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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

(From the archives.)

 

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katie - Yum! This is exactly what the thermometer is calling for.

katie - Yum! This is exactly what the thermometer is calling for.

Bowen - Looks like exactly what I want to drink on my porch … maybe with a dash of hot sauce, too!
(And we must be on a similar page … a week or so ago I made up a drink I named “front porch lemonade”)

Bowen - Looks like exactly what I want to drink on my porch … maybe with a dash of hot sauce, too!
(And we must be on a similar page … a week or so ago I made up a drink I named “front porch lemonade”)

Gemma - Indeed Katie, enjoy!
Bowen, I definitely second the hot sauce. Great minds think alike! Nice site.

Gemma - Indeed Katie, enjoy!
Bowen, I definitely second the hot sauce. Great minds think alike! Nice site.

yarnydays - Oh, yum.

yarnydays - Oh, yum.

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.

Water Tower Hinterland
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.

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.

West East

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.)

 

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Carl - Not so sure about beet ice cream, but great shot of the…Banksy?

Carl - Not so sure about beet ice cream, but great shot of the…Banksy?

Gemma - I’m not sure Carl. I don’t think so, but it is possible.

Gemma - I’m not sure Carl. I don’t think so, but it is possible.

New Orleans

The American Library Association annual conference took place in New Orleans this year. I waited until the last minute to decide to attend, but in late June I joined thousands of other librarians and archivists for a week in a truly lovely city.

Jackson Train

It’s no secret that I have a special place in my heart for long-distance train travel. I take the City of New Orleans route between Chicago and Champaign several times a month, but this was my first ride heading all the way south on this line. Most of the daylight hours on the 17 hour trip are spent traveling through the beautiful state of Mississippi and the end of the route skirts Lake Pontchartrain before arriving in New Orleans.

I’d visited New Orleans before, but several years ago when I was still a teenager. I remember the trips fondly, but they were fairly limited in location and activity.

I am lucky to have two warm and generous friends, Will and Jeanne, living in New Orleans who hosted me in the Bywater neighborhood. On my frist night, we went out for fried shrimp po’boys from Parkway and saw the Stooges Brass Band play at the Hi-Ho. The musicians were stacked three deep on the small stage and kept us out late. It was the perfect introduction to the city and away from the typical tourist path.

Balcony Walking
We were fortunate to enjoy wonderful weather. The week of rain that had been predicted held off for the most part. It was hot, for sure, but it was pleasant enough for walking, biking, and plenty of patio dining.

The population of New Orleans is just shy of 350,000 people (nearly 30% less than a decade ago), and 20,000 librarians flooding the convention and French Quarter districts made quite an impact. Nearly every place I went, I spotted hip glasses, vacation smiles, and sensible shoes.

Beers Coops
I love to eat and drink, though I tend to keep a fairly vegetarian diet, making exceptions for local fare and well-raised meats. New Orleans cast a spell on me and I wound up eating more meat in five days than I have eaten in the last ten years combined (no joke). This is a city that has immense pride in their culinary traditions and it was a joy to take part. At Coop’s, I went so far as to order the Taste Plate and did my best to wade through Seafood Gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Cajun Fried Chicken, Red Beans & Rice with Sausage, and Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya.

The best meal of my trip was at Boucherie where we ate mussels, hamachi, smoked scallops, ribs, and crispy duck confit with cucumber dill salad and sauce gribiche (pictured above). Every dish was beautifuly presented, fresh, and complex. The meal was reasonably priced and the service was wonderful. Chef Nathanial Zimet was recently shot in front of his home. He survived, thankfully, but is facing daunting medical bills. If you are planning a trip to New Orleans soon, don’t miss the chance to enjoy a superb meal and support this business.

Joes Mojito

After dinner, we enjoyed blueberry mojitos at St. Joe’s Bar on their dreamy patio. The midwest could certainly learn a thing or two about outdoor hospitality from our southern friends. The outdoor bar, breezy fans, and gently rocking lanterns made for a serene evening.

Buildinglight Beignet

I enjoyed several excellent breakfasts in New Orleans. One morning, I skipped an early conference session and met Julia – my friend, fellow student, and daily companion for the week – for our obligatory visit to Café du Monde.

Cafe Du Monde

The beignets were just as flaky and sugary as I remembered, and the to-go line made for a quick wait followed by a leisurely rest in Jackson Square Park.

Satsuma Satsuma2

A few miles away in the Bywater neighborhood is Satsuma, a bustling coffee shop with a fairly extensive menu and delicious food. The beet lemonade and bacon, egg, and cheese on a cheddar biscuit were simple, but extremely satisfying.

Eliza Elizabeths

Elizabeth’s, just a few blocks away in Bywater, served the last great breakfast of the trip. It is a fairly plain looking restaurant. However, their eggs, cheddar grits, biscuit, and praline bacon are anything but.

Pimm

After our last full day at the conference, I realized I had yet to have a Pimm’s Cup, Sazerac, or Muffuletta – three items with a strong attachment to the city.

Muffu Sazerac

I made my way over to Napoleon House with a few friends and set out to correct that. It had just rained, and the gorgeous patio was nearly empty.

Stairs Fern
Napoleon House has been around since 1797. While nothing we ordered was amazing (lime and no cucumber in the Pimm’s Cup…), the venue was truly impressive. It was full of old wood, ferns, and natural light.

New Orleans

New Orleans is a welcoming, bike-friendly, laid-back city. It’s full of amazing food, vibrant colors, and great music. I’d like to see more of the south. I tend to stay above the 37th parallel, but I think I’ve been missing out.

Bob Rise

I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to become reacquainted with New Orleans, reconnect with Will and Jeanne, and become more engaged in my professional community. It was a fun and invigorating trip.

You can find more pictures here.

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Richard - Stellar photos of a magic city! We visit for Jazz Fest every year. You captured the feeling perfectly.

Richard - Stellar photos of a magic city! We visit for Jazz Fest every year. You captured the feeling perfectly.

Stacy - Praline bacon sounds amazing!

Stacy - Praline bacon sounds amazing!

Paula - I love the photo of the Natchez – it glows! Sounds like a great vacation.

Paula - I love the photo of the Natchez – it glows! Sounds like a great vacation.

Nishta - such gorgeous photographs, Gemma! I’m so excited that you were able to go to NOLA–we are just a handful of hours away, and I’m dying to go back, it’s been a few years. thank you so much for sharing.

Nishta - such gorgeous photographs, Gemma! I’m so excited that you were able to go to NOLA–we are just a handful of hours away, and I’m dying to go back, it’s been a few years. thank you so much for sharing.

Gemma - Thanks Richard, it really is kind of a magical place. The light was so lovely everywhere.
It was Stacy!
Thanks Paula, that was a very beautiful afternoon to be lounging by the water.
Thanks Nishta! I’m jealous you are close. What a lovely region.

Gemma - Thanks Richard, it really is kind of a magical place. The light was so lovely everywhere.
It was Stacy!
Thanks Paula, that was a very beautiful afternoon to be lounging by the water.
Thanks Nishta! I’m jealous you are close. What a lovely region.

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.

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.

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!

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

 

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Mary Ann - Great picture of you and your dad! Glad you were able to spend the weekend with your family.

Mary Ann - Great picture of you and your dad! Glad you were able to spend the weekend with your family.

Gemma - Thanks Mary Ann. It was a great weekend. I’m glad I was able to spend so much time with family.

Gemma - Thanks Mary Ann. It was a great weekend. I’m glad I was able to spend so much time with family.

kickpleat - These look so good and it looks like you had a fantastic weekend with family.

kickpleat - These look so good and it looks like you had a fantastic weekend with family.

Gemma - Thanks Kickpleat, it was!

Gemma - Thanks Kickpleat, it was!

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.

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

 

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Ryan - A perfect morning for this here in Champaign.

Ryan - A perfect morning for this here in Champaign.

Elizabeth - If this weather keeps up, I’ll be making this soon. Looks lovely, light, and warming.
Also glad you’re digging Champaign in the summer time. It’s really so wonderful.

Elizabeth - If this weather keeps up, I’ll be making this soon. Looks lovely, light, and warming.
Also glad you’re digging Champaign in the summer time. It’s really so wonderful.

Maria - Gemma! I love to check on your blog sometimes… where did you see those birds? That is an awesome shot.

Maria - Gemma! I love to check on your blog sometimes… where did you see those birds? That is an awesome shot.

Gemma - Indeed, it was Ryan. What crazy weather this summer.
Thanks Elizabeth (I didn’t know you had a website, glad to find!)
Thanks Maria! Their mom and dad decided to build a nest on my parent’s front porch. Yikes! We were careful not to use that entrance and stayed out of their way. The neighbors cat wasn’t so kind though… :(

Gemma - Indeed, it was Ryan. What crazy weather this summer.
Thanks Elizabeth (I didn’t know you had a website, glad to find!)
Thanks Maria! Their mom and dad decided to build a nest on my parent’s front porch. Yikes! We were careful not to use that entrance and stayed out of their way. The neighbors cat wasn’t so kind though… :(