This was previously written for a Chicago culture website – for free, mind you, but with much gratefulness, a lot of editing, and no contract to my name. But then I (lovingly) said “fuck it” , changed the rules, and am now publishing this on my own once-dead website that I had to revive like a bloody prophet. I know nothing about the legality behind this. I just know how to make pies.
By the way, my name is Lauren Elyse, and I cook for fun. And now I write a series about others who write books about cooking for fun. Every season, I will be focusing on a new cookbook, and then I’ll spend some of my cash money re-creating their recipes/convincing myself that I can make food like a civilized human being. Essentially, I’m trying to get my shit together via cooking. Please don’t sue me. I’m poor.
Hello. My name is Lauren Elyse, and I cook for fun. And now I write about Chicagoans who write books about cooking for fun. Confused? Follow me. Let me take you to the promised land. But before I do, I’ll now be taking your questions:
Who Are You Really?
I’m a former Texan, current grocery store-slash-planetarium employee. I cut wedges of cheese for money and then pass around meteorites the day after that – again, for money. I frequent diners, because it feels like something Nora Ephron would do, with my go-to dish being a melt. I have a maybe above average palate, mostly because I cut wedges of cheese for money and then eat the scraps, but it’s nothing a girl scout would write home about, I’m sure. Culinary back story: My mother fed me Velveeta, and my father told me to be adventurous. Their marriage is clearly only so-so.
My applicable skills are buried by the fact that Rick Bayless once re-tweeted me, and I nearly vomited out of sheer, miserable joy. I’m a disgusting human, I know.
But really, I’m just like you, and maybe just like you, I collect cookbooks and then proceed to cook out of them, which is what I’m doing now.
Sure, So Wait: What Are You Trying To Do Again, And Frankly, Why Should I Care?
I’m writing an article. Actually, it’s more like a series of articles revolving around a cookbook from a Chicagoan – sort of like a book club where we use literature as an excuse to bake a coconut cake and hope others will reciprocate via an emotional outpouring of affection, but now we’re getting into the specifics. Every season, I will feature a new cookbook by a new chef, and really, we’ll chat about their recipes and their stories and our (okay, my) stories, then gossip about everyone we know and our own misconstrued lives. It’ll be fun! Cooking is fun!
And I’ll be the one dropping the $30 on a cookbook, so yeah, you’re welcome.
Why Do Any Of This?
Not to offend, but I hate Chicago.
There. I said it.
I hate the 9-month long winter wonderhell and the principle of standing under what is essentially a chicken McNugget heater at the train station just to get by. I hate the Midwestern competitiveness masked as passive aggressiveness and the seeming lack of Tex-Mex restaurants. I hate Chicago’s racial and socio-economical politics and the fact that I probably won’t be able to score Hamilton tickets even in this bloody city – a city that is not New York yet still has a damn Trump Towers building. Honestly, I understand why Harry and Sally left for New York at the beginning of When Harry Met Sally, because Chicago will kill you. Sometimes, it feels like it’s killing me.
But the thing is: I want to love Chicago. I’m supposed to love Chicago. It’s everything I never had growing up wrapped in a pizza casserole and way too many sports teams.
But how do you love a city that feels like it wants to shat on the last of your self-esteem?
Why, you give it another chance.
My first year in the city was apparently nothing short of emotionally ruinous. But hold on! Chicago is the Midwest’s American Dreamland! And that is a fair enough assessment. St. Louis? Milwaukee? Detroit? Good gravy, please. Show some respect. Chicago is one of the few standing metropolises in this country, and its nearly detestable Instagram culture is enough to prove it: Arts and entertainment up the wahoo, kind people with decent Midwestern manners, and food. Yes. Despite its aforementioned lack of Tex-Mex eateries, it excels on a dining scale, and I should know. I tend bar at the grocery store, and the people who come in for our discounted weekend mimosas tell me just that.
And if we were to divvy our lives up per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, perhaps the need to eat – on a base, physiological level – is the most personal, most culturally infused approach to survival. Unlike sleeping or breathing, eating, or in this case, cooking, is in itself an intimate story. It’s how we relate to one another and/or force people to love us (no one slaps down the hand that feeds them. Let’s be honest.) Can you think of a better way to fall for a city and its people than partaking in the very act that gives them simultaneous life and meaning?
Plus, coconut cake. We all win in this game.
There’s Rules, Aren’t There?
Minor ones, so hush. My longtime comrade-in-arms/roommate/person-who-will-help-me-eat-these-things-I’ll-be-cooking, Kretz, happens to be a vegetarian. Nothing too threatening. And like a disciple, he often partakes in seafood, so take comfort. Also, might I note that vegetarian doesn’t mean vegan, so I will be using butter. I’m not a monster.
Other members of my motley crew will include coworkers who I will force feed leftovers to. I intend to get a promotion during this period. Hustle and flow.
Join me next week, my dears, as I will be covering these tracks:
The Book: The Big Jones Cookbook by Paul Fehribach
As you were.