6 and a half years ago Mike and I packed up our life in Philadelphia and made the move to Chicago, a city we knew very little about. We moved here for design jobs and didn’t know a single person in the entire state (probably the entire midwest actually). Next week we say goodbye to Chicago as we move back to the Philly area. We’re excited to be back on the east coast, close to family and old friends, and back where our roots are, but we owe a lot to Chicago and it’s hard to say goodbye.
Mike and I spent the majority of our time together as a couple in Chicago, we got engaged here, planned our wedding, spent the first 2 years of our marriage here and got our dog Lola here. We jumped around to a lot of different design jobs and met incredible people along the way. Judi and I met at one of those design jobs and started SKS on our lunch breaks. After 4 years of working at different design jobs, Mike and I went on our own and are now working for ourselves, and while we work way too many nights and weekends, it’s incredibly rewarding and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Chicago has given us amazing friendships and great work opportunities and we’re forever indebted to the city for that.
We’re excited for what’s next though. We bought a house, we’re moving to the suburbs, and I turn 30 next month, it’s all very strange and I officially feel like a grown up. We’re ready for some peace and quiet though and anxious to get the next chapter started.
Top food/drink places we’ll miss in Chicago:
1. Rangoli Indian Food
We eat here at least once a week, it’s by far my favorite food in Chicago. It the best food I’ve ever eaten actually.
2. Jeni’s Ice Cream
Free samples of the best ice cream on earth.
4. Mana Food Bar
Mana is a tiny vegetarian restaurant with delicious food and cocktails.
5. Violet Hour
When we want a classy cocktail I like to sit at the bar at Violet Hour and watch them make it. It’s dark and quiet inside, and the bartenders know what they’re doing.
6. The Aberdeen Tap
The Aberdeen Tap is our neighborhood spot. We’ve had many going away parties there (including our own next week), many late night dinners, afternoon drinks on the patio, and brainstorming sessions. And their fried mac & cheese squares and hushpuppies are going to be missed.
When Nicole, the bride, told me they had made most of the wedding desserts themselves, I stopped dead in my tracks. She met my eye and nodded grimly. “Yup.” They’d also made all the decorations and the dance floor, all insanely impressive, but still- I’d never heard of a bride making her own wedding cake before (and on the morning of the wedding no less). When she mentioned writing about them for SKS, I promptly handed her the pen.
These Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes are so good. I got teary three times that day- the first was during the ceremony, the second was during the bride and groom’s first dance and the third was while eating this cupcake. Annie refers to the peanut butter filling as more of a buckeye treat but instead of being coated in chocolate, it’s coated in chocolate cupcake. Someone should give Annie a MacArthur Grant.
Take it away, Nicole.
We knew adding another item to the wedding day “to-do” list was a bad idea. But having bad dessert at our wedding was just not acceptable.
There are a lot of good things about getting married in the middle of nowhere: food is cheaper, DJs are cheaper, it’s easy to find great props, it’s an intimate setting, and so on. The bad thing about getting married in the middle of nowhere is that your options for caterers, DJs, photographers, bakers, etc are limited. After talking to the only bakery in town about making our wedding cupcakes, we thought we were getting a sweet deal at 50 cents a cupcake until we had my mom do a taste test (since we were in Chicago and the cupcakes were in Pennsylvania). The report was not good, and the photos were not pretty either; droopy, swirled purple icing after we had told them we wanted nice high dollops of white icing.
We had no choice but to add baking cupcakes to the wedding day list.
Up until the wedding day, I had imagined that on that day, the running around and getting things in order would end sometime in the morning so that we would have at least an hour to sit down, relax and take it all in that we’d be getting married later that afternoon.
No. Our ceremony started at 3:30 and at 2:00 I was still running around in sweatpants, wrapping up the bouquets, putting place settings and flowers on the tables, and making a huge mess in the kitchen icing cupcakes. It was a crazy morning and not everything on our to-do lists was finished, but the cupcakes turned out great and the things that mattered got done. And since the morning (and weeks before) were so incredibly busy, when the ceremony finally happened it was such an emotional moment. Until that moment, I didn’t really have a chance to think about it all and when I walked through those doors, the countless hours of work and all the to-do lists from the past year were suddenly every bit worth it.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes
For the Cake:
1 Box of Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix
For the Filling:
1 Cup of confectioners’ sugar
¾ Cup of creamy peanut butter
4 TBSP of unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ Teaspoon of vanilla extract
For the Frosting:
8 Oz. of cream cheese, at room temperature
4 TBSP of unsalted butter, softened
½ Cup of creamy peanut butter
3 and ¼ Cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 Cup of frozen whipped topping, thawed
1. Prep: Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or non-stick pans). Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. Make the peanut butter filling first: combine the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter and vanilla extract in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (at least 18) and set aside on a baking sheet.
3. Next, the cake: prepare the cake batter as directed on the box.
4. Fill the cupcakes: spoon a tablespoon or two of chocolate batter into the bottom of each cupcake liner. Place a ball of the peanut butter filling in each cupcake well and top with the remaining batter so that all the cups are filled.
5. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. Make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, butter and peanut butter until smooth. Slowly mix in the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth and well blended. Mix in the whipped topping until smooth and fluffy.
7. Frost your cooled chocolate peanut butter cupcakes as desired.
8. Then, put on a white dress and get married.
I’ve decided to match new episodes of Smitty and the Girl with our monthly free calendar. They’re both monthly treats so it seemed right that they be together. Download instructions can be found underneath the latest episode.
Smitty & The Match [Ep. 10]
Read the First 9 Episodes | Previously on Smitty & The Girl : A mystery woman has blown into the sleepy small town of Cliffwood. Wealthy eccentric Sylvia Mathers and bar owner Mike Howell could not be more different but now it looks like they have something in common- a pretty redhead with an eye for trouble.
Petula had stayed in the booth for hours. This hadn’t been her intention, not at all, but she’d soon grown comfortable on the plush leather seat and the wait staff, a particularly nosy bunch, had begun trying to eavesdrop under the guise of bringing her every single dessert in the case to sample, one after the other. And Petula was damn hungry.
Her dear old aunt had left after it had been clear that Petula was not going to tell her why she was suddenly there, in town, when she had sworn never to return. Instead, Petula had sat back, twirled her fork through a bite of creamy, dreamy cheescake, and they parried back and forth, like a tiresome tennis match. Their exchange unfolded as follows:
Sylvia sipped her tea, forced a smile. “What are you doing here, Pet?”
Petula smiled back. “The town’s changed so much since I’ve been gone. Was that an actual stop light I saw on King Street?”
They both laughed, laughs neither of them felt in the slightest. “It’s been so long since you’ve been home,” Sylvia replied sweetly. “How many years has it been, anyway?”
“Not long enough if there’s still only one bar in town. Wouldn’t you agree, aunt?”
“I’m curious.” Her aunt’s smile stiffened, just a touch. “Why the impromptu visit if you hate it here so much?”
Petula’s hair was long dry now, long enough to twirl around her finger. For the first time, she turned to her aunt and looked her dead in the eye. “I don’t hate it here at all. It’s you I can’t stand.” She said it with a lilt in her voice and when Nosy Waitress Number 1 walked up with yet another plate, Petula ignored the weight that suddenly pressed down on her chest. She smiled brightly at the woman and accepted the marbled pound cake as if she was being granted an award.
That was what had sent her aunt packing for the door. She didn’t say a word, merely watched Petula eat her cake, and then she stood up, wrapped her coat over her shoulders and headed for the door. Under the glare of the horrible diner lights, she looked far older than she would’ve wished and decades more tired than when she’d stormed in earlier.
Perhaps Petula should’ve felt sorry for that. Instead, she reached for the cake.
Happy May! Or it would be if I weren’t still wearing a coat. I know, I know. It’s Maine, you’re saying. But THIS IS NOT NORMAL, people. Also, is it wrong that I feel slightly better whenever people who live elsewhere ALSO complain that it’s still really cold there too? Like, people are bemoaning their coldness and I am in slight glee/relief. I do not think that is behavior deserving of red velvet cheesecake from Magnolia bakerybut oh well, cheesecake we shall have.
To download your own free May 2012 Some Kitchen Stories desktop calendar, click the ideal version for your screen:
This weekend I joined some friends for an unofficial “Tour de Cupcake” around Chicago. We hit up 6 of the city’s best known cupcake shops and brought home 9 cupcakes total to photograph and, of course, to taste! Here is a list of the cupcakes shown above and where they came from, along with their price. Click on the link for the shop’s website:
(starting top left)
1. More: Salted Caramel, $3.50
2. Molly’s: Cookie Monster $3.75
3. Sprinkles: Coconut, $3.50
4. Molly’s: Peanut Butter Nutella, $3.75
5. Swirlz: Twixy, $3.50
6. Sweet Mandy B’s: Mocha Caramel, $2.50
7. Bittersweet: Red Velvet, $2.75
8. Molly’s: Blueberry Cheesecake, $3.75
9. More: S’mores, $3.50
I’ll give a quick review on each place and then list our favorites.
Sprinkles: I’ve had a few of Sprinkles’ cupcakes before the tour with mixed reviews, but the cupcake we picked this time was delicious. The coconut cupcake is a yellow cake with a good amount of delicious icing and coconut shavings on top. It was really sweet, but I couldn’t stop eating it. Yum.
50 East Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60611.
More: More Cupcakes are very pretty and elegant, both the actual cupcakes and the store display. The salted caramel was a yellow cake with a caramel center and a buttercream icing with black salt on top. It was good, but I didn’t really taste the salt and I love the sweet and salty combo so I wish it was more evident. The other cupcake we had from More was the S’mores Cupcake, which I liked better than the salted caramel. It was chocolate cake and had a marshmallow center with graham cracker crumbles and a mini marshmallow on top of the icing. I liked this one better because it was more moist and it totally tasted like s’mores!
1 East Delaware Pl. Chicago, Illinois 60611
Sweet Mandy B’s: Sweet Mandy B’s was an adorable pastry shop with less cupcakes than the other places we visited, but plenty of other delicious things to make up for it. Their pies looked and smelled amazing, and they also had cookies, bars, candy apples, ice cream, etc. We had the mocha caramel cupcake and next to Molly’s, this one was my favorite. The cake was a simple yellow cake, but the icing was to die for. It tasted like sweet coffee with little pieces of chocolate in it, mmmm. The rest of the cupcake is currently sitting on the table with no icing left!
1208 W Webster Ave, Chicago IL 60614
Molly’s: I went into the tour with Molly’s as my favorite, but was excited to try other places. And after testing them all, I can say that Molly’s is still number 1 in my book. The thing that I love about Molly’s cupcakes is that they’re so intense. They’re never just a plain old cupcake- it’s the details and the richness that make them amazing. Take, for example, The Cookie Monster Cupcake- a yellow cake with white icing, a mini cookie on top, and cookie dough in the center. Molly’s cupcakes are definitely not for people who don’t like things too sweet but I do, so I think they’re the best. We also had The Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcake, also amazing- a yellow cake with no icing, a little cheesecake inside the cupcake and then fresh blueberries and graham cracker crust pieces on top. Of course, we couldn’t just get two at Molly’s knowing how good they all taste, so we also got the Peanut Butter Nutella which is a peanut butter cake with delicious peanut butter frosting and a nutella center. Molly’s are consistently moist, rich, and delicious.
2536 N. Clark Street Chicago, Illinois 60614
Swirlz: Swirlz had a lot of tempting flavors and quite a few gluten-free flavors as well. This was the first place that truly smelled like cupcakes were baking and instantly made you want one. We tried the twixy cupcake and it was pretty awesome. It was a chocolate cake with some vanilla and chocolate icing along with a cookie right under the icing. It also had some pretty chocolate shavings and sugar sprinkles on top. This was the smallest of the cupcakes, but it was the perfect amount for such a rich flavor.
705 West Belden Avenue Chicago, IL
Bittersweet: Like Sweet Mandy B’s, Bittersweet had a much smaller selection of cupcakes. I think I saw about 4 flavors, and 2 of yesterday’s flavors for discount price. We got the Red Velvet and it was great. Nothing fancy, but exactly what a good red velvet cupcake should taste like. Bittersweet had lots of other pastries and a gift shop as well. They also had free samples of mini cupcakes as soon as you walked in the door- good idea!
1114 W Belmont Ave # 8 Chicago, IL
So favorites, in order first and second:
Nicole (me!): Molly’s Peanut Butter Nutella,and Sweet Mandy B’s Mocha Caramel
Mike’s: Sweet Mandy B’s Mocha Caramel, and Molly’s Peanut Butter Nutella
Jessica’s: Molly’s Peanut Butter Nutella, Molly’s Cookie Monster (and in 3rd place Sprinkles’ Coconut)
A really fun day and now I feel grossly full of cupcakes!
I ordered this produce bag from my friend Mary Kate’s etsy shop the other day and just got it in the mail- it’s adorable! It’s the perfect size for going to the market and really comfortable to carry. Mary Kate will be printing more soon, check back for updates on when they’re available.
Lena watched her mother-in-law set the bowl down in front of Grayson and watched him lean forward to examine the contents, his round little face flushed at the edges from chasing his cousins around the basement. “It looks weird,” he said with a grunt and drooped back against his chair with a sulky expression. He shoved the bowl away.
Lena saw Mary frown behind him and bit her cheek from the torrent of explanations, excuses, that threatened to boil over. He just means it’s not the same as home. He’s very tired. It was such a long day yesterday. He’s usually very polite. People comment to me how polite he is. He’s so polite for a six year old. He says please and thank you. My son is not like this at home. My son is grateful that you brought him breakfast. My son has no idea who you are, his own grandmother.
Instead, she leaned forward herself and grabbed the spoon, digging it into the cardboard-like, overly sugared stuff she’d stopped buying since she found out she was pregnant and read a different book on nutrition every month. She fixed her eyes on Grayson’s, so much like his father’s, and took a big mouthful. “Mmmm. Well, I’m going to eat it if you don’t want it. Thanks, G’ma.” The spoon tasted like metal, the sharp sweetness of the cereal stung in her mouth.
[This recipe for Everyday Granola comes from Molly Wizenberg and her now-defunct column in Bon Appetit. Thankfully, you can follow Ms. Wizenberg on her blog Orangette, visit Delancey in Seattle, read her book, eagerly await her next one or you can just what I do and pay tribute to her once a week by making this insanely good granola and keeping it on your person at all times.]