip recipes suggest baking for a long time at low heat. This still got me burnt chips but other people on the internets (who somehow managed to leave a little slice of veggie in the oven for 2 hours without setting off the fire alarm) said that their chips turned out leathery. Not really the goal. Stick with high heat and a short baking period.
  • People like using a combination of fine and coarse-grained salt on the chips. I had some yummy coarse-grained salt that I partially broke down with the back of a spoon. Voilà- salt grain variety.
  • The absolute most exciting part of homemade chips is messing around with the flavors. I currently have a super stash of spices from Woodland Foods (their online catalog is drool-worthy and absolutely worth a look) and I had a lot of fun messing around with different flavor combinations. For these sweet potatoes I used paprika, jerk rub, coarse smoked sea salt, lime fresco salt. I’ve also done horseradish and garlic powder with Italian herbs and onion sea salt on turnips. Also, also cinnamon, orange peel, powdered ginger, and maple sugar on beets. All chips that managed to avoid death by charring were delicious.


Baked Sweet Potato Chips
Note: What works in my oven may not work in yours. You may find the chips need to be baked longer than 10 minutes but err on the side of underdone with your first batch. For gods sake don’t leave them in the oven for 30 minutes.
1 medium-sized sweet potato, skinned
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon spice mix (I used 1/4 teaspoon each of paprika, jerk rub, coarse smoked sea salt, lime fresco salt)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice a skinned sweet potato using the thinnest setting on a mandolin (making sure the slices are an even thickness) and place them in a mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together the oil and your spice blend. Coat the sweet potatoes in the spiced oil and lay out your first batch of veggies on a cookie sheet, taking care not to make the tray too crowded. Get the baking tray in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, flip the chips real quick and put them back in the oven. Keep a close eye on them the last minute or so they’re in the oven. I swear they can go from fine to totally burnt in 30 seconds.


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Running with the Wolves

This week I started a new book that I am LOVING. I’m only a hundred pages in to Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and I already think it’s going to set the tone for my Spring. It’s non-fiction but the author uses myths, fairy tales, and other stories to introduce and explain the concept of the Wild Woman- the instinctual force in women that’s fed by self discovery and strengthened with personal integrity. It’s got me reading with a pen in hand stopping after every couple paragraphs to turn the message over and let it sink in. I can see how some people would be less taken with this book than I am. If I was reading it at a different point in my life I might not be as into it either but right now, to loosely quote Lauryn Hill, “it’s the ocean, and I’m the sand”.Find your inner Wolf Woman
I’m not yet in a position to comment on the book as a whole, but it has inspired a mix.

Wolf Woman Mix (Click HERE to listen to it as a playlist)

1. Your Bones– Of Monsters and Men
2. Sun Hands– Local Natives
3. Master Hunter– Laura Marling
4. Sleep Alone– Bat For Lashes
5. Bells Ring– Mazzy Star
6. Woman King– Iron & Wine
7. Rhiannon– Fleetwood Mac
8. Wildfire– SBTRKT
9. Green Garden– Laura Mvula
10. Holland, 1945– Neutral Milk Hotel
11. The Crane Wife, Pt. 3– The Decemberists
12. Acrobat– Angel Olsen
13. Into Dust– Mazzy Star
14. Push it Out– The Beta Band
15. Slow and Steady– Of Monsters and Men
16. All My Rage– Laura Marling

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Fudgy, Red Wine Brownies

I’m not sure if many other people share my affection for Valentine-themed Cosmic Brownies. They’re not the height of class but they’re one of those treats I always loved as a kid and I still linger on at the grocery store. They’re good, but for me their appeal is predominantly sentimental. A flat, fudgy little brownie that’s all decked out for the holiday = Irresistible.

Now we’re grown up and don’t need to wait for a generous parent to drop a brownie in our lunchbox. We can eat brownies with our morning coffee and we can flavor them with wine.

And because it’s Valentine’s Day, here’s some activist pick-up lines to get you in the spirit. XOXO.

Valentine deliciousness

That was quick

Fudgy, Red Wine Brownies
Recipe adapted from Butter Me Up, Brooklyn

For the brownies:
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup red wine
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional, but not really)

For the glaze:
2 tablespoons white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons red wine
pinch of salt
red food coloring
holiday-themed sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter an 8×8 pan and line it with parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Set it aside for later.

Melt a 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and the butter together in a double boiler setup, stirring continuously until the mixture is melted and smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars and vanilla. Add in the chocolate mixture and then the wine. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and stir until the batter is smooth. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepped pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tester comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs attached. These brownies are extra fudgy so the tester should have a little bit of dough on it- just as long as its thick enough that it looks like the brownie will set up once it cools.

While the brownies have about 10 minutes left, make the glaze. Melt the white chocolate chips in a double boiler set up. When the chocolate is melted, add the butter, wine and salt and whisk until smooth. Add red food coloring drop by drop until you reach your desired level of festiveness. Pour the glaze over the warm brownies and spread it to the corners so the top is evenly coated.

Wait until the brownie has cooled completely before cutting it. Since they’re so moist, I found running the knife under hot water (so the brownie-y knife wouldn’t stick to everything and the warmth would make it easier to cut) really helped.

Oh hell no.

Oh hell no.

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Lady’s Got the Blues

A couple months ago, Shawn made an exceptional blues mix for the inaugural Guest Blogger post. At the time I hassled him about the minimal lady presence in the lineup. He said he picked the greats. I said he neglected genre-defining female artists and vowed to dedicate a mix of my own to the women of the Blues.

Confession: When I started pulling songs together I realized I had like half a mix worth of female artists. Whoops. The boys of Blues get a lot of rightfully deserved credit, however, just because many of the go-to favorite artists are male, doesn’t mean the ladies don’t bring it just as hard. This is a genre defined by emotional highs and lows, afterall…just sayin’😉

Lady’s Got the Blues Mix (click HERE to listen to it as a playlist)

1. Wild Women (Don’t Get the Blues)– Mama Cass Elliot
2. Walkin’ Blues– Rory Block
3. Ball and Chain– Big Mama Thornton
4. Hurt So Bad– Susan Tedeschi
5. Gone Blind– Sue Foley
6. I Wish Someone Would Care– Irma Thomas
7. Slow Ass Jolene– Dolly Parton (slowed waaay down)
8. Salt In My Wounds– Shemekia Copeland
9. Steal Away– Valerie Wellington
10. Love Me Like a Man– Bonnie Raitt
11. In the Dark– Nina Simone
12. Why Don’t You Do Right– Lil Green
13. All I Could Do Was Cry– Etta James
14. Foolish Fool– Dee Dee Warwick
15. I’m a Woman– Koko Taylor

Clockwise from the top, left: Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas, Big Mama Thornton, Rory Block

Clockwise from the top left: Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas, Big Mama Thornton, Rory Block

Clockwise from the top left: Valerie, Nina Simone, Lil Green, Bonnie Raitt

Clockwise from the top left: Valerie Wellington, Nina Simone, Bonnie Raitt, Lil Green