Chicago!
Suvir Saran's Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs

Random Thoughts Upon My Return

Flying through a Nor'easter into New York anytime soon? I don't recommend it. Three hours later, and I'm still eyeing my airsickness bag (I took it with me) and quaking in my boots. Good lord, what an end to the weekend.

Through the worst of it, though, when the plane was pitching and careening through the skies, I found myself having the oddest of comforting thoughts. A plane carrying Anne Willan, Madhur Jaffrey and Marcus Samuelsson (if it wasn't him, it was his double) couldn't possibly crash, could it? No, of course it couldn't. In fact, I should consider myself lucky to be on the same plane. Perhaps it was the ghost of Antoine Careme or Brillat-Savarin or just some very good piloting, but we landed safely and soundly and it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing the ground in some faintly hysterical, mad show of gratitude.

But back to the matter at hand. I attended the conference for work, let's just get that out of the way right now. I didn't leave Ben alone on his 30th birthday because I'm a cold-hearted wretch, and yes, those were brownies I made as an apologetic, pre-birthday treat. (The proper cake comes later, but shhhhh! Please hope with me that Ben continues to never read this site.)

A big thanks to all those readers who made valiant guesses as to what that strange brown crater was, but only one of you got it right: Mary from Ceres and Bacchus. Congratulations, Mary! The brownies were Dorie Greenspan's French Chocolate Brownies, from her fantastic book, Baking: From My Home to Yours (which was, in my humble opinion, totally robbed when it didn't win this weekend. Hrmph.). Dorie told me in Chicago that Julia Moskin left out the rum-soaked raisins in her original recipe, so if you want to try that one, head on over to Dorie's site.

Ben loves a cakey brownie - fudgy and dense isn't really his thing - and these were perfect. That lovely, caramel-colored, crackling top shattered gently under the knife, and a light, moist, chocolate-y brownie that almost melted in our mouths waited underneath. I packed a pretty little tin full of them for Ben, and then froze a few more for, well, post-flight snacking. I think I deserve a small reward after surviving Flight 687.

I didn't get a chance to see Chicago at all, though I did have a totally transcendant meal at Blackbird with my colleagues. Not only was the food delicious - really, really (think velvety split-pea soup with little shreds of peekytoe crab, slivered onion and crunchy breadcrumbs), but the place itself was just so groovy and...for lack of a better word, Chicago-y. I know, my powers of description are truly world-class today.

And if there's anything I learned this weekend, it's that American country ham not only holds a candle to the Italian stuff, it sometimes blows it right out of the water (hold that metaphor!). Can you imagine that? Thanks to Ari Weinzweig, I now know about Broadbent's 15-month old country ham and La Quercia's 12-month Niman Ranch-sourced ham. Which makes me wonder: do I really need to buy my prosciutto from clear across the ocean when there's good stuff right here at home?

(My notes on Broadbent's: melt-in-your-mouth, mild, smoky, tender...)

Now that I am home, I think I need to go unpack, pay attention to my 30-year old boyfriend, and eat a brownie. While listening to the cozy rain outside. And thinking of the pale blue edge of Lake Michigan I saw from the air this morning. And planning a return trip. Yes, I'll be back, Chicago!

Ta.

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