Twisted Sister

When you grow up in the South, you get accustomed to hot weather. Extreme humidity, clothes sticking to you from the moment you wake up until the sun sinks underneath the horizon, you look forward to October. Heck, you look forward to January, which is probably hard for those of you from the Midwest or the New England area to imagine.

Prior to moving here, I thought the Midwest was the land of moderate summers. Aside from one or two lackluster ones, I was sorely mistaken. You see, while the humidity may not be anywhere near the stifling heat of the South, it is still nice and toasty here in the Windy City. The difference, is that here in the Midwest, we have Fall.

And whoa Nelly, I do love me some Fall, but I’m not quite ready for it. I’m not ready to wear a jacket, to put away my sandals, and to stop enjoying the city I’ve lived in for 6 years. And after that, I most certainly am not ready to wear snow boots and curse the city for operating ‘normally’ in feet of snow, and I am not in any way, shape, or form looking forward to windburn from the lake on my way to work. If you can’t tell, I am milking Summer for all it’s worth. Sadly, that poor cow is dry as a bone…

It was different a couple of weeks ago, when my sista and niece came to visit (my niece’s first flight!). Fearing a swift end to the blue skies and jacketless walks, we took full advantage of the 70-80 degree weather and trampled through the city with the rest of the tourists. And even though I live here in this wonderful place, I know many of you do not, so I thought I’d post some pics of our wanderings. Who knows, you may find yourself visiting these parts one day, and we’d be happy to have ya. Here goes.

While most tourists walk through the city, or ride those unsightly Double Decker buses, I prefer to view the city by river. Above is a view from a Chicago ‘water taxi’, which costs a whopping $2 for a one-way trip. Pay a little more and you circle all the way around through Chinatown. Any Wilco fans among you? Notice the ‘corncob’ building on the left side, seen on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They are from here, you know…. and if you don’t, now you do ;).

Yes, friends, this is a life-sized ginormous bean. It’s the centerpiece of one of Chicago’s newest sights, Millenium Park, which opened the year we moved here (2004). Designed by artist Anish Kapoor, the real name of this monstrosity is ‘Cloud Gate’, and it’s made entirely of stainless steel that’s polished so well you see not a seam, but lots of wicked reflections. It is gorgeous at night.

I think this might have been my sista’s favorite: the library. And no, it’s not because she’s a bookworm. Truth be told, she’s more of a movie buff, anyway. This is the main library in Chicago, the Harold Washington, and it is 10 stories large. The outside’s primarily red brick and early in the 90’s they put those green sculptures on top. I refer to them as gargoyles, but apparently they are call ‘acroteria’. Details, details.

Another new addition, the Eye sculpture, made of fiberglass and housed in the Loop (near the library). This one’s outta here later this year, though. If you look closely, you can see that the homeless folk like it here, as do the pigeons.

Please tell me you remember the show, ‘Married, with Children’?! My sista didn’t, and that made me a little sad. She made up for it by making zillions of movie quotes though, which is something I’ve never been good at, but that might be because I’m sleeping halfway through most movies… Anywho, the fountain at left is Buckingham Fountain, which is housed in Grant Park. Not only was it filmed in the opening of MwC, but it is also the hub of Lollapalooza, the weekend concert festival that’s here every summer. The right is an area of painted tree trunks, which is pretty genius if you ask me. Genius and pretty.

Just like any city worth visiting, Chicago has a shit-ton of museums that’ll each cost around 20 buckaroos to get into. Some boast free admission on certain weekdays, and some claim to be free but suggest donations. Anyways, while we didn’t venture into any of them during this touring venture, this is one of the gardens outside of the Art Institute. If art is your thing though, definitely check this place out on the inside. There other ‘main’ museums are the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum (all downtown; I still haven’t been to the Planetarium or Field Museum) as well as the Museum of Science and Industry, which is further south.

Outdoor sculptures, anyone? I much prefer this sorta art to the indoor paintings and displays. These are both in Grant Park and are a couple of my faves. I also like the cast iron legs, but we didn’t get to those this time around.

Another view from the water, but this time it’s Lake Michigan. The following day was a bit cloudy (that’s obvious, right?!), but this is the day we wandered over to Navy Pier. Aside from tons of tourist traps including a ferris wheel and Bubba Gump, the views are pretty great, and the boat tours are again, some of the greatest ways to see the city.

If you don’t go anywhere else, go to the Hancock Tower. It’s not as tall as the Sears (now supposedly call the Willis) Tower, but get this: there’s a “free” observatory on the 96th floor with 360-degree views. All ya have to buy is a drink, which while steep, is far less than the price at the actual observatory. Sears Tower has a new observatory with a glass bottom, which isn’t half bad though, if you’re into that sorta thing. This view is from the Hancock looking south, with the Trump tower, the newest skyline addition, over to the right.

And with that, the tour’s over! This is certainly only a snippit of Chicago; the best part of being here is seeing all of the neighborhoods and cultures, and there’s tours for that too, if you want. Even in 6 years of living here, there are still plenty of things we’ve yet to do; living here gives one the illusion that you can put touristy stuff off, but some of it really is fun, even to the residents. Either way, I hope you enjoyed the tour, and if you didn’t, no worries – there’s a reward at the end for all of your hard work.

A reward meaning, pretzels, which I hinted at up top. I made these prior to my sis and niece getting here in case we ever found ourselves in need of a snack while lounging around the house. I don’t think we were ever really hungry enough to snack on them, what with the deep dish pizza, sushi, and ice cream, but that’s generally not a problem with Hubs around, because they certainly got eaten eventually (most of them, at least). These are the result of another recipe from Kim Boyce’s book featuring rye flour, which adds a nutty character, and a little sour note as well. Perfect in pretzel form, I promise.

Oh, and were you wondering about the food in Chicago? Yeah, I’ve got that covered too. Click here for a Chicago Food page; I try my best to update it with the places we’ve been to and recommend, starting with 2010.

Soft Rye Pretzels
Adapted from Good to the Grain, makes 12

i tend to agree with Kim Boyce on this one – these twists are best right outta the oven. though I didn’t try it, I’d be willing to bet that you could probably freeze them right after the poaching part (before butter and salt), and then bake them straight from the freezer (after buttering and salting). if you try it, let us know how it works! In our house, one Wetzel had his pretzel with grainy mustard, while the other had hers just plain.

printable version

cooking spray
1 package active dry yeast
1 T honey
1 c rye flour
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
1/2 c baking soda
2 T butter, melted
coarse sea salt, preferably Maldon

measure yeast into large bowl. heat 1.5 c water (warm, not hot) and pour over the yeast. add honey and stir, add flours and salt and stir again.

pour dough over floured surface and knead. add up to 1/2 c flour if needed, until dough is “tacky” but not “sticky” (it won’t be smooth, but won’t stick to your hands constantly). knead for about 12 minutes, or until dough is smooth and soft. spray bowl and put dough into bowl. cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1.5 hours, until doubled in size.

once the dough has doubled, pour it onto floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. take each piece and roll out into a snake, about 17 inches long with thinly tapered ends. try to keep minimal flour down as your roll so the dough will roll out easier. form each snake into a pretzel shape by folding one third of the left side over the center and then one third of the right side over the left. place onto sprayed baking sheets and let pretzels rise for 15-20 minutes.

while pretzels are rising, place two racks at top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 F. fill a large pot with 10 cups of water and bring to boil. once pretzels have risen and the water is boiling, add the baking soda to the water. to poach pretzels, lift pretzel and place in hot bath; let each side boil for 30 seconds, removing from water bath with a strainer. pat excess water with a towel and transfer back to baking sheet. finish boiling pretzels, brush with butter, and sprinkle liberally with salt.

bake for 15-18 minutes rotating sheets halfway through. pretzels will be dark in color. transfer to rack to cool.

9 thoughts on “Twisted Sister

  1. Nice work on the pretzels! Makes me want to give it a whirl. I love the trees with painted trunks, too! Love how you said “pretty genius, genius and pretty….” Clever you are!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Do you have any pretzels left? They look pretty tasty.

    Did you know that the HW Library was designed through a competition? The two final designs were between what’s there now and a really modern looking building. That would have looked even worse with gargoles! Just sayin’…

  3. Kenna – you crack me up :). welcome back from vacay!

    James – we miss you two too. i hear you’re churning cars outta parking lots, eh?! need more details!

    Simps – i just threw out the last two :(. and no, i didn’t know that there was a competition. leave it to simps to know the architecture trivia of chicago! i like the winner.

  4. Katherine says:

    What is that eye there for, do you know? I’ve been wondering ever since it went up. And also, because you probably DO know this – what is the difference (if there is any) between Kosher and Sea Salt? Salt and pretzel lovers alike need to know.

    • good question..and I have no idea why the eye is there. i just figured it’s a random art display..

      as for the salt, i can help you there, a little at least! sea salt is truly salt created from evaporated sea water and kosher salt is a larger version of regular table salt (pure NaCl). both are different in shape and taste, too. i like sea salt to “finish” things, and kosher to “season”.

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