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On a winter afternoon in Chicago, I can think of nothing better than spending a few hours in the art museum. Recently visiting for the first time in years, we really enjoyed getting into the art. So many masterpieces to see, to remember, to absorb, to respond to.

Of course, our response was to stare – mouths gaping – and then photograph.


Sometimes, you’ve seen a painting a thousand times: in textbooks, note cards, posters, and t-shirts. But, when you see it in person – you can still be blown away. Such was the case for Picasso’s Old Guitarist and all of the Van Goghs.


Do you ever wish you could go back to the overactive imagination of your childhood? In the basement of the museum, they have the most wonderful collection of 68 miniature rooms all designed in the style of different eras. It was a fun and enchanting way to end our short visit.

In short, the museum is great. If you haven’t been there – go. If you have been there – go back.
I know we will.

~ Alex

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We had the opportunity to spend a lovely weekend in Chicago, thanks to our most generous of employers. It was great fun to take a vacation so close to home. 


We stayed in the posh and historic Blackstone Hotel. We also enjoyed an incredible meal from Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Mercat a la Planxa right off of the lobby.
 

We had delightful weather for January, clear and 34°.  For entertainment we ate, ate, cheered, ate, viewed, and sipped a bit o’tea. The only thing wrong with the weekend was that it ended too quickly.  We also hit the Art Institute, but that’s another story…

~ Alex
(Chicago is.)

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Last weekend we were honored to host a send-off for our friend Meredith. She’s currently on a 3-month stint in South Africa working in a community clinic.

We barely had enough room in our house for all the people who came to wish her well (see above)!

Last week we also had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful people who are behind LSA (Loving South Africa), the organization Meredith is working with. We were very impressed by their shared vision of eradicating AIDS in South Africa.

See LSA’s website and Meredith’s blog for more.

Bon Voyage, Meredith!
~Sonja

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I was able to sneak out during the last snowfall and take a few pictures in the Meridian–Kessler neighborhood. The snow came down perfectly for over an hour as I criss-crossed the quiet streets, snapping away. I must say though, I’ve had my fun – let’s bring on spring :)  See the rest of the snowy pics.
 
~Alex

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So while our new pizza peel dramatically helps the homemade pizza effort, so also do new ideas. Like BFF Kelly’s suggestion of pesto pizza topped with tomatoes. Yum! This is officially my new favorite.
Since at our house homemade pizza means homemade on every level (down to the cheese), we went for it with the pesto as well.

Pesto is very forgiving, as you don’t really need specific quantities of ingredients. That’s my kind of cooking!
Want to experience this taste sensation for yourself? Follow our original recipe below (with updated pizza tips).

~Sonja

Basil Pesto and Tomato Pizza

Making the Dough
1. Combine 4 cups flour, 2 pinches of salt, 1/2 tbs olive oil, and 1 package active dry yeast in a food processor and pulse to combine.
2. With the food processor running, slowly add a little over 1.5 cups warm water, until the dough is wet (but not sticky) and forms a ball.
3. Turn off food processor 10 seconds after the dough forms a ball.
4. Place the dough in greased bowl. Place bowl in warm, humid place covered with a dish towel for at least 1 hour.
**Tip: The longer you let the dough rest, the better!  We suggest letting it rest several hours before baking for the best consistency.
Makes two pizza crusts.

Making the Pesto
**The process below is based on this basil pesto recipe, which is more exact about quantities. We didn’t have near enough basil for that recipe since it is the middle of winter, so we used a very small amount of sad frozen basil left over from the summer. (It actually worked out!) This was enough pesto for one pizza.
1. Toast a handful pinenuts in the oven (at 350°F for around 10 minutes) or in a skillet on the stove (be careful not to burn them!).
2. Combine a handful of fresh or frozen basil leaves with the pinenuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.
3. Add a clove of garlic and pulse to combine again.
4. While the food processor is on, pour in olive oil until you obtain the desired consistency.
5. Stop the food processor and add grated Parmesan cheese, pulsing to combine.
6. Add kosher salt and ground pepper to taste.

Assembling the Pizza
1. Place a pizza stone in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 430°F .
2. Divide the dough into two pieces. (If making one pizza, you can store it in the refrigerator or freezer for later.)
3. Knead the dough a bit, then roll it out to the desired size and thickness onto a pizza peel (if you have one). If you don’t, take the preheated pizza stone out of the oven and place the crust on the stone (careful, it’s hot!). You can also hand-toss the crust if you’re ambitious – per Alex, it worked great!
4. Top the pizza with (in the following order and the quantity of your choice);
-Basil Pesto
-Cheese
(mozzarella, parmesan, asiago, pecorino, etc)
-Sliced Tomatoes   -Salt
-Freshly grated parmesan cheese
5. Place the pizza in the over and bake until the cheese is melted and browned (around 10 minutes or so).
Wait a few minutes for it to cool and enjoy!

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OK, so it’s not really a gadget. It has probably been around for ages, since pizza is pretty ancient itself. But this new pizza peel is one of our favorite new kitchen toys.

Somehow it manages to deposit the pizza gracefully onto the pizza stone in the oven (the trick: cornmeal), and remove easily it without letting precious heat escape from the oven and stone. This not only allows the pizza to cook to perfection, but lets the stone to stay hot in the oven awaiting the next pizza.
So I’d like to amend our previous post on the pursuit of homemade pizza perfection – use a peel!

~Sonja

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Christmas with my family in Decatur and Fort Wayne turned out to be the perfect opportunity to start checking items off of my New Year’s to-do list. We had a great few days with all of my family.
 
We played games and laughed our heads off.
 
Made good food.
 
And ate good food.
 
Luna made a new friend.
 
While we beat Dad at cards.
Cheers!
~Alex

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We were lucky enough to have Kelly from MN return with us back to IN. We filled the few days with photography, food, friends, and family. We also started a brand new New Year’s Eve tradition: Julia’s crêpes!
Happy New Year!

~Alex

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We had a wonderful visit in Minnesota with family and friends over Christmas.

While it was not quite as action packed as last year (and the inclement weather unfortunately cancelled the flight for our planned Staycation…!), it was a great time to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Our time was full of food, music, and old memories.

A highlight was all-afternoon perusal of ancestral photos with my grandmother and her genealogy albums. Wasn’t her father handsome (shown standing in this four-generation picture)?

Speaking of four-generation pictures, check out this one :)

~Sonja