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:

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!



Historic Everyday Eats – Sunshine Cake


Greetings to all of my fellow food and history lovers! I am sorry that it has been so long since I last posted a historic recipe, but life has gotten in the way of my food experimenting time. ๐Ÿ˜‰ To make it up to you, I have found a recipe that very well may be the best one yet. It came from an 1896 cookbook for a girls’ cooking school (titled, of course The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book), and I can’t tell you how much I loved looking through this book and finding this cake recipe.

Boston Cooking School Cookbook

Plus, the author’s name is Fannie Farmer. That makes anything she writes pure gold. From what I could tell by her introduction in the book, she had a very scientific mind and had an eye to the future of proper dietary planning and its effects on personal health. Hats off to Fannie, a natural leader and a woman ahead of her time.

Since this is my birthday week, I wanted to make a cake if I could find a suitable recipe. I found one for which I already had all of the ingredients and supplies needed, so it was the winner! The recipe for “Sunshine Cake” reads as follows:

Sunshine Cake

“Whites 10 eggs.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.

Yolks 6 eggs.

1 teaspoon lemon extract.

1 cup flour.

1 teaspoon cream of tartar.

Beat whites of eggs until stiff and dry, add sugar gradually, and continue beating; then add yolks of eggs beaten until thick and lemon colored, and extract. Cut and fold in flour mixed and sifted with cream of tartar. Bake fifty minutes in a moderate oven in an angel cake pan.”

Taking a shot at making egg whites stiff and fluffy is always daunting, but you know what? If our foremothers could do it without a stand mixer, I can certainly try with all of my modern amenities! Let’s see how my sunshine cake turned out.


The ingredients: powdered sugar, eggs, flour, lemon (or in my case, orange–because it was what I had around) extract, and cream of tartar (not photographed–totally slipped my mind)! That’s right, just five ingredients.


First, the hard part: separating 10 eggs and beating the whites until they turned from this yellow goop…


…into this fluffy white mountain! This was all thanks to a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. I beat the whites on high for about 8-10 minutes.


I then turned the mixer on low and gradually added the 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.


After the sugar was incorporated, I added the yolks of 6 eggs, beaten until they were thick and “lemon colored.” ๐Ÿ˜‰


I then added in my orange extract (no, it’s not lemon, but it’s still a citrus and goes along with the “sunshine” theme). The resulting mixture was light and creamy.


I then folded in the flour and cream of tartar by hand. You don’t want to overmix at this point–the batter needs to be airy.


The batter went into my “angel cake pan” and into a 350 degree oven.


50 minutes later, I had a perfectly golden brown sunshine cake. ๐Ÿ™‚


I turned the cake upside down and cooled it on a cooling rack for an hour before taking it out of the pan. (I buttered just the bottom of the angel food cake pan to help it slide out easier.)

While my cake was cooling, I contemplated a frosting. After attempting one recipe and failing (I will try it again and make it work in the future–promise!), I decided to go with a super simple recipe I found in the same cookbook called “Confectioners’ Frosting:”

confectioners frosting

“2 tablespoons boiling water.

Confectioners’ sugar.


To water add enough sifted sugar to make of right consistency to spread; then add flavoring.ย Fresh fruit juice may be used in place of boiling water. This is a most satisfactory frosting, and is both easily and quickly made.”


In fact, this frosting was very simple. I heated two tablespoons of water to boiling in the microwave, added about 2/3 of a cup of sugar, and about a teaspoon of orange extract. Voila! Easy and delicious frosting!


I poured the frosting on the cake and let it drip down the sides. The finished Sunshine Cake with Confectioners’ Frosting looked great!


It tasted even better–light and fluffy but oh so flavorful!

Sunshine Cake was one of my favorite recipes to make so far. But really, I have loved all of the recipes with which I’ve experimented over these months, whether they turned out great or were duds. That’s just part of the process. This book said it best with this quote in its front pages:

Cookery means...

Cookery means all of that and so much more to me. How I love it so.

Historic Everyday Eats – Jumbles


Hello, friends! It is time once again to delve into the world of historic recipes. This week, I was lucky enough to come across a tasty recipe for some little treats in a cookbook published in 1832 titledย Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeatsย (a book I have used before in my historic eats endeavors). This recipe was for baked goods called jumbles, which don’t exactly sound too appealing but are indeed delicious!

The recipe for “Jumbles” reads as follows:


“Three eggs.
Half a pound of flour, sifted.
Half a pound of butter.
Half a pound of powdered loaf-sugar.
A table-spoonful of rose-water.
A nutmeg grated.
A tea-spoonful of mixed mace and cinnamon.

Stir the sugar and butter to cream. Beat the eggs very light. Throw them, all at once, into the pan of flour. Put in, at once, the butter and sugar, and then add the spice and rose-water. If you have no rose-water, substitute six or seven drops of strong essence of lemon, or more if the essence is weak. Stir the whole very hard, with a knife.

Spread some flour on your paste-board, and flour your hands well. Take up with your knife, a portion of the dough, and lay it on the board. Roll it lightly with your hands, into long thin rolls, which must be cut into equal lengths, curled up into rings, and laid gently into an iron or tin pan, buttered, not too close to each other, as they spread in baking. Bake them in a quick oven about five minutes, and grate loaf-sugar over them when cool.”

Most of the ingredients listed are typical in our kitchens today with the exception of rosewater and mace, which as I have explained in previous posts, can be found in places like Whole Foods or specialty shops. Both of these ingredients pack very powerful punches, so small amounts are all you need to make a difference in a recipe! Let’s see how they made a dessert like jumbles taste:

(For the purposes of this recipe, the ingredient measurements were roughly cut in half to control the portions.) The ingredients are: 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tablespoon rosewater, 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon mace, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.


I first creamed the (softened) stick of butter and cup of powdered sugar in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.


I then added the two eggs to the butter and sugar mixture. This is a little out of order from what the recipe states, but it makes it a lot easier for the batter to come together!


I then added the flour, spices, and rosewater to the mixture and mixed it on medium speed for about 4 to 5 minutes.


I then rolled out portions of the dough on a floured surface and shaped them into circles. I realized later that perhaps they were supposed to be tight circles and not large like I made them, but they still turned out great!


I placed my jumbles on a buttered baking sheet and baked them in a 450 degree oven for 8 minutes–just a tiny bit longer than what the recipe stated.


Once the jumbles came out of the oven, I sprinkled them with more powdered sugar.


Even though these are probably much larger than they were meant to be, my jumbles turned out to be very delicious and pretty!

While I have no idea what “jumbles” were originally intended to look like, I thoroughly enjoyed my large, sugary circles. ๐Ÿ™‚ The rosewater and mace add very distinct flavors to the dough, and this is actually a very simple recipe to follow that does not take a very long time to make. For their ease and tastiness, jumbles would be great for any parties (or lazy Sundays) you have planned in the near future!


Historic Everyday Eats – Colcannon


Top of the morning to you, folks! This week in historic everyday eats, I decided to make a traditional Irish dish in honor of St. Patrick’s Day! After some digging around, I found a dish so Irish that it practically jumped off of the page and demanded that I make it. I found it in a cookbook published in 1883 titledย Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, which is actually a British publication (but it contains Irish recipes as well).


The recipe I decided to make for St. Paddy’s was none other than colcannon, a very simple yet hearty dish that uses some key ingredients that remind us all of Ireland–cabbage and potatoes. The recipe for “Colcannon” reads as follows:



“Boil separately equal weights of young cabbage, savoy, or spinach, and potatoes. Chop the greens and mash the potatoes, and mix them well together with a little pepper and salt, and one ounce of butter to one pound of the mixed vegetables. Heat the mixture over the fire for a few minutes, stirring it all the time; then press it into a hot, well-buttered mould. Turn out and serve. Or, press it after mixing into a well-buttered mould, and put it into the oven half an hour. Turn out and serve. Cold vegetables may be warmed up in this way. Probable cost, 6d. for a pint mould. Sufficient for three or four persons.”

Full disclosure: I love every single ingredient in this recipe, so I was really excited about making it! Let’s see how it turned out:


The ingredients: three russet potatoes, 3/4 of a head of cabbage, 3/4 of a 6 oz. bag of baby spinach, 2 teaspooons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 stick of butter.


I first peeled and chopped the three potatoes and put them in a pot to boil for about 30 minutes.


I then chopped the head of cabbage (yes, I chopped it before boiling even though the recipe says to chop it afterward–it’s just easier this way!), and I boiled it with the baby spinach for about 18 minutes.


Next, I drained and mashed the potatoes.


I then drained the cabbage and spinach, added it to the mashed potatoes, seasoned them with the salt and pepper, and melted the butter into the mixture over medium heat.


I put the whole mixture in a “well-buttered mould” (aka a 9×9 cake pan) and baked it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


The colcannon came out of the oven smelling rich and savory. I couldn’t “turn it out” of the pan though, so I just had to scoop it out!


The scooped colcannon looked and tasted so delicious! This was such a satisfying dish to make!

Colcannon turned out to be a savory and filling dish. I enjoyed the entire process of making this recipe because it reminded me of when my grandmother would make boiled cabbage for me as a child (which I know sounds unappealing to many of you, but I always liked it!). Colcannon could be a standalone dinner, or it could be a filling side, depending on how much of it you would like to make and what ingredients you would like to add (modern recipes call for onions and bacon in addition to those here). Whatever you decide to do with it, it’s definitely worth a try!


Historic Everyday Eats – Fancy Biscuits


This week in Historic Everyday Eats, I decided to get a little “fancy.” That is, I made Fancy Biscuits. I took the recipe from an 1831 book titledย A New Collection of Genuine Receipts.ย (That is my shortened name for it. If you want to see the full title in all its ridiculously long glory, look no further!)

Genuine Receipts 1831

After taking a look at all of the “curious arts and interesting experiments” in this cookbook, I decided to go with a dessert, of course. “To make fancy biscuits,” one must:

Fancy Biscuits

“Take one pound of almonds, one pound of sugar, and some orange flower water. Pound the almonds very fine, and sprinkle them with orange flower water; when they are perfectly smooth to the touch, put them in a small pan, with flour sifted through a silk sieve; put the pan on a slow fire, and dry the paste till it does not stick to the fingers; move it well from the bottom to prevent its burning; then take it off, and roll it into small round fillets, to make knots, rings, &c. and cut into various shapes; make an iceing (sic) of different colours, dip one side of them in it, and set them in it, and set them on wire gratings to drain. They may be varied by strewing over them colored pistachios, or colored almonds, according to fancy.”

Despite the long description, this is actually a pretty simple recipe…if you can tweak it just right to make it work. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Let’s see how mine turned out!


The ingredients (cut in half from the original recipe so as to not have a ton of fancy biscuits sitting around): 8 ounces (1 cup) of ground almonds, 1 3/4 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup of orange blossom water, and 1 2/3 cups of flour. (Not pictured: additional water to make the biscuits come together as well as milk, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract for the “iceing” that the recipe did not explain!)


My first step was to grind the sliced almonds I got for this recipe. I used the food processor to make this easier on me!


I then added the sugar and orange blossom water to the mixture! (I had to guess and progressively add more orange blossom water to the recipe as I went along in order to make it come together. I ended up with 1/4 cup total.)


I mixed the sugar, orange blossom water, and almonds together into a “paste” (or as close to a paste as I could get it).


I then moved the mixture to a pan over medium heat and added 1 2/3 cups of flour, which is half a pound, equal to the weight measurements for the sugar and almonds.


To make this mixture actually come together without adding anymore overpowering flavor (like orange blossom water), I ended up adding 1/4 cup of water to the pan. This resulted in a more cohesive dough after about five minutes of stirring over medium heat.


After the dough came together, I let it cool for about fifteen minutes, then I rolled it into 2 inch balls. (I didn’t have the patience to make intricate shapes!) I set them on a wire rack to prepare them for icing!


Since this recipe gave no instructions for the icing, I found a modern recipe for a sugar glaze that you can find here. I heated 1/2 stick of butter over medium heat, added 1 cup of powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and then loosened it up with 1 1/2 teaspoons of whole milk. I then poured the glaze over my biscuits, and I thus made them “fancy.” ๐Ÿ˜‰ I let the biscuits and glaze harden for about 15 minutes before eating!

My fancy biscuits turned out to be very tasty! They are very, very rich and nutty in flavor. The orange blossom water adds a fresh taste to these “biscuits,” and the sugar glaze on top adds a nice presentation as well as sweetness to the dessert. These fancy biscuits would be a great finger food for a party, as long as no one is allergic to nuts!


Historic Everyday Eats – Queen Cake


Historic Everyday Eats is very special this week, folks! This entry should really be called “Historic Birthday Eats” because that is precisely the reason I made a cake! My mom came up to Chicago for the first time to celebrate her birthday last weekend (February 7), and I decided that this would be the perfect time to make my first historic cake! I picked a recipe for “Queen Cake” because what is better for a birthday queen? ๐Ÿ˜‰

The 1818 recipe for “Queen Cakes” from The Universal Receipt Book (which I have used before) reads as follows:

Queen Cake

“Take a pound each of dried and sifted flour, beaten and sifted loaf sugar, and fine fresh butter washed in rose or orange-flower water. Pour the water from the butter, squeeze it well in the hand, and work it by very small bits at a time, with half the flour and six yolks, but only four whites of eggs, beaten well together, and mixed with the butter. Then work in the rest of the flour and the sugar, adding three spoonsful of orange flower-water, a little beaten mace, and a pound of nicely picked and dried currants. The pans must be well buttered, and filled half full, have a little double refined sugar sifted over, and be set in a quick oven.”

Before going into the process of making this cake (which I did make as one big cake instead of several small ones), I wanted to explain a couple of the ingredients. The first is orange-flower water, or orange blossom water as you will find it in stores now. Like rose water, this is an extract made from the blossoms of orange trees. Unlike rose water, it is not nearly as strong (in smell or flavor), but it does produce a very nice aroma and taste in the finished product. The second ingredient in question is/are currants. Currants are a small berry, and I could not find their dried version in my grocery store. After doing some research, I found that dried currants can be replaced by raisins, so that is what I used in this recipe. As per usual, I cut this recipe in half so I wouldn’t have pounds and pounds of cake sitting around. ๐Ÿ˜‰

So let’s see how this Queen Cake came together:


The ingredients: 1 2/3 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 sticks butter, 4 whole eggs plus two yolks, 3 tablespoons orange blossom water, 1 teaspoon mace, 1 1/2 cups raisins. (Powdered sugar is optional–I used it for topping the cake.)


I started by mixing half of the flour, half the sugar, all of the eggs, and all of the butter (cut into small pieces after being soaked in orange blossom water for about 5 minutes).


I then added in the rest of the flour and sugar in addition to 1 tsp mace and 3 tbsp orange blossom water.


After mixing the batter together, I added 1 1/2 cups of raisins.


This is a very sticky, wet batter, but it is very pretty with the chunks of butter and raisins!


I then poured the batter into a well-buttered 8×8 baking pan and topped it with a little granulated sugar.


I baked the cake in a 400 degree oven (which I thought would be “quick,” but not quite quick enough!) for 50 minutes. The cake came out golden and bubbly with a crumbly sugar top. ๐Ÿ™‚


After letting the cake cool for about 45 minutes, I topped it with sifted powdered sugar just to make it a little more special. (It was for my mom’s birthday, after all!)


The final product was a flavorful and aromatic cake that was very dense and sweet. The orange blossom water really makes this cake because of that extra layer of smell it adds.

Queen Cake was a pretty big hit among my husband, my mother, and myself. It probably isn’t a typical “birthday” cake per se, but I believe it would actually make a great breakfast cake (along the lines of coffee cake or muffins). It’s definitely worth a try, and it’s definitely fit for a queen! ๐Ÿ˜‰