Historic Everyday Eats – Tea Cakes


Hello from a long-time stranger! I realized when looking back at my blog that I haven’t written a historic recipe post in over three years, which is way too long! All I can say is that for quite a long time, I didn’t have the focus I needed to give the recipes the attention they deserved, and I’m starting to get a bit of that focus back. I recently even entered a recipe of my own into the Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest, and that really inspired me to get back into my historic baking routine. I would not have even had the confidence to enter that contest without my experience in experimental baking with these old recipes, so, in my mind, it was time to get back to it!

Today, I made tea cakes from the 1846 cookbook “The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker.” I purchased a hard copy of this entire cookbook, published by the American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection, a few years ago with the intent to make as many recipes as possible out of it!



I began the journey into this cookbook with a very simple recipe for tea cakes:


The recipe states: “Beat eight eggs into a pan with a whisk till they come to a good head–then add one pound of loaf sugar powdered–beat both together till it becomes thick and whitish–then stir in one pound of sifted flour, but do not beat it again–take a spoon in your left hand and a knife in your other–lay a sheet of paper on your tin; take up a spoonful of batter, and with your knife strike as much out of the spoon as will make a cake the size you like–see that they are about an inch apart, and make them as round as you can–bake them in a rather brisk oven till they are nicely coloured over; if they do not come off the paper easily, when cold, damp the bottom as directed in Savoy biscuits. You may vary these cakes by dropping caraway seeds, sugar, or currants, on the top, before you bake them.” (The directions for getting biscuits off of paper was to brush the paper underneath with cold water, wait five minutes, and then remove the cookies/biscuits.)

Now, let’s decipher this crazy-long, run-on sentence of a recipe!

First, the ingredients. There are only 3 in the batter: eggs, powdered sugar, and flour. Since there are so few ingredients, how you put them together really matters! Just in case I really messed up this part, I decided to cut this recipe in half for my attempt in order to avoid a huge amount of waste. I used:

4 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour, sifted
(I determined through a little research that 1 pound of sugar and flour is roughly 4 cups each, so I cut that in half!)
Caraway seeds and granulated sugar for topping


I use powdered sugar so often lately that I have it stored in mason jars!


Next, the process. I preheated my oven to 375 degrees (a little hotter than normal since this recipe called for baking in a “rather brisk oven”) and lined my baking sheets with parchment paper.



I then started whisking the 4 whole eggs in my stand mixer with the whisk attachment. I whisked them on high speed until they looked very frothy, which took about 5 minutes. IMG_0101


I then added 2 cups of powdered sugar to the eggs and beat them on medium speed for another 3-4 minutes, until the mixture was thick and creamy.



Next, I sifted two cups of flour and added it to the mixture of sugar and eggs.



I folded the flour into the egg and sugar mixture with a spatula until it was just incorporated, making sure not to beat it. This helps to keep the eggs airy, letting the final cakes rise without the use of baking soda or powder.


The mixture looks very much like a thick cake batter!


I then took a tablespoon measuring spoon in one hand and a butterknife in the other to make little round drops of tea cake batter on my lined baking sheets!


The batter ended up naturally spreading out in a round shape, so I didn’t have to work too hard to get them relatively round!


I left some cakes bare and topped a few others with caraway seeds and regular granulated sugar.

Once the cakes went into the oven, I kept a close eye on their edges. When I saw they were getting slightly brown, I made sure to remove them! I ended up baking the batches for 10 minutes, rotating once half way through baking. They were nicely browned and risen by the end! (This recipe, cut in half, yielded 20 tea cakes for me.)

The tea cakes had an interesting texture–a combination of cake and cookie, which is fitting since that is exactly what they look like! IMG_0116

Overall, I was very happy with how they turned out. By making sure to not overmix when adding the flour right before baking, the eggs were able to make the tea cakes rise without the aid of a chemical leavener or yeast. IMG_0114

In addition to looking nice, the tea cakes were also delicious! According to my husband and official taste-tester, they are mild, not overly sweet, and excellent with the addition of caraway seeds!

Tea cakes were a beautiful and fun way to get back into the world of following historic recipes, and I plan to do more very soon, especially for the holiday season!


The Life of a Building


Living in Chicago means that there is no lack of buildings to stand in awe of and of history to learn. As someone who holds a master’s degree in history and who has had the good fortune to be able to walk into, not just past, literally hundreds of these buildings over the past three years, it really makes my history-driven imagination take flight on a regular basis. I think to myself, “What company used to own this West Loop loft, and what was life like for the people who worked here before people lived here?” Or maybe, “Who lived in this Wrigleyville walkup when the Cubs won their first world series over a century ago? Were they baseball fans, and did they sit on their rooftops to see what they could see during games?” Or even, “What beautiful two-flat sat here before this lot was leveled to build this (still beautiful) million-dollar single family home?”

Being a Chicagoan is truly a historian’s dream (and even though I no longer practice history professionally–it’s still a huge part of who I am).

I personally take a great interest in the building and street where I live as well. My first apartment in Chicago was in a building two streets over from Wrigley Field, built in 1906. While it had obviously been modified over the years, I loved thinking about all of the people who went in and out of the door that was now mine.

In October 2017, my husband and I made a move to Lincoln Park. We now live on Lill Avenue, and I recently made it my mission to find out more about our street and our building. As it turns out, our street is named after one William Lill, an English immigrant who walked from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago, Illinois in 1835. He co-owned a successful brewery, Lill and Diversey Brewery, until it was lost in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. (Source) Since my husband was born in Kentucky, he found it especially interesting that our street is named after a Kentucky transplant.

Between William Lill arriving in Chicago and the building where I currently live coming into being on the street named after him, several Sanborn Maps were created to help insurance companies assess fire risks to buildings in this city and many others. These maps are an incredible resource to let us know city layouts and structural information dating back to the late 1800s. I found my street on one such map from 1894, courtesy of the Library of Congress:

1894 Sanborn Map

Look at this map in more detail here: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4104cm.g01790189409/?sp=10

This kind of find makes me so excited–I can compare what I see now with what used to be here. The spot where my building is now was totally empty in 1894!

After taking a look around on the Cook County Assessor’s website, I also discovered that our apartment building was constructed in 1930. This made me wonder what life might have been like for the very first residents in our unit. Did three flights of stairs seem as daunting then as they do now? Did they enjoy the view of Lill Avenue and the natural light as much as I do? Did they work for a brewery, like William Lill (and SO MANY other Chicagoans), or did they work for a railroad company, like the North Chicago Street Railroad Company, which used to have a powerhouse sitting right where our beautiful neighborhood park, Jonquil Park, now sits. I may never truly know, but I can definitely imagine what might have been.

Learning about my surroundings and understanding how they have changed over the years makes me feel very connected and in-tune with my community. I love to learn, to investigate, and to engage with the history around me. No matter where you live, researching your neighborhood is a fun way to discover more about your city–you never know what may come up!


Changes Come in Waves


February 2018 will be a month for the record books, at least in my little corner of the world. The wave of change is upon me, and it has brought joy, devastation, and the anxiety that comes with both of those extreme emotions.

The month started with accepting a job offer. The moment this offer came to me, I immediately felt elation, which was promptly followed by a slight twinge of guilt. I have worked at a wonderful company for the past three years in Chicago–a company that took a chance on a new girl and truly let me make something special with my position, all the while being able to work with dogs! I am forever grateful to this company and the people there, and I will very much miss working with them. However, I felt the time coming when I could not continue on that path much longer.

In came a dear friend of mine who let me know that her workplace was hiring, and I took a chance by applying. This chance paid off, and I was offered a position very quickly! I am beyond ecstatic to have a position at a company that focuses on helping others while also providing its own employees with positions that help them live a balanced life. I am so incredibly excited to start on this new path, and I am so thankful not only for my friend Emily, but also for all of the people who helped me get to this point, including my most recent employer.

I am such a lucky person to have so many wonderful people and experiences in my life, professionally and personally, and I can’t help but think that the universe was leading me in this direction for a while.

After accepting my new position, another wave of change hit me very hard. My dog, Missy, who I have had since I was fifteen years old, passed away very suddenly the day after my mom arrived to visit me in Chicago. Missy was my true animal soulmate, and we went through so much together. She was with me throughout all of my education (high school, college, and graduate school). She was there when Sam and I got married and moved all across Middle Tennessee and eventually to Illinois. She was the matriarch of a brood of dogs we had at one time, all of whom have now passed away.

Lauren Missy Sam 10 Years

Missy, Sam, and I celebrating her adoptaversary 4 years ago.

Her absence is deeply felt in my life, and nothing will ever replace or repair the hole she left in my heart. I had the privilege of caring for her for over thirteen years in this existence, and she will forever be a part of me. She was truly one of a kind–a special girl who made an impression on everyone she ever met.

Through all of this change–leaving one position, accepting and starting another, losing my beloved furbaby and doggy soulmate–I have been on a true “rollercoaster” of emotions during this second month of 2018. What has been so evident to me throughout the highs and lows, however, is how many fantastic and caring people I have in my life. From the people who gave such glowing referrals to my new company that I teared up listening to their voicemails, to the people who commiserated with me and shared in the grief of Missy’s passing, I have been reminded that I have led a full, fun, and fortunate journey through this world.

Every experience in my life has led me to this moment, and whatever the next wave brings, I am glad to be here, living it with Sam, our kitty Mister, and whatever furry creatures may enter our lives in the years to come. I’m also glad to be living this life with you, whoever you are. May the waves crash gently for both you and me in the times to come.

Goodbye and Hello


It is time once again to say goodbye to one year and hello to the next. 2017, which I dubbed the “year of inspiration” at its beginning, proved to be just that. This year has really been something amazing, in both good and bad ways.

This year brought us so much travel, and the breaks from real life we got from these travels were much needed. In May, we traveled to Italy with Sam’s family, a trip that has been in the works for just over a decade and finally came to fruition.


In June, Sam and I celebrated 10 years of marriage on top of a mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Collage 2017-06-16 18_09_23

In September, Sam turned 30 years old in Baud, France, and we spent several more days exploring castles and the city of Paris.


Seeing all of these wonderful places, celebrating such incredible personal milestones, and learning more about the world in the process was truly inspirational in 2017, this “year of inspiration.”

We also were inspired by our travels, by the political turmoil in our country, and by the good fortune we’ve received personally, to donate more to the causes that we love and care about. In addition, Sam made sure to keep us active in our own community. His giving nature is an inspiration to me always, not just in 2017.

Sam Food Depository

Personally, Sam and I also moved on from our very first Chicago apartment, which was dark and odd but still very precious to me, to a new apartment that is bright, airy, and indicative of where we are as Chicagoans. We truly made a transition from tourists to locals this year, and the city of Chicago continues to inspire me each day.

Old apt

Professionally, I grew and achieved more this year, but that growth also came along with a very profound amount of stress. This stress unfortunately permeated a lot of other aspects of my life, and I am ending this year inspired to make that different in 2018.

Sam and I are so lucky to have such amazing family and friends in our lives as well, and they inspire me every day. I have friends and family who have had joy permeate their entire year. I have friends who have suffered terrible loss and have endured unfair blows from life in 2017. Their endurance, love, and will have inspired me to be the best friend, and moreover, best person that I can be.

Xmas 2017 - Brashears

Medieval Times

And so, I find that it is time to say goodbye to the “year of inspiration.” It will live in my memory for a long, long time.

I now say hello to the “year of creativity” that will be 2018. Sam will be finishing his book that he has worked on for over six years in 2018, and I plan to reignite my creative spark in several ways. One of which will be taking a pottery class that Sam purchased registration for as a Christmas gift to me, and hopefully another will be that I am more actively writing here again.

Whatever 2018 brings, I hope that we all find what we are looking for.



Time has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Sometimes I feel like I’m so busy that I can’t remember important dates. Some always stick out though–like July 11. Six years ago today, my grandmother, Betty Jo Nance (“Mema” to me and her other grandchildren) died after a very sudden downturn in health. I suppose she had suffered enough heartbreaks, and her body and mind decided they had enough.

Mema was strong, stubborn, intelligent, and above all, a protector. She was determined to make sure her family stayed safe and that they had all of the help they needed to make it in this world. Having the self-inflicted stress of being the “protector” meant that she was not always the happiest person, but she was oh so proud–of all of her family.

Growing up, Mema had just the right balance of kindness and toughness that a child needed, and as you got older, the toughness increased. She expected a lot out of you, but she made it known when you did well (and also when you did not so well). She loved her children, grandchildren, and one great-grandchild very deeply, and seeing their success and sharing in their lives is what kept her going, what really made her tick.

When she left us, it truly did feel like losing a matriarch. She seemed to be the “head” of the family. I often wonder what she would think about me and my life now–I’m sure she would think I was crazy for moving to a large city with a gun violence problem (love you, Chicago!), but at the same time, I think she would appreciate the boldness. Without her in my life, I don’t know how much of that boldness I would have had.

Thank you, Mema, for being just the right balance of what this girl needed in a grandmother.

Under the El Tracks


When life gets stressful, which it has a lot lately, I find it hard to look around and notice beauty. The ability my anxiety has to take away the small joys is not something I am proud of, but I know and recognize when it is happening. 

Some days, I can’t get over the fact that we have a racist, sexist, uncaring man sitting in this nation’s highest office. (And some days, I can’t get over the fact that I know some of my family members voted for him.)

Some days, I get sad thinking about my dogs over the years and how some of them are no longer with me. (And also how I know my dog Missy misses their presence.)

Some days, I get mad thinking about the refugee crisis and how some people just don’t want to help anyone, no matter how desperate that other person’s situation may be.

Some days, I get bogged down with the minutia of work and how I feel like I will never be able to get everything done.

Some days, I feel like I do not contribute enough to this world and my community. It can seem like I just take up space.

Some days, I feel guilty for worrying about all of these things simultaneously and not giving enough attention to the ones I love.

When these feelings overtake me and the thoughts race through my head, it can be hard to see anything else. Then other days…something will catch my eye and help me refocus. 

Other days, I see a little hang out spot full of beads, flags, random yard decorations, and seats for plenty. I see this under the El tracks in Lakeview.

Other days, I remember that I know many more people who oppose our 45th president than support him. I remember that resistance is built one step at a time against people like him.

Other days, I smile when I think about my dogs who have passed on and think of how lucky we were to know and love them.

Other days, I donate to a refugee organization and to a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of those who died in genocide. Their legacies will continue to change the world.

Other days, I see someone at work smile because I helped them with a problem or helped them learn something new.

Other days, I recognize that I am just one person who is trying to do her best. I am human, and my fears are not just my own.

Other days, I remember that I declared that this year, 2017, would be the year of inspiration, and sometimes being inspired means I think about too much at once. It is then that I refocus on my partner, who is patient without end and more understanding than he should be.

Some days, I am overcome with stress and anxiety by all that surrounds me. Other days, I am inspired by what I see under the El tracks.






Before I moved to Chicago, I never really knew what it meant to “wear out” a pair of shoes. Sure, I have had shoes that I thought were too impractical, that I completely ruined through accidents (i.e., dropping an entire can of wood stain on them), or that I grew to dislike the style of, and I eventually parted ways with them. That is not the case anymore.


Two of my favorite pairs of tennis shoes. (If you notice, I do have a favorite brand. I promise this isn’t product placement for New Balance.)


The soles of the shoes are worn flat and have completely disintegrated in some places!


They have holes, so if there is any moisture on the ground, my feet know it.


The holes aren’t confined to just the outside of the shoes either–multiple hurried trips out of the door mean bent heels.


All of my shoes like to have holes in the same places apparently.



The destruction doesn’t stop at tennis shoes–my Sperry’s used to be a go-to as well.


I guess you can say I “walk hard.”

As you can see, I seem to go through a lot of shoes. However, I had the three pairs of shoes shown above for anywhere from 4 to 7 years before moving to Chicago in 2014, and they were in pretty much pristine condition when I first arrived in the city one year and nine months ago.

Since moving to Chicago, Sam and I have sold our car. We use public transportation, our own two feet, and occasionally a taxi if it’s really needed to get around the city. Of course, this makes for a lot more wear and tear on our shoes since we generally walk to get anywhere and everywhere. I treasure this privilege, and I am so happy to be able to explore Chicago in such an intimate way: walking around is so much more personal and connecting than driving.

Also since moving to Chicago, I began working for a dog walking company, Windy City Paws. Working there has always been about walking (obviously), and as my role has changed over the year and a half that I have been there, it still is! As Field Supervisor, I shadow all of the company’s walkers on their routes and get to meet all of their dogs, which is really the best job ever. Since I’m out shadowing someone at least three to four days a week (or more), I am on my feet a lot!

My after-work hobbies and activities require lots of walking as well. I spend a few hours per week learning to be a dog trainer through a wonderful partnership that Windy City Paws has with a training facility called Collins Canine. Sam and I also make a point to walk on the Lakefront Trail and downtown river walk as often as possible as well as visit museums, go to the movies, and spend time outdoors with our pup Missy (in ALL weather).

All of this activity is such a drastic change from the way I used to live life: walk 10 feet to the car, drive to work or school, sit down for a few hours, walk 10 feet back to the car, drive home, take out the dogs for about 5 minutes or so. Repeat. It’s no wonder my shoes never really experienced any true wear.

I tend to develop unusual attachments to inanimate objects, locking them in my mind with certain memories and meanings, so these shoes actually represent much more to me than footwear. (One of those pair of shoes–the blue and pink checkered sneakers–I wore on my very first trip to Chicago in 2007, in fact, so that is of course why I can never get rid of them no matter how ratty they may become. I’ll stop wearing them, but they’ll be there.) What these shoes represent to me now is a total change of lifestyle and direction. Whereas I used to be, for the most part, sedentary and also seemingly “stuck” in a certain way of life, now I’m active and mobile. Wearing out those shoes meant that I had moved on from something that I didn’t want to be a part of anymore.


New (New Balance, of course) shoes at Lake Michigan.

So now I have a new pair of shoes. I spent more money on them than I usually do (and that I like to do), but I see it as an investment in my lifestyle and my work. And after having this new pair of shoes for a grand total of three days, they have already walked a couple dozen miles and have had their laces chewed on by two different dogs. That’s the existence they’ll have to endure belonging to Lauren, though. 😉 I wouldn’t have it any other way.