Good Things Roundup

It seems like it’s pretty hard to come by good things these days, so I want to make sure I’m documenting them when they do happen. There were a number of things that made me happy over the past week or so, so I thought I would write up a quick post about them.

  1. We have now entered one of my favorite times of year when all the noisy bugs of summer are out in full force in the morning and the evening. Cicadas, crickets, katydids are all out there humming away now and I love it.
  2. I got a couple of surprises from friends that made me feel loved and it reminded me that I have some really great friends even if I don’t really get to see them much in person these days. Some friends went out to a farm and cut a bunch of sunflowers and dropped one off to me as a nice little surprise. That happened on a day when I was feeling really down on life and people, so it was perfect timing and very sweet.
  3. The other day I was watching TV and a character eating popcorn for some reason really made me crave the caramel/cheddar popcorn mix from Garrett’s Popcorn in Chicago. I looked into how much it would cost to have some shipped to me and decided I didn’t want popcorn that much. I did find two different brands of cheddar/caramel mix popcorns at the grocery store that I decided to do a taste test of. The Cretors came closer to the Garrett’s, but still wasn’t as good. The Smartfood I didn’t care much for. I posted about all this on Facebook, and then a couple days ago I opened up my door to a tin of popcorn from Garrett’s that one of my friends sent me after seeing my post. I have the best friends y’all.
  4. I got to actually see some friends in person this weekend. Some friends from DC drove up and we got carry out brunch and sat socially distanced in the grass behind my house. It’s a friend I’m used to getting together with fairly regularly, but who I hadn’t seen since we parted ways in the Tampa airport after going on what was in retrospect a very ill-advised trip to St. Pete Beach on the very week that the world decided that COVID-19 was a pandemic. Had our trip been one day later we would have canceled, but literally up until the point we were in the air flying to Florida the media was still downplaying how bad this was going to be. It was really good to be able to see each other again. I’m trying to be a little bit braver while also being completely responsible to see friends in person while the weather is still nice enough for us to sit outside because unless things change I don’t see myself spending time with people inside this winter. It’s going to be a long, lonely winter.
  5. Blacksauce biscuits are also making me very happy. Blacksauce is beloved staple at farmer’s markets and festivals in Baltimore serving up delicious biscuit sandwiches and more. I always got a Blacksauce biscuit for breakfast every Saturday morning pre-pandemic. For 3 months we did not eat any food that we did not cook in our own house. After the research kept reiterating that it was unlikely you would get it from eating carryout, we finally started getting carryout on my birthday. That opened the door for me to also finally start eating Blacksauce again. They are not at the farmer’s market right now. Instead they’re cooking out of a restaurant that closed last year and are doing scheduled pickups in their parking lot. The sandwiches rotate every weekend and some of my favorites only ever come around once or twice a year, so it’s been a nice stretch over the past three weeks with some of my very favorites: fried green tomatoes, roasted figs, and fried chicken with spicy honey. It’s summer so the roasted peaches have been in heavy rotation. I love that one too and will get it as soon as one of the rare ones that I love isn’t on the menu.
  6. Both universities that my library serves announced last week that they are going virtual for the fall semester. There was one day where it seemed like one would be virtual and one in person, which was going to make life very complicated. So I’m happy they got on the same page and that my co-workers who were going to have to go back to campus and interact with a bunch of students get a reprieve from that. I’m also grateful that I was and still am able to work from home through this.
  7. And that leads into my perpetual reminder to myself that as terrible as all of this is I have it really good. I am as I just said able to work from home. I still have a job. I enjoy spending time with my husband and my cat. We’re doing this in a time where it’s possible to still stay connected with people virtually instead of being completely cut off. And I’m not having to make any agonizing decisions about what to do with my kids this school year. I am extremely privileged in this situation, and I don’t want to lose sight of that either despite it still generally sucking.

Thing 1: Brunch at Rye Street Tavern

First in my 20 Things in 2020 was an easy one in that it was going to eat at a new restaurant. I had made plans back in December to get together with some friends for brunch this past weekend. We were trying to figure out somewhere to go, so I was looking at lists of brunch places in Baltimore and stumbled upon Rye Street Tavern. It worked well as a location for us since I was in the city, but everyone else was coming from elsewhere from DC up to Harford County. So Rye Street Tavern’s location right off I-95 made it an easy get to location for us all.

I don’t recall hearing about this restaurant opening although I’m sure it was in the local news when it did. It’s located in the new Port Covington development being spearheaded by the Under Armour folks for their new campus. Eventually it’s seemingly going to be a little city unto itself within Baltimore. Don’t even get me started on my feelings about this development and the tax credits it’s gotten. That’s not what we’re here for.

It wasn’t very busy when we there. At this point it’s a little off the beaten path unless you’re planning on going to the Sagamore Spirits Distillery, which is right next door. So I’m not surprised. It might be busier on weeknights when you have more traffic from the Baltimore Sun or Under Armour employees in the area.

The food was good. I appreciated that they had a nice mix of savory, sweet, breakfast, and more lunch type foods. I am an avowed hater of eggs when they are recognizable as eggs, which makes brunch a tricky meal for me at a lot of restaurants especially if it’s late enough in the day that I am not actually interested in whatever token pancake/waffle/French toast dish they have on their menu is.

We started with their cream donuts with chocolate whisky sauce. They were pretty good, but I’m not sure I would bother ordering them again. I had the pit beef sandwich, which was tasty though not what I would really call a true Baltimore pit beef sandwich. It came with a stupid amount of french fries, which were also pretty tasty. My friends had huevos rancheros, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken and everyone seemed to be pleased with their meal.

It’s definitely more expensive than some places, but I would say on par with or slightly cheaper than other popular Baltimore brunch places like Woodberry Kitchen or The Food Market. I would eat there again.

New York Theatre Trip: Little Shop and Hadestown

I went up to New York this past weekend to see a couple of shows. I usually go up in the fall and spring for a weekend to see a bunch of shows. I had been wanting to see Hadestown for awhile, but just couldn’t commit to when I wanted to go up and see it until Little Shop of Horrors spurred me on. As soon as I saw the announcement that Jonathan Groff and Christian Borle were going to star in an off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors I knew I had to see it. I love them both and thought they would be perfect in this show. Since it had a limited run I had to commit to a date. I usually try and do three shows on weekends I stay overnight, but when I bought these tickets there wasn’t anything else I had been dying to see except Oklahoma! which I had already made plans to go up and see with friends. In retrospect there were a couple of plays that weren’t open yet when I bought the other tickets that I would have liked to see, but I didn’t feel like paying to change my train ticket. Plus it was nice to get home earlier on Sunday rather than 9 pm.

If I wind up staying in a hotel that I have to pay for I usually cash in some of our credit card points. In the past I’ve stayed in the Doubletree in Times Square, which is nice because even though it’s in Times Square (ptooey!), it’s in the part that is closed to traffic so it’s quiet. For whatever reason that wasn’t one of my options this time. Based on looking at the reviews of the three hotels available in mid-Town, I went for the Hyatt Centric because it had the least complaints about noise. All three of them had complaints about a tacked on resort fee for each night, which is super annoying and something the Doubletree didn’t have. None of the hotels in question are resorts, so it is really obnoxious. The hotel points don’t cover the resort fee, so I had to pay out of pocket for that $35. They informed me when I checked in that the coffee, tea, and water bottles in my room were covered under the resort fee. Those were some great $17.50 bottles of water I drank.

Other than the dumb resort fee it was a fine place to stay, and I would stay there again. I had a weird deja vu moment when I got to the hotel though. I was like I have been in this place before, and it took me a minute to figure out why because I knew I had never stayed there before. I finally put two and two together and realized that when I met my friend from Minnesota in New York to see Hamilton it was the hotel she stayed at and I had met her in her room when I got to the city.

I didn’t have enough time to do much of anything before Little Shop after getting checked into the hotel, so I wandered through the street festival that was happening on 8th Avenue. I thought I might grab lunch there, but didn’t wind up super inspired by anything so I walked over towards the theatre to see what I could find near there. I wound up going back to Blossom du Jour, which is a little vegan restaurant on 9th Avenue. I had eaten there with friends before and liked it. It’s mostly take away with a little counter seating. Perfect for the quick lunch I was looking to grab.

Little Shop of Horrors was great. The fact that it was in a small 275 seat off-Broadway theatre was perfect for it. I don’t think it would have felt the same on a much larger Broadway stage. Jonathan Groff and Christian Borle were perfectly cast. I can’t think of a better actor to play Seymour than Jonathan Groff. Christian Borle was the dentist plus a dozen other bit parts. Tammy Blanchard was Audrey and was the weakest part of the show. She was a fine actress, but not the greatest of singers, which was very apparent during her big solo song, “Somewhere That’s Green”. Of course it didn’t help that it’s one of the quietest parts of the show and someone’s stupid cell phone went off. Turn off your phones people! It was a delightful show, and I’m really glad I got the chance to see it.

I met a friend that lives in New York for dinner at the newest location of Ainsworth Social, which took over the space where Southern Provisions used to be. Justin Timberlake, great singer, but apparently not so great at owning a bbq restaurant. It was eh. I’m not likely to be back. It was great to catch up with my friend though.

After dinner it was on to Hadestown. I felt about Hadestown a little bit like I felt about Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. I still literally have no idea what that show was about. Turns out turning 70 pages of War and Peace into a sung through musical does not make for the most coherent of narratives. I didn’t mind that it made no sense though because I enjoyed the experience of the show so much. I didn’t have a problem following the plot of Hadestown, I just thought it was BORING and there wasn’t much there, there. Ultimately I didn’t care for the most part though because I love the music in that show so much and it’s a fun show to watch. I have heard some people say that it has a “One Song Glory” problem though, and it does. If you don’t know what I’m referring to that’s the great song that one of the characters in Rent is supposed to be writing during the show, and then of course it can’t possibly live up to how great it’s supposed to be. I think Hadestown has an even worse problem. Unlike apparently some people I don’t hate “One Song Glory”. Is it anywhere close to the best song in Rent? No. But is it anywhere close to the worst song in Rent? Also no. In this case though the fantastic, amazing song that Orpheus is supposedly writing to get Hades to let Persephone go so that spring and fall can return and save the world is not only not the amazing song it’s supposed to be it is decidedly the worst song in Hadestown. He sings little bits of it throughout the show as he’s supposedly writing it and I groaned internally every single time. I still really enjoyed the show and am glad I saw it, but I maybe didn’t like it quite as much as I was hoping going in. “Wait for Me” is definitely being added to my theoretical list of wonderful Broadway songs though because unlike Epic I, II, and III it actually is an amazing song.

My train home on Sunday was at 11 am, so I didn’t really have time to do much before I left the city. I did however have time to go down to Fabrique Bakery on 14th Street to get a cardamom bun for breakfast. There as an article about them in the New York Times awhile back, and I became obsessed with trying one. Anyone who really knows me knows that I am an avowed hater of cinnamon. Cardamom is one of my favorite flavors though, so I really wanted to try this pastry that was flavored with cardamom instead of cinnamon. Everyone should make cardamom rolls instead of cinnamon rolls. It was well worth the trek down in the rain to try.

Since I didn’t get my normal NYC bagel for breakfast I decided to grab one from Zaro in Penn Station to eat on the train for lunch along with my normal black and white cookie. I can now add a new screwed up bagel order to my list of things that have gone wrong with bagels I’ve ordered in NYC. I should really start checking them carefully before I leave. I have a standard bagel order in NYC, whole wheat bagel with strawberry cream cheese. The worst was the time they accidentally gave me lox cream cheese instead of strawberry. Imagine expecting to bite into something sweet and then it’s smoked fish. I’ve also been given an everything bagel with strawberry cream cheese on it instead of my whole wheat. That is not a combination I recommend. This time I got two different bagel halves. They slice them in half to go in the toaster and someone obviously grabbed half of someone else’s bagel and put it together with mine because I had two top halves and no bottoms. One half was the whole wheat that I ordered. The other half turned out to be cinnamon raisin. Seeing as I just told you how much I dislike cinnamon you can bet how I felt about that. Not to mention that if you’ve been around here for any amount of time you also know that I hate raisins. So not the best bagel experience ever. I’ll be back in the city in about a week and half to see Oklahoma! so maybe I’ll try again.

 

11th Anniversary Celebration

My husband and I always buy each other gifts based on the traditional or modern gifts for each anniversary year. Usually they aren’t anything big, but we try to be creative and get something the other one will like. Sometimes more successfully than others. The traditional gift for the 11th anniversary is steel. It is also apparently the year where we almost wound up giving each other the same thing. The only reason we didn’t is because I was waiting closer to our anniversary to order my gift and when we got home from some trip and were going through the mail I saw the return address on the package. I immediately opened up my computer, spun it around, showed my husband the tab that had been sitting open my browser for weeks, and said I guess I know what I’m getting for our anniversary. Sorry for the terrible pic, but I couldn’t find a way to take it without the shadow in it. It’s a map of Baltimore cut out of steel. He also threw in an ornament of Maryland.

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Since I didn’t think we needed two steel cutout maps of Baltimore I had to come up with something else. I wound up getting him an engraved spatula. I couldn’t resist using one of the silly puns I had seen on keychains replacing the word still with steel.

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To celebrate our anniversary we went out to dinner at The Black Olive. Somehow even though I’ve lived in Baltimore for over 19 years this was the first time I’ve been to The Black Olive. I mean when I first moved here and I was a poor twenty-something grad student it made sense, but now I go to plenty of restaurants at this price point. I guess there’s always been something newier and flashier that I wanted to try, but I finally decided it was time we made our way to The Black Olive.

It’s a Greek restaurant known for it’s fresh fish. They prepare whole fish that you can see in their fish case beforehand if you want. They then filet it at your table for you. I kind of wanted to try the lamb chops, but I figured on my first visit I should get some sort of fish since that’s their thing. I went with the bronzini, which is a Mediterranean sea bass. I suspect it was prepared in a way that I was supposed to eat the skin as well, but that creeps me out so I didn’t. It left the fish kind of bland even with the added sauce they poured on for me. If we go back again I’ll definitely try the lamb chops next time.

My husband had the veggie combo. I’m actually not entirely sure everything that was on it. There were definitely some mushrooms and a piece of village pie along with some other veggies and something neither of us could identify but almost seemed like a slice of baked stuffing. He really liked it. We started with saganaki plate which contained pan seared, paper-thin zucchini, tzatziki, two Greek cheeses Kefalograviera and Haloumi. It was all delicious. I would go back just to eat that again. For dessert we had baklava and a tarte tatin. They were both delicious as well. It was a nice meal, well paced with good service. I would definitely go back again at some point.

Ida B’s Table

This past weekend marked the second anniversary of Ida B’s Table, a modern soul food restaurant in downtown Baltimore. It’s named after Ida B. Wells, famous black journalist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s actually owned by a news operation called The Real News Network. The menu is divided into sections based on newspaper sections like features, op-eds, and by-lines.

I actually still have yet to get there for dinner, but I’ve been there for brunch many times. My friend and I have season tickets to Center Stage on Sunday afternoons and we take turns going to lunch beforehand at Ida B’s and Iggie’s Pizza. The food at Ida B’s is delicious. I pretty much always get the chicken and waffles, but sometimes I branch out and get the fried chicken dinner. Maybe one day I’ll try something that doesn’t involve friend chicken, but probably not.

The chef David Thomas won the episode of Chopped he was on last year. I haven’t participated in anything yet, but I also appreciates that he holds special events and dinners to teach about the history of Africans, African-Americans, and food. He did a series early this year on the African diaspora and did something recently for the 1619 anniversary of the first slaves being brought to America.

What I really enjoy about Ida B’s Table though is that it far beyond any other place I go in Baltimore actually feels like what Baltimore should be. Baltimore is an incredibly segregated city. There aren’t many places where black and white people mix to any real degree. In a city that’s 63% black and 30% white I can’t think of any other place I go that actually represents that breakdown. Most places I wind up going are majority white with maybe a small percentage of non-white people and when I’ve gone to places in black neighborhoods I’m part of the small percentage of white people. More places should be like Ida B’s Table and bring the rich tapestry of the people in this city together rather than separating them. Hopefully Ida B’s Table has many more years ahead of it.

 

Philly Trip

My husband and I took an overnight trip to Philly a couple days ago. While I look for concerts I want to go to in the DC-Philly corridor, he looks for computer security conferences. In this case our desires aligned. He told me he planned to go up to Philly for a conference and it just so happened to coincide with the night Dawes was playing in Philly. I had seen them at Wolf Trap last summer, but had left wanting much more as I felt like their set got cut short because of Wolf Trap’s curfew and Shovels & Rope playing longer than I think they should have as one of the openers. So I was eager to see them again and when I realized that I could ride up with my husband and drag him to the show I put that plan into motion.

We drove up early Friday morning and I dropped him off at his conference and then went to see if I could check into our hotel super early. They didn’t have any rooms available so I just dropped off the car and my stuff and wandered around for awhile. It was cold and snowing the whole day, so it wasn’t the best weather to walk around in but the wind wasn’t blowing so it wasn’t completely terrible either. I wound up sitting in Barnes & Noble for awhile reading to kill time before my first plans for the day.

It eventually dawned on me after I made these plans that I was going to be in Philly on a Friday afternoon. I have mentioned here on more than one occasion my love for WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania radio station. It’s what I listen to at work all the time, and every Friday they do a Free at Noon concert. I have obviously never been able to go in person, but as soon as I put two and two together I put this concert on my schedule for the day. They only announce who’s playing about a week beforehand and then open up the site for claiming your free tickets to it. I would have gone no matter who was playing, but I was pleased that it wound being Amy Helm who I like. She’s the daughter of the drummer from The Band, Levon Helm. She sang a lot with him and did a lot of backup singing, but now has two albums of her own out. My favorite song off the new album is actually a cover a Milk Carton Kid’s song “Michigan”. I was hoping she would play it and it was by far the best song of the performance. The whole thing was great though. She went from playing the mandolin to the keyboards and then just singing sweet harmonies in an acapella hymn with one of her band mates.

It was great to actually be in the room for a change instead of just streaming it from my office. I felt weirdly overly surrounded by old, white guys though. I finally decided it was because that’s who has time to be at a concert in the middle of the day, a bunch of old retired white guys. Some day I’d like to be able to do it again, but that’s obviously not going to happen any time soon.

After grabbing some lunch I headed to the Mutter Museum. It had been on my list for a long time, but was just something I had never gotten around to doing any of the other times I’ve been in Philly. My husband was mad that I was going without him, but I told him afterwards that I’m glad I wasn’t with him. I read most of what’s on museum placards, but I’m also a fast reader and do skim some of the finer details. He will literally read every single word on every single item on a display case. I probably would have been done an hour before him if we were together. If you’re not familiar with the Mutter Museum, it’s located at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and is a collection of medical specimens, equipment, and models collected by Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter. It was an interesting collection and I’m glad I went, but I don’t feel the need to ever go again.

Friday night we obviously went to the Dawes concert, which is what I went to Philly for. Every so often Dawes likes to do tours where they do a bunch of An Evening with Dawes shows, meaning that there’s no opening act and you just get them playing for 2 and half to 3 hours. It was my first time at the Fillmore Philly. If I ever go again I might pay extra money to get premium seats in the balcony. It’s a 2, 500 standing room only venue aside from a few elevated seats in the back of the main level and the seats in the balcony. I pretty much can’t see much at SRO shows unless I’m all the way up front, which doesn’t happen often. I’ve generally found if I can get far enough the back if it’s not a completely sold out show then I can see over the crowd, but if this wasn’t sold out it was close to it so even though I did stand as far back as I could I couldn’t get enough distance between me and people in front of me. I wasn’t completely out of luck, but I could pretty much never see more than one band member at a time depending on how the crowd moved and how I was craning my neck. Dawes was great as usual. I was happy to get to hear them play or a good long time. I was hoping that they would play my favorite song off of their new album, Passwords, but I figured it was a long shot and sadly they didn’t. That was my only real disappointment with the night. It seems like they’ve decided on the three songs their going to play from that album, and “Mistakes We Should Have Made” isn’t one of them. I always hate when I fall hard for a song that’s deep into an album that I know a band is never going to play live unless somewhere down the line they do a show where they play all the way through an album. Overall it was a good night though and worth going up to Philly for.

Saturday morning we met up with my friend Erin and her family for brunch at a place in Logan Square called Urban Farmer. If you’re ever in Philly and looking for some place to eat near the Franklin Institute, The Barnes Foundation, or even the Philadelphia Museum of Art I would recommend this place. The brunch food was great, so I’ll go ahead and assume their other meals are as well. I had brioche French toast with hazelnut butter and cranberry compote and some of the best breakfast sausage I can remember eating any time recently. It was of course great to catch up with my friends too. I’m glad we get to see each other generally at least once a year and sometimes more since Philly isn’t that far away. Who knew when we met in 8th grade and only living in the same city for 2 years that we’d still be friends and hanging out when we were 40.

Our final stop before heading back to Baltimore was the The Barnes Foundation. We wound up getting some hotel deal that was a partnership with the Visit Philly tourist bureau whereby participating hotels offered guests free parking, 2 tickets to the Barnes, a Lyft credit, a coupon for $20 off at some restaurant and 2 free ice skating coupons. We were mostly in it for the free parking because parking in downtown Philly is super expensive and most places don’t give you in and out privileges with your car which makes the parking rates rack up even more if you go in and out of the garage. We actually wound up picking our hotel partly based on the fact that the hotel had valet parking that gave you in and out privileges since we knew we wanted to drive to the concert. The valet experience was kind of annoying since it wasn’t run by the hotel and I wound up dealing with trying to drop the car off and get it back out again right at morning and evening rush hour with people parking their for work. At any rate the deal save us $50 in parking. The bonus for us was the 2 free tickets to The Barnes. I had just gone back in August, so I wouldn’t have bothered to go again this soon but I figured we shouldn’t pass up the free tickets. It was actually interesting to go back because even in these few short months since I had been there they had rolled out a whole new digital experience that was very cool. The museum is laid out so that everything is hung as it was in Albert Barnes’ original home, so there are no labels on anything on the wall. There are paper booklets in each room that will give you the title and artist of everything, but they have now created a digital site you can use on your phone. You just pull up the site and then take photos of the art and it will pull up information about it on your phone. Sometimes it’s just the bare facts about the piece, but other times there is a lot more context about the artist, art, or it’s place in the collection. I did have to catch myself to make sure I was actually looking at the art too and not just staring at my screen, but for the most part I thought it was great and really added to the experience. As my husband said it has now ruined him for all other museums. He of course also wanted to be able to dig into the code and find out how everything worked.

It was an excellent couple of days in Philly, and I’m glad I turned my husband’s one day conference into a fun overnight trip for us.

 

 

Year of the Cookie

I’ve made no secret here about how the past couple of years have really worn on me psychologically. At the beginning of 2018 I felt like I really needed to do something to try and bring a little bit of joy into the world while also doing something to try and get me out of my funk. Also, around the same time I got an e-galley of the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook. There were many delicious looking cookie recipes in it, but there is no way I was going to have any reason to try that many cookie recipes. That sparked my idea for Year of the Cookie. I thought I love to bake and people love eating my baked goods so why not send a little joy out into the world by making people cookies.

I put the word out on my social media accounts telling people that I had declared 2018 the Year of the Cookie and if they wanted to receive some cookies at some point during the year they should fill out the Google form I created, which in addition to name and address asked people what their allergies and dislikes were so I could hopefully make sure people got cookies they would like and be able to eat. I also found some take out containers that were cheap and would just fit inside the smallest USPS flat rate shipping box so that I could pay for all the shipping online for the ones that needed to be mailed.

I basically made cookies whenever I had a chance. Sometimes that meant several weekends in a row and other times there were long stretches in between batches due to travel and other life events. I tried to give everyone around a dozen cookies, but it mostly depended on how many fit inside the container I bought. Since most recipes make 2-3 dozen cookies multiple people got the same kind of cookie and I was able to give out multiple batches at a time. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason as to who got cookies in a given batch other than whether it didn’t have something they disliked or were allergic to in them, whether the cookies seemed like ones kids would like if the receivers had kids, and whether I just wanted to be able to drop cookies in the mail or whether I had time to drive around Baltimore dropping them off in people’s mailboxes.

My only other rule was that I wanted people to be surprised when they got them. Several people said oh I figured you would just bring me cookies at some point when we were already getting together, but I wanted people to receive a nice surprise one day when they opened up their mail (Year of the Cookie also taught me some of y’all don’t check your mail on the regular based on when I know they were delivered and when you let me know you got them.) or walked in their front door. Multiple people let me know that their cookies came at the perfect time when they were having a really crappy week, and I’m glad that serendipity worked out but am also just as happy for the people who just got a little bit of joy in their day. It made me feel good to see my cookies pop up on people’s social media and know I made someone’s day.

I also loved the people who told me how much they loved this project and were really happy following along with it even though they didn’t want any cookies of their own. That was something I hadn’t anticipated, and it’s nice to know that I brought even more joy into the world than I thought I would be when I started this project.

I do have a list of all the types of cookies I made during the year, but I unfortunately don’t know what the exact recipes were for all of them. I often just googled for a recipe and didn’t keep track of which specific one I used when it was a pretty generic cookie. The list of cookies is below. I linked to the recipes I know that I used. The ones with (SCA) beside them are recipes that came from the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook, and most of those recipes are not online.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (SCA) – These were the first cookies I made for the Year of the Cookie, and I think it was one of my favorites.

Funfetti Chocolate Chip (SCA)

Homemade Berger Cookies – I thought the cookie part of these was decent, but the cookie is kind of beside the point with Berger cookies. The fudge topping tasted nothing like a Berger cookie. I’ve been wanting to try these again but swapping in my own attempt at the frosting.

Ginger Pistachio (SCA)

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip – These tasted good, but I thought they turned out a little flat.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chai Spiced Shortbread (SCA)

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cookies (SCA)

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Chocolate cookies with Chocolate and White Chocolate Chips

M&M Cookies

Lemon Ricotta Cookies 

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Funfetti Cookie Pizza (SCA)

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies – I’m not sure what recipe I used for these, but you wouldn’t want to use it anyway. They were blah enough that I wound up not even sending these cookies to anyone.

Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies) – I don’t know what recipe I used, but it was one without sesame seeds

Toffee Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies – These were probably my favorite cookies that I could make for any occasion.

Brownie Cookies

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie – This recipe says you can use a 10-inch or 12-inch skillet, but I made it in a 12-inch skillet and I wouldn’t make it in anything smaller.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – I hate oatmeal raisin cookies. Raisins are the devil’s fruit and these cookies are evil because they too often masquerade as chocolate chip until you’ve bitten into one. I swore when I started this project that I would not bake any cookies with raisins in them, but when my uncle, aunt, and parents visited me in May they were all going on about how delicious it oatmeal raisin cookies are and how it is really too bad I wouldn’t make any, so because I love my family I went against my own rules and sent the these cookies.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft Ginger Cookies – These cookies were probably my favorite overall cookie from the year, but they seem very season specific so they can’t be an all around go to cookie. They are super soft and almost melt in your mouth. This recipe is definitely a winner.

Eggnog Cookies – I don’t really like drinking egg nog because I don’t like the consistency, but I like the flavor of eggnog. These cookies are the perfect delivery system for that eggnog flavor.

It was a really fun project and I’m glad I did it, but to answer the question everyone has been asking as the year comes to a close, no I will not be doing it or something else in 2019. I will still be baking, but not on this scale. Also cookies are really the only realistic food I could do this with. Nothing else mails as well. It also was not a cheap project between the supplies for the actual baking and spending $7.20 on every batch that had to be sent via the mail, so I think I’ll be giving my wallet a little bit of a break in 2019 too. I’m super happy I made 2018 the Year of the Cookie. It did exactly what I wanted it to do and more.

New Orleans

I recently went back to New Orleans for the first time in 7 years. I was going for the ALA Annual Conference, which was there this year. The last time I went was in 2011 the last time this conference was there. The Ritz Carlton was one of the conference hotels this year so I decided I would take advantage of the conference rate to stay at a fancier hotel than I normally would. Apparently that also tipped it so that my husband decided he wanted to join me on the trip. I can’t say that staying at this particular Ritz Carlton felt as fancy as other Ritz Carltons I’ve been in, but I’m really happy my husband decided to come with me.

The opening keynote on Friday was Michelle Obama being interviewed by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. She talked about Becoming, the memoir she is writing due out in November. It was a great conversation and it made me miss the Obamas in the White House even more than I already do.

After the opening keynote I met up with my husband for dinner. He’s a vegetarian so it was quite the challenge to find places where there was something on the menu that he could eat while also letting me enjoy New Orleans style cooking. Friday night we wound up at a place called G.W. Fins, where I had one of the best meals I can remember having any time in the recent past. Everything started off great with little biscuits they serve. The person who sat us warned that they were addictive and we should pace ourselves. I’m glad the guy serving them only came by our table twice because I definitely didn’t need to eat a third one, but I would have had a hard time turning it down. For my entree I had parmesan crusted sheepshead. It’s a fish I had never heard of before, but it’s basically some type of mild white fish. It was amazing and it was heartbreaking to not be able to take my leftovers with me. If you’re ever in New Orleans I highly recommend this restaurant.

We of course started off Saturday with beignets at Cafe du Monde for breakfast. Saturday was my major conference day. I hit up the exhibit hall in the morning with my husband who I got a free exhibit pass for. I went to a couple of programs that unfortunately were not that good. One was too basic for me and one provided some very terrible copyright information. I spent a couple hours staffing our copyright booth and answering people’s copyright questions in between people asking if they could take my picture at the booth. I finished the day off with a committee meeting.

Saturday night was the one night I didn’t make reservations for ahead of time. That wound up maybe not being the best idea as it took us awhile to find somewhere to eat that had availability and could feed my husband.I originally thought we might walk over to Frenchman Street and find somewhere to eat over there or on the way and then listen to some jazz in some of the bars over there. My feet were too destroyed by the end of the day to make that a viable plan, so I wanted to stick around somewhere closer to our hotel. We wound up at someplace called Mr. B’s Bistro because their website assured us they took walk-ins. The food there was okay, but not nearly as good as G.W. Fins. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there, but it will do in a pinch.

Since my original music plan didn’t work out we wound up at Preservation Hall instead. I can’t complain about that. We got out of dinner just in time to get in line for the 9 pm show. We even managed to get in early enough that we got to snag a seat on a bench right in front of the fan, which made it only slightly less oppressively hot. I have no idea how those guys play 5 shows a night in that non-air conditioned space during the summer.

Sunday we decided to try Cafe Beignet for breakfast instead because there was one much closer to our hotel than Cafe du Monde. While I appreciated being able to get a banana and some iced chai along with my beignet, the beignets were not nearly as good. They were much more dense. I guess there’s a reason Cafe du Monde is the gold standard of beignets.

I had one committee meeting I had to be at on Sunday morning, so I went to that and then I called it a conference. I was paying out of my own pocket to go to this conference, so I didn’t feel bad in treating it somewhat like a vacation as well. We met up with one my friends for lunch at a place called Magazine Pizza, which met the criteria of being veggie friendly for my husband and having gluten free options for my friend. It was great to catch up with her. Since she is the only other person I know at least personally who goes to at least as many concerts as I do, I was happy to introduce her to my husband so he’s knows I’m not the only crazy music fan out there.

Speaking of being a crazy music fan I found out there was a Cajun Zydeco music festival going on in Louis Armstrong Park. We walked over there and found some shade to sit in and listened to some music for awhile. It was nice to get out and do something that actual people who live in New Orleans were doing rather than just hitting the more touristy places. Also sitting outside and listening to live music is one of my favorite things, so this was a perfect way to spend the afternoon in my opinion.

Sunday night we had reservations at a place called Brennan’s. I didn’t love my blackened red fish. Somehow the seasoning felt sooty even though everything was covered in tons of butter. I was much happier with the rock shrimp that came on the side as well as the zucchini and summer squash mix. I was very pleased with the squash, which is usually mushy and not my favorite. This still had a nice crunch to it.

Monday we basically had time to hit up Cafe du Monde one last time before heading back to the hotel to get showered and ready to head to the airport. It turned out to be a really nice trip. I’ve lost a lot of my normal conference pals in recent years as people have rotated off committees and stopped paying to come to the big conferences. With my husband there I ate at much nicer places than I would have on my own, and it was nice to spend the time with him.

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.

A Good Sheet Cake

Sometimes there’s nothing like a good sheet cake. You know the ones that come covered in the sickeningly sweet buttercream icing. The key is to have a really good sheet cake though. There are plenty of garbage sheet cakes out in the world getting your hopes up and then dashing them when you take a bite and realize they’re covered in that oil slick of whipped icing instead of buttercream (that stuff should be outlawed) or the cake is super dry.

There’s a local grocery store in Baltimore called Eddie’s and they make a fantastic sheet cake. We always get one at work for our student worker appreciation lunch. This year’s lunch was this afternoon and I enjoyed the heck out of my piece of cake. I even managed to snag a corner piece, which means more icing for me. I know some people hate it, but I love it.

I know theoretically there are better desserts out there made from less industrial ingredients, but sometimes all I want is a piece of good old buttercream sheet cake. My wedding cake came from a Publix grocery store and was essentially a glorified sheet cake, and I loved it. I’ve been to plenty of weddings with fancy cakes from bakeries that I have found to be far less tasty than my grocery store cake.

I don’t have cause to have good sheet cakes in my life very often, but I always look forward to this at least one day per year when I get to indulge in this horribly delicious treat.