An afternoon in Baltimore, Md.

Baltimore harbor

Last weekend, I took a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit some friends. We ended up spending the Saturday in Baltimore, Md. at the National Aquarium, which is hands down the best aquarium I’ve ever visited. And it ended up being the case that this afternoon was the most documented portion of my trip (you present the girl some cute creatures and hasty attempts to snap some photos will obviously follow).

Moray

Fish

Jelly fish

More jelly fish

We spent the morning at the National Aquarium and after a couple of hours of looking at fish, we were in the mood for seafood (a possibly unintentional assertion of the dominion of man). After some trekking around the harbor, we ended up at the Thames Street Oyster House in Fell’s Point where we split a platter of oysters on ice and I ate The Best Crab Cake. The previous holder of this title was a crab cake generously stuffed with bread crumbs and questionable quantities of true crab. But this was all crab. Amazing.

Crab cake

It came neatly in this little bun, but soon fell apart in a delicious mess when I picked it up. That toothpick there is no fashion statement. There was some pureed squash and coleslaw on the side too.

And then there was more walking around Fell’s Point, more harbor and a bit more National Aquarium. Baltimore is a quirky, fun place.

Fell's Point

Boat in harbor

All with wonderful company.

Friends

Taking a crack at the Momofuku Milk Bar crack pie

Momofuku Milk Bar crack pie

When I visited New York City in high school, I saw so many sights: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, the U.N. and a couple of college campuses. But I didn’t stop at any of David Chang’s restaurants, and if presented the chance to visit today, I’d definitely allot time for trips to Noodle Bar and Milk Bar.

My first foray with Momofuku was a few years ago when a friend treated me to pork-belly buns (which initiated my obsession with pork belly), fried apple pies and sour cream ice cream from the legendary Momofuku cookbook. He worked tirelessly in the kitchen for days in preparation for our Momofuku meal, and I won’t lie when I say that the iconic birch cookbook soon became synonymous with “impossibly difficult recipes” for me (though, check out Momofuku for Two for one woman’s courageous campaign through the cookbook).

Last year, a friend brought a crack pie from Milk Bar to the newsroom. He loved it so much when he ate it in New York that he ferried one back home to Chicago, and he generously shared the remainder with all of us, curious to understand what he was going on and on about. It was densely rich, buttery-vanilla and borderline overwhelmingly-sweet, but so incredibly satisfying. When I saw the recipe for crack pie on Bon Appetit, it seemed approachable enough to take a crack at.

Crack pie, from the Momofuku Milk Bar via Bon Appetit

For the oat cookie crust
9 tbsp (1 stick plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 1/2 tbsp (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover a baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. Beat together butter, brown sugar, sugar in a mixing bowl. Add egg and continue to beat mixture. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well-mixed. Pour oat mix over parchment paper and spread thin. Bake for 17-18 minutes and cool completely.

Crumble oat cookie and add melted butter and brown sugar. Add enough butter until the mix will hold own shape. Fill the sides and bottoms of a 9-inch glass pie dish with oat crumble.

For the filling
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
6 1/2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk brown sugar, sugar, milk powder and salt together until well-mixed. Add the following ingredients one-by-one and make sure mix is well-mixed before adding the subsequent ingredient: butter, cream, yolks, vanilla. Pour mix into oat cookie crust. Bake at 30 minutes and then reduce temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for another 20 minutes. The filling will be markedly dark. Center should jiggle.

Cool on counter for a few hours and then leave in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Top with powdered sugar the next day. Eat cold and resist the temptation to eat it all at once, your stomach will regret it (think: butter).

Speaking of New York, here are some ways to help the city out post Hurricane Sandy.

Chocolate cranberry biscotti for working weekends

Cranberries in a bowl

Not much to write about today other than to share this recipe. I’ve been working on graduate school applications today and took a break to make some biscotti to keep me company. I just couldn’t resist tampering with some fresh cranberries from the grocery store.

Chocolate cranberry biscotti, adapted from A Full Measure of Happiness

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1/8 tbsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup cranberries
Butter to grease baking sheet

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and generously butter a baking sheet. Combine flours, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, vanilla, olive oil and cranberries until well-mixed. Flatten dough out on baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes. Take out sheet and cut biscotti loaf into inch-wide slices and turn all pieces on one side. Bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes before taking the sheet out of the oven again and flipping the biscotti to the opposite side. Bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for another 10 minutes. Repeat until biscotti are as hard as you like. Leave out on counter to dry and then enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea.

Voila!

Learning to love downward-facing dog

Yoga mat

There may be no more obvious hobby for someone interested in alleviating anxiety to pick up other than yoga. Before you think “Oh no, she’s turning into one of those Kombucha-crazed yogis,” let me just preface this by saying that I am far from being a prototypical practicer of yoga. I’m almost a little embarrassed to say that I like going to yoga classes because I am quite possibly the least flexible person I know and still sometimes have to look around to see what pose we’re on. And here’s something welp-worthy that I’ve just discovered in the past few months: It’s actually difficult for me to sit up straight with my legs flat out in front of me, feet flexed. I’m fairly certain most kindergarteners could one-up me with that.

But in all sincerity, yoga is my favorite recently-acquired hobby. Though I’ve gone through spurts of yoga in the past, this is the first time I’ve committed to practicing yoga on a regular basis. And I really do believe that practicing on a structured schedule has altered my view on yoga. Formerly valueless and downright painful poses have grown familiar and — dare I say it!? — enjoyable. No pose embodies this for me more than adho mukha svanasana or downward-facing dog.

A couple of years ago, I left my very first true yoga class with jelly arms thanks to downward-facing dog and came to dread this particular asana in subsequent classes. Downward-facing dog felt something like a painfully prolonged distorted and cruel twisted plank of sorts, and I felt silly and weak for not being able to withstand this foundational asana. Why would my yoga teachers pleasantly tell us that we could “savor” this position (of pain!!) for several breaths? (Also, why are my breaths always shorter than the breaths that yoga teachers count? Is there some metric of conversion that I have not yet been introduced to?) There was nothing meditative about it, I thought. Downward-facing dog grew to be synonymous with pain: My wrists ached, my arms burned and once the tips of my fingers felt like they were going numb.

In all of this, I’ve accepted that yoga is not something that can be learned immediately in a class. Though yoga teachers will instruct beginners, including myself, through the various asanas, there is something to be said about learning how to hold a pose by yourself, with your own body. If I had a dollar for all of the different ways yoga teachers have attempted to convey downward-dog to me, I’d be able to buy a Lululemon hoodie. But really, the amount of yoga vernacular to describe physical positions is simply dizzying and yet nothing any one teacher said ever switched on my metaphorical downward-facing dog lightbulb.

Instead, it’s just practice and developing a personal understanding of small bodily adjustments. In a recent class, I found myself inadvertently relaxing when the teacher instructed us to return to adho mukha svanasana after a series of standing poses. My calves breathed a sigh of relief when I bent forward and rocked into a deeper downward-dog, heels creeping closer to the ground. I’m honestly not quite sure when or how I learned to hold downward-facing dog without wanting to collapse into child’s pose, but I’m guessing that it was an inch-by-inch education (literally) that I developed very slowly, maybe even beginning with my earliest classes.

Today, I don’t think any of my yoga practices have truly begun with real fervor until I stand in my first downward-facing dog. I’ve learned to reach into the ground not with my arms, but instead with medial muscles in my back, and this has made a huge difference in the meditative-quality of this pose. No longer is downward-facing dog an asana to dread in class, but instead a reprieve from strenuous poses. And last week, I let out an internal “Whee!” when my yoga teacher approached me — bent over in my downward-facing dog — and complimented the strength of my pose. Though my heels still float off the ground in this pose, I now understand that it’s really not about how perfect or good the asana is, but the progress it represents.

A run in with the Windy City Rollers

When I think of roller derby, I think of a scouting sash-clad Ellen Page from Whip It and bits of stories of wildly named skaters from a former teacher, who I believe may or may not have also been a sometimes emcee for the Rat City Roller Girls. This past weekend, Geoff was in town and we were looking for something fun to do in Chicago. I scanned my latest Gapers Block e-mail digest and saw that the Windy City Rollers, Chicago’s roller derby team, was hosting a bout on Saturday night. Neither of us had seen real roller derby and we decided, why not check it out?! So later that night, after chowing down on an entire duck in Argyle, we headed over to the UIC Pavilion.

This was a double header bout, beginning with a match-up between the Windy City Rollers Second Wind (the B traveling team) and the Paper Valley Roller Girls All-Stars out of Appleton, Wisc. followed by the Windy City Rollers All-Stars (the A traveling team) and the Indianapolis Naptown Roller Girls Tornado Sirens. The enthusiasm — from the players to the emcees to the audience — was infectious. I was immediately hooked. These skaters held back neither speed nor aggression. Everything about these skaters exuded “get the fuck out of my way,” or more politely as my mother would be apt to say, “strong women.” Very awesome.

Roller derby is a fast game. Each match-up between two teams — a bout — consists of two 30-minute periods. Each period is further divided into jams, which can last up to 2 minutes long. Five skaters from each team are on the track at any given time so there is a lot of switching up of players. At the beginning of each jam, three blockers and a pivot (a skater wearing a cap with a single, bright medial line) from each team position themselves to start at the pivot line. These four skaters from each team constitute “the pack” and they’re led by the pivot. Behind the packs are two skaters, one from each team. These two skaters — called jammers — wear caps emblazoned with a star on it and are the only skaters that can accumulate points for their teams.

At the whistled start, the pack starts to move forward. After the pack leaves the pivot line, the jammers are free to skate after them. Then it becomes a real fight: Each jammer tries to push through the pack as quick as she can while the opposing pack pushes works to push her back. This is where the hip-checking, pushes and shoves come into play. Once a jammer passes through the pack, she skates around the track again until she meets the back of the opposing team pack. She must again force her way through the opposing pack — which again is trying their best to push her back, make her fall, force her to skate out of bounds or whatever else it will take for her to just not pass. Resisting the jammer is significant because for every player of the opposing pack a jammer passes, she accrues a point for her team. Needless to say, roller derby is a contact sport.

The home team, Second Wind, beat the Paper Valley All-Stars with a generous margin. And next-up were the Windy City Rollers All-Stars versus the Naptown Tornado Sirens.

The Windy City Rollers trounced Naptown in the first period and kept their sizable lead during the second period. Despite what looked like an early victory, this was not a boring match to watch!

During all of this, I couldn’t help but laugh at all of the names of the skaters and officials involved. When you hear emcees yelling out names like Jackie Daniels, Mya Ssault, Killa Nois or Moby Nipps, you can’t help but be amused! A lot of the skaters’ “bad girl” alter egos had pun names that reflected some level of badassery and aggression. But the skaters weren’t the only ones with entertaining names — the referees and match officials also similarly had aliases. For instance, I’d obey anything a ref named Vince Meat said.

The Windy City Rollers All-Stars left Naptown in the dust, ending the bout with a winning score of 238 against Naptown’s 118. Honestly, I’ve never seen something just so fiercely cool. All I can say is that I hopped back on the El later that night a nascent, extremely impressed and excited fan of the Windy City Rollers!