sometimes, through food

sunrise in Indiana

A lot of people say autumn weather pushes them towards the kitchen, towards the warmth of the stove as the sky darkens and the air chills, towards soups and stews and pies filled with apples. One of you even said here recently that this time of year means that the family comes inside together, to be wrapped up and warm, sipping hot cups of tea (I liked that very much).

But can I tell you something? October has had the opposite effect on me. Instead of slowing down to come inside, I’ve gotten busier—busier in a good way, doing fantastic things like celebrating birthdays and touring new neighborhoods and visiting farms and, also, spending an early Sunday morning driving to Indiana a few weekends ago, to meet my beautiful friend Sue, whom I haven’t seen since 2003 (!). Here’s me with her and her perfect 10-month-old daughter that couldn’t be cuter:

photo by jordan

(photo by jordan)

We met at Sophia’s House of Pancakes, where, while she waited, Sue told the owner I was sort of a food critic, which meant we not only got treated very, very well, but also that I took a few pictures of the good food we ate to show you later (it only seemed right).

You know, there were over 200 miles between us, each way, and I watched the sun rise over Indiana farms on my drive down, right around the time I realized Greenwood is an hour ahead of Chicago and so I would be pretty late getting there, but, honestly, it was absolutely worth every minute because Sue is just that kind of friend, and it was so good to sit across a table from her, to hear her voice and listen to her laugh and meet her daughter for the first time.

scrambled eggs and hash browns

pancakes

French toast

So anyway, please don’t think I’m complaining with this next bit because, I promise, I really do know I’ve been especially blessed lately, but thing is, in the midst of all these good gifts of conversation and travel and food-not-made-by-me, I am having the hardest time getting into the kitchen. If it hadn’t been for another of my old college friends, Elizabeth, who lived with me in the bedbug-infested Unit G of our freshman year and recently reconnected with me on Facebook, I don’t know what I would have done.

matzo ball soup

Read More

that’s how you do a birthday

october 24

My brother turned 25 on Saturday.

And while I could tell you a lot of reasons why this is significant, such as the fact that he is my only sibling and oldest friend or that he is the one person in this world who would talk to me on speakerphone the entire time I navigate through a detour in the city or who understands my parents in the way that we can just look at each other when we’re all having a family dinner and we’ll know exactly what the other person is thinking, I will tell you this instead, because this is important: he likes to eat. He really likes to eat. In fact, if quantity is any indicator, he likes it more than I do. He was, after all, the one who almost went to culinary school, the one who first took me to Swirlz and Bittersweet and Spacca Napoli.

So, after telling you that, I guess it should be obvious now what he and I’d do to celebrate his birthday. It’s what we would have done for mine, if we hadn’t been fresh off a trip to Maine in which I’d eaten everything in sight for three or four days already: We ate.

Read More

the fact of the matter

le creuset with pasta

I am sorry to say I made several mistakes with this recipe—are you ready for this? To start, I didn’t chop the kale ahead of time, so the pieces were huge when they got tossed with the pasta; also, instead of using the called-for full pound, I just used the bag of kale that came in my CSA, which was a mystery to me in terms of weight, and probably much less than 16 ounces; I was almost out of lemon, so I made do with what was left of some squeezed slices in the fridge; and, when it came time to add the Parmesan, I look back and see now that I was a little stingy.

We’re all friends here, so I’ll just be straight with you: I make silly mistakes like these all the time. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to e-mail me a typo or spelling mistake I’ve posted, for example, and that’s not the sort of thing that inspires confidence in a girl who spends large parts of every day writing and editing words at her work desk.

But it gets worse.

kale

A mistake I am always making, for years now, is something maybe too serious to be called a mistake, something more indicative of a strong character flaw and something that relates to this recipe, or more specifically, an ingredient in this recipe. It’s the same force that was at work when I said, not yet in kindergarten, that I would NEVER like dogs after being chased by some, leading to decades of friends putting their pets away for me; in high school, that I would NEVER live with my parents after college, which is exactly what happened; in college, that I would NEVER think camping sounded fun, although now almost five years later, you won’t find anyone who loves being outside like I do. Though my mind does change, eventually, I can be awfully stubborn in the meantime. It’s ugly.

garlic and onions

So it was with kale, that dark and leafy vegetable not unlike spinach, which was not something I grew up eating.

Read More

Chicago Food Tour: Near North Side

“If only we could apply a travelling mind-set to our own locales, we might find these places becoming no less interesting than, say, the high mountain passes and butterfly-filled jungles of Humboldt’s South America.” (Alain de Botton, Art of Travel)

chicago

When you travel to a new place, and you see Maine’s thick woods and eat its seafood, and you walk through Colorado’s breathtaking garden of the gods, and you meet Indiana’s farmers and ride its horses, it is easy to be impressed. So much so that when you return to your own city (which, to be fair, isn’t really your city as much as it is the place where you went to school and the place where your brother lives and the place you have always been identified as being from by outsiders, when in reality you keep an address in its suburbs), it is easy to overlook all that has become familiar, saying things like, What is so great about Chicago? while you flip through your pictures and long for where you were.

So thank goodness for you all, I mean it, you who remind me how much the Midwest and Chicago matter, in the way that every place matters for its own beauty and people and unique location, and thank goodness for Chicago Food Planet, the very cool company that gave me and Caitlin of Engineer Baker and Jacqui of Happy Jack Eats the chance to turn a Saturday where we were already planning to meet in the city into a Saturday where we were treated to a tour of new-to-us spots on the North Side. Even after a rainy morning standing outside Union Station hailing a cab, this Second City is winning me over again, at least when it comes to its food.

Read More

the best things we do

apple cider doughnut

If fall is a reminder of gradual change, these doughnuts are a reminder of comforting tradition, of the way clouds and sun streaked across the horizon above the pumpkin patch in the late afternoon last fall, of rows of cornfields and bins of fresh-picked apples, of taking a hayride with friends.

We’re going back to Kuiper’s again this year, probably later than is best again, so the apples may already be in bins and we may need extra layers of clothing when we walk through the orchard, but I am going with a friend, and, I’m finding, those things I do with a friend are the best things I do, you know what I mean?

Like last weekend, which was a people-filled one, from Friday night bakery and Greek food with my brother, to Saturday in the country with a group of food-loving strangers and Alicia and then cake at my friend Michele’s, to a Sunday morning listening to Truth and singing with an auditorium filled with people, to lunch in the home of friends, where their two-year-old grabbed my finger and pulled me towards her toy bin to “play babies.” All of this followed a pretty solitary week, when, as you know, this happened—and while I know I haven’t explained formally, most of you already know from Flickr or Twitter or the comment I left here, so I’ll just briefly say last Wednesday night wasn’t hard because I didn’t get my birth certificate; it was hard because I felt helpless and reminded that I am alone, but looking back I am so glad I felt that way, and that I told you about it, because it made my joy so much fuller when the next day, I found my new passport in the mail.

I get to thinking sometimes that I’m alone in situations because I’m single, but I know everyone has days or weeks or dark nights that are similar. Life is a constant contrast of isolation and community, loneliness and fellowship—at least it seems to me. But maybe, like with my passport, it is through the loneliness that fellowship becomes so sweet, through the solitary nights that Friday dinners become so much richer, through a Wednesday night in tears that I’m given another evidence of love from The One Who Made Me.

Read More

Day in the Country!

day in the country

This past Saturday, I spent a beautiful fall day in the Indiana countryside.

There were a lot of pigs; a lot of cows; well-designed exhibits as impressive as a museum, I kid you not; several info-packed lectures; delicious, locally grown food; horses (I rode my first!); and, mostly, very kind, very passionate people who have made farming their livelihood, their enjoyment, their pastime and who could not have been more gracious.

belstra farm

When we arrived in Indiana, to an area just a short 75-minute drive from Chicago, our first stop was the Belstra Family Pig Farm, which is fitting, given that this whole thing was made possible for me by the National Pork Board. They sent me, with my friend Alicia, to join the ChicaGourmets group that was going Saturday.

pigs

So at the pig farm: we hopped on tractor-pulled hayrides that looped around the barns, stopping at spots for us to see pigs milling around, a nursery with babies eating, sow stalls where the artificial insemination is done (yes, we watched it happen). Malcolm DeKryger, vice president of Belstra Milling/Belstra Group pig production, was the leader on my ride, explaining how workers have to shower before even entering the barns and how animal waste is filtered out into pools in back, repurposed into fertilizer, and how much he absolutely loves this whole life of farming. All this, despite the fact that media treatment of “swine flu” hurt the pork industry terribly (25%/$1 million loss, at this farm alone).

charlotte's web

And pigs were only the beginning. Next was a quick ride down the street to Fair Oaks Farms, one of the largest dairies in the country, which is owned by five families, including Dr. Mike and Sue McCloskey. Mike talked about the dairy industry while we ate grilled cheese sandwiches made with cheese from their own dairy, and then continued as he guided us through exhibits like a 4-D movie and a simulated forest with interactive features, showing what Indiana land originally looked like. (I am telling you, this place would be such a cool field trip for kids.)

Read More

after such a night

lemons and sage

I know things have been pretty pizza and apple tart cake around here this week, and the following story is not going to fit in at all with that model, but I hope you won’t mind if I tell it anyway because, to be honest with you, I had a heck of a night last night. When I came home, pulling out lemon-sage-garlic chicken to reheat in the oven, I thought how perfectly wonderful it is to have home-cooked food to turn to, especially on awful nights like that one, and I figure you probably feel that way too sometimes, so we might as well be open about it.

I’ll start by saying that here in America, we have these really good, really important laws about being authorized to work in the country—laws that are no big deal for natural-born citizens with documentation like birth certificates and social security cards, except when those natural-born citizens lose their documentation, like I did, a couple years ago. Mostly this has been OK since I have a current passport but, come October 14, that passport is expiring, and my current employers want current proof.

So three weeks ago, I applied to get a new passport, filling out all the paperwork and getting new passport photos taken and mailing the whole package of info over to Pennsylvania somewhere via certified mail. They got the package, but I am still waiting.

I also figured I should replace my social security card, just as a backup. It’s free the first time you replace it, did you know that? Go in person to your local social security office, during daytime business hours, and, after filling out more paperwork, request a new card. Perfect. I had this past Monday off, so I planned to go first thing in the morning—until I realized you have to have a birth certificate in order to prove your identity and replace your social security card.

Getting a certified copy of my birth certificate shouldn’t be a big deal, right? After all, they are public record and, can I just say again, I WAS BORN HERE. So I go online to request a certified copy of my birth certificate, one that will hold up for employment verification purposes, and I pay the $43.00 WHERE $20 OF THAT IS JUST SHIPPING CHARGES and the system says it will arrive in a few days.

Read More
  • 1
  • 2