Adventures in cooking

Part of living by myself means I need to cook my own food. I’ve been able to cook decently to some extent for a long time, but I never had to cook every meal myself until living here in Chicago. I either lived with my parents, who did most of the cooking, or was in college, where I got most of my meals at the dining halls. Despite living as a single guy just out of college, I made sure to actually eat well and not just be reheating frozen meals all the time (I have had a total of one frozen meal, a Giordano’s frozen pizza, in the entire two months I’ve lived here so far). Here are some of my creations:


My waffle iron

Not exactly the most interesting, but I got a free waffle iron that someone in my building left in the laundry room with a sign saying “Free”. Waffles are one of the first things I ever learned how to cook, and they’re always a delicious classic. I don’t go for the cheap fake syrup either, I get real maple syrup. It’s worth the cost.

Chicago-style pizza

Yes, of course I need to make some Chicago-style pizza if I’m in Chicago. For the record, I also love New York-style pizza. But Chicago-style pizza has one key advantage: I can make it easily in a normal oven and don’t need to get it crazy hot for it to come out really good. I can cook one a Chicago-style pizza at 425 degrees and it comes out amazing. My first attempt followed the recipe in the Joy of Cooking:

My first Chicago-style pizza
My first Chicago-style pizza

Not bad for my first attempt. It came out tasting pretty good, but did leave some things to be desired. The crust was too fluffy, the cheese didn’t melt quite all the way (I used shredded mozzarella, and it still was definitely noticeable that it was shredded when I was eating it), and something just didn’t feel quite right. A few weeks later, I tried again using a recipe from King Arthur Flour:

My second Chicago-style pizza
A slice of my second Chicago-style pizza

This came out a lot better. There were a few important changes from the first time here. First, I used a different recipe for the dough specifically designed for this use, not a slightly modified version of standard pizza dough. This dough didn’t rise quite as much and was easier to stretch out, so it wasn’t as fluffy and provided the right outer edge for my pizza. Second, I used the stuffed pizza approach. I formed a bowl with the outer crust and placed sausage and cheese on as normal, but then I placed another layer of dough on top before putting the sauce on top, and topping it off with some Parmesan. Further, I used sliced mozzarella rather than shredded, and it made a big difference. in getting the right gooey texture for the cheese. Also, I topped it off with some grated Parmesan, which I didn’t do the first time. Finally, I made sure to coat the pan with butter before baking, which made a surprisingly big difference. I’m definitely going to try this again at some point, and probably keep it more or less the same as how I did it this time.


Ah, challah. A truly amazing bread. I grew up with challah every Friday night and always loved it, so I continued that tradition living independently. When I first moved here I had no yeast and yeast was not available at the grocery stores (seriously), so I was kind of out of luck. However, with some help from family and the internet, I was able to get some yeast shipped to me. Once I had that, I got to work. The first time I made challah was right when the yeast got here, which was mid-afternoon, limiting how much time the dough had to rise. The result was definitely not bad, but a little too dense and crumbly.

First challah

In subsequent weeks I would make the dough first thing in the morning and let it rise all day, giving a much fluffier result. Here are some from later weeks:

I definitely got some pretty good challahs (challot?) out of that. I’m still getting the braiding technique down, but regardless of how they looked they all tasted delicious. Also, leftover challah makes great toast, which is now my standard breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays.


I also made some enchiladas using a family recipe I grew up eating. The key components are mole sauce, chicken, chicken broth, corn tortillas, and lots of cheese.



I don’t have any pictures of this one, but I made some good old-fashioned chili. I wasn’t all that imaginative with this one, and just put a few kinds of beans, some ground turkey, and a few spices in a pot. It was pretty good, though the flavor was kind of weak. Before I make this again I will make sure to get more spices so I can give this a stronger flavor.


Ah, a classic, chocolate chip cookies. Easy to make, yet delicious. I made a whole batch of them, following the recipe here. In the past I’ve used the recipe on the Nestle chocolate chip package, but I wanted to see how other recipes were. I liked this one better, the cookies had a better texture and a slightly better flavor. I did make a slight tactical error though. I didn’t consider how many cookies the recipe made (about sixty) when compared to how many people would be eating them (one). Now, there are much worse problems (who doesn’t want a ton of cookies), but I did have to find a way to store them when I don’t have all that much tupperware. However, my grandparents sent me a bucket of popcorn a few weeks prior, so the bucket made a perfect cookie container:

The earlier batches were a bit undercooked and didn’t quite hold together, so I had a lot of cookie crumbles in that bucket. However, those crumbles still tasted good, and the later ones did hold together just fine.

Lemon Chicken

I made some lemon chicken as well, wanting to try something interesting. I used yet another recipe from the internet. That was delicious, but also probably the messiest meal I have ever made. I managed to get flour and cornstarch all over my kitchen, and this used a ridiculous amount of preparation dishes, and I only got two dinners out of it. Next time I make this, I will definitely make more, since for all the trouble it is I want it to last a while.


To celebrate memorial day and then later independence day, I made burgers. Nothing particularly special about this, I just make a patty from ground beef and put it in the oven until it’s properly cooked, and add on some cheese at the end. Still, always a delicious option.


Cheese blintzes were surprisingly difficult. I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, and the first night it was kind of a disaster. The outer wrappers I made didn’t hold together, and then the filling was way too runny, getting all over the place. They tasted good, but probably half the filling didn’t actually stay in. This was a total mess in my kitchen.

With the leftover filling from the previous night, I gave it another shot. I made another batch of the wrapper batter, having already used all I made the previous night. The second night was definitely an improvement. I changed a few things up that made a big difference. First, do not be bashful in coating the pan with butter. It really does help crisp up the wrappers and hold the finished product together. Second, pour the batter directly from a pitcher instead of using a spoon. That made a big difference in how the wrappers turned out, since it was easier to pour the batter thinner and more evenly. Finally, make the filling the day before and keep it in the fridge since it will solidify somewhat. These held together much better and tasted amazing.

So I think I have been eating pretty well for a single guy in his 20s. I have a collection of recipes under my belt, and I’m always looking to learn more.

I have conquered the North Side Main!

Over the span of a year and four months (March 10, 2019 to July 5, 2020), I have taken photos of every station on the North Side Main Line, from Merchandise Mart to Howard. This all started on my spring break trip during my junior year of college, where I visited Chicago. That trip was mostly focused on downtown, but at one point on March 10, 2019 I did find myself at Sheridan station:

Platform sign at Sheridan
My first published photo on the North Side Main Line, at Sheridan

I also got some pictures of the Merchandise Mart station on that trip, since that’s a major landmark in Chicago and located near downtown:

Platforms at Merchandise Mart
My first published photo of the Merchandise Mart station

All the rest of that trip I got photos of other stations in/around downtown, including areas like the Milwaukee–Dearborn Subway, the State Street Subway, and the Loop. I went all the way out to the end of the northern leg of the Milwaukee–Dearborn Subway up at Division, but never went anywhere north of the river on the State Street Subway.

Blue Line platform at Division
Division Station on the Blue Line

As it would turn out, that would be my last time photographing Chicago with my Canon camera. The next time I was in Chicago was for my interview with BlueBolt, by which time I had my newer and more powerful Olympus camera, and managed to get a few photos along the way.

O'Hare station from the main entrance
O’Hare Station

Once I had the job and started looking for an apartment, I knew approximately where I wanted to be (Uptown/Edgewater area), so for my spring break trip my senior year I returned to Chicago to scope out apartments in that area. Unlike the previous trip, where most of it was downtown, this was mostly focused on the North Side. I stayed up in Rogers Park, and got around via the Red Line. I got plenty more photos of the North Side Main on that trip, taking photos as I traveled to visit apartments. I needed my camera to photograph the apartments, anyway.

Northbound track at Jarvis
Jarvis Station
Northbound track at Granville
Granville Station
Northbound tracks at Bryn Mawr
Bryn Mawr Station
Looking north on the southbound tracks at Thorndale
Thorndale Station
Looking northbound at Belmont
Belmont Station

I also got some pictures of various other stations along the way, some of which I was headed to anyway for various reasons, and some of which I specifically went to for the purpose of photographing. Since this was during my spring break, I couldn’t really choose the weather. Some days were good, but some were also cloudy. However, I knew I was going to be living in Chicago in a few months, so that didn’t really bother me.

Once I moved to Chicago in May, I didn’t really get out much due to the stay-at-home order. Even after it was lifted, I limited how much I went out since I didn’t particularly want to catch COVID-19 or spread it to others. Also, my primary focus for photography was on the parts I could access without going downtown (to avoid crowding), which is to say the North Side Main, Ravenswood Branch, Evanston Branch, and Skokie Branch. Progress initially started slow, but over time I got photos of more and more stations. I started with stations like Wilson, Bryn Mawr, and Howard, but also went up to Linden and down to Belmont:

Southbound Red Line track at Wilson
Wilson Station
Northbound Red Line platform at Belmont
Belmont Station
Looking south at Bryn Mawr
Bryn Mawr Station
Southbound platform at Howard
Howard Station

However, this most recent weekend, since I had a long weekend due to July 4th, I figured I could make use of a three day pass, my extra free time, and a period of good weather to get as many photos as possible. As an added bonus, due to the holiday weekend, crowding was pretty low. I made it my goal to finish with pictures of every station on the North Side Main, which I accomplished by Sunday. Here’s a picture of each station that hasn’t been included earlier in this post:

Southbound Brown/Purple Line platform at Chicago
Chicago Station
Northbound platform at Sedgwick
Sedgwick Station
Back of a northbound Red Line train bypassing Armitage
Armitage Station
Red Line tracks and end of the canopy at Fullerton
Fullerton Station
Northbound platform at Diversey
Diversey Station
Southbound Red Line train bypassing Wellington
Wellington Station
Top of the escalator at Addison
Addison Station
Northbound tracks at Lawrence
Lawrence Station
Argyle station from the street
Argyle Station
South end of Berwyn platform
Berwyn Station

Somehow when I visited Chicago to scope out apartments, I didn’t get any pictures of Morse, which is the station I was staying closest to. I guess in how busy I was with getting places from there, I never thought to get out my camera. I also only realized that as I was putting this post together on July 4 (I had just assumed I took photos of the station I was using frequently for a week), so the next day I headed out with my camera to get photos there and fill in the gap. So, to finish off the set, here’s photos of the remaining stations:

Southbound tracks at Morse
Morse Station
Center tracks at Howard
Howard Station

I also have conquered the Skokie Branch (Yellow Line), since in my quest to photograph Morse, I also went to Oakton–Skokie, having already photographed Dempster–Skokie during my apartment expedition. I will at some point go photograph Dempster–Skokie during the day though.

Looking south on the platform at Oakton-Skokie
Oakton–Skokie Station
Dempster-Skokie from the parking lot
Dempster–Skokie Station

So with that, I’ve hit a major milestone in photographing the Chicago L! I’m warily watching news reports about COVID-19, and if it flares up in Chicago again (so far it hasn’t, but could any day), that’ll put the kibosh on my transit photography for a while. Even if it stays at the level it is, I’m going to avoid going through downtown in order to avoid the highest crowding, limiting my photography to the Ravenswood and Evanston Branches.

Socially distant exercise

Since moving to Chicago, I have been able to keep up a pretty good exercise routine on my bike. This is really important during the COVID-19 pandemic since with gyms closed and all that, this helps me stay healthy. Also, since I am otherwise mostly at home (my job is from home and I’m limiting how much I leave in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19), biking is a good (and reasonably safe) way to get outside.

I used to run cross-country and track in college, but unfortunately cannot run significant distances anymore due to an injury, requiring me to find alternate forms of exercise. I started with swimming in the fall of 2019, but it was often difficult to motivate myself to do it and just didn’t feel right for whatever reason. I avoided the exercise bike since I had done that before and the time there seems interminable and I have to go really hard for a decent workout. In January 2020, I settled on the elliptical since we had a bunch of them available at CWRU and it was reasonably similar to running, but didn’t cause me any problems. With that, I started getting back into shape. Once I got sent home due to the pandemic, I continued on the elliptical since we had one in the garage. Upon moving to Chicago, I needed to find another option since my building doesn’t have any exercise equipment. Biking seemed like a decent option, since it avoided some of the pitfalls of the exercise bike (in particular the fact that your legs are the only thing moving) but still gave me a good cardio workout. As an added bonus, I could bike outdoors and explore the city some.

I first started out biking along the North Shore Channel Trail. I wanted to go on the lakefront trail, but it was closed in order to prevent congregating. It’s a pretty decent trail that goes from Chicago up to Skokie then Evanston. It doesn’t cross a lot of streets, making biking more pleasant. However, it’s a massive pain to get to, requiring a lot of biking down city streets, in particular some that are less than bike friendly. The trail also isn’t all that scenic, offering a pretty standard suburban view the whole way.

At one point I did a bike ride downtown for some photos. I didn’t want to travel on the CTA at the time so that essential workers could have more space, but did want to go downtown to get some pictures. I managed to do so while not getting near anyone, and here are some of the pictures I got:
North/Clybourn Station entrance
Outbound Metra train
Northern portal to the Union Station tunnel

I also considered alternate routes. I then settled on a route that went further east, staying close to the lakeshore. That one takes me right through Northwestern’s campus, and then onwards through Wilmette, and eventually up to Kenilworth and Winnetka. I liked that route a lot more since it was much more scenic and also allowed me to go further. The northern part of the route also paralleled a Metra line, and I briefly got some pictures there with my phone.

Indian Hill station
Winnetka Station
Glencoe Station

One day I planned to bring my real camera to photograph all the Metra stations along the route, but alas that trip was not meant to be. I got a flat tire up by Howard, so I had to walk my bike over to the L and return home. I then had to spend a good chunk of the rest of the day finding a new inner tube for my bike (since the tube is very old at this point, I figured it was worth getting an entirely new tube rather than just patching it). Since it was a Sunday, I couldn’t find any open bike shops near me. I then looked to Target, and found that they had the tube in the size I needed, but nowhere near where I live. I ended up getting there on the L. However, even after that, I still didn’t have a tire lever (the location where I got the tire didn’t have one), so I still couldn’t replace the tube. I then found that another Target location had that, but still not my usual location, so I got to take a nice long walk to get that. Then, with new tire (I bought an extra one just to be safe) and tire levers, I replaced the tire and was back in business. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the right weather (a completely blue sky) on a weekend since then, so I unfortunately haven’t been able to take that trip. It will happen someday.

Then, last week, the lakefront trail reopened. That was so much easier since I only live a few blocks away. The trail also separates bikes and pedestrians for much of its length, allowing me to get some good speed going. As an added bonus, a lot of the parking lots along the trail are still closed, so I can cross them more easily and quickly. Unfortunately the trail is closed between North Avenue and Ohio Street for construction due to significant pavement deterioration between those locations, so I either have to turn around at North Avenue or bypass that area on city streets near downtown. So far the farthest south I’ve been is Museum Campus, but I will definitely continue on further south in the future.

Buildings adjacent to Museum Campus
Skyline from North Avenue