Yet another t-shirt I should add to my collection, because no one gets more hangry than me. It’s borderline belligerent, and apologizing afterwards is so awkward. Might as well just be upfront about it.
I participate in a community supported agriculture program, or CSA for short. It’s a weekly parcel of produce from nearby farms. Most of it is organic.
I love being a part of a CSA. The fruits and vegetables are fresh and delicious and I get a warm fuzzy feeling from supporting small businesses and farmers. But the best part about subscribing to a CSA is the surprise of what will appear in your weekly box of seasonal goodies.
My CSA program started in May, and throughout the weeks, I’ve gotten fragrant garlic scapes, delicate lettuces, crunchy cabbage, and the most flavorful, tiny strawberries I’ve ever eaten. It’s awesome watching the progression of the growing season through my weekly produce share, except for one thing.
The kale. It won’t stop coming. It is the only thing that has made the CSA cut every week, a curly, leafy invader that just won’t quit. I’ve had 13 straight weeks of kale bunches, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’ve made Baked Eggs with Sausage and Kale for breakfast. I’ve made Roughed Up Kale Salad for dinner. I’ve snacked on crispy kale chips. But damn, it’s a lot of greenery, especially from a vegetable that up until 2 years ago could only be found state-side in overly-salted canned Italian soups.
Luckily, I won’t drown in this never ending sea of kale because I know how to make vegetables taste good. It’s a simple trick, and one that’s easy to master. It’s so easy that you may already know it and not even realize it.
So what’s the magic trick for making vegetables delicious? It’s salt, pepper, and olive oil. That’s it. Every fresh vegetable is elevated by that threesome. You can roast, saute, steam, and in some cases, even eat veggies raw if you just add olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s the lazy cook’s dream come true!
When you want to up the ante, saute some chopped onions and minced garlic in your olive oil until just golden. The flavor will infuse the oil, and when it coats your vegetables, they’ll be saturated with flavor. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top of your veg to add freshness and a hint of acidity. Sprinkle on something crunchy, like toasted nuts, seeds, or breadcrumbs to add another layer of flavor and texture.
That’s exactly how I cooked this warm kale and kohlrabi salad, a tasty and easy way to get through one more bunch of CSA kale. If I get it again next week, I’ll start with my basic threesome of salt, pepper, and olive oil and go from there, building flavors and textures into something delicious.
I’ve become a bit obsessed with photographing the contents of my weekly CSA. Follow me on Instagram to see what’s arrived. And tell me, what’s your favorite way to prepare fresh vegetables?
I’m the proud owner of a new road bike. She’s clean and sleek, and I bought her with the intention of long distance riding, along with some general scooting-around-the-city riding. Isn’t she pretty?
I’ve lived in Chicago for 14 years, and I’ve always had a bike. My orange Trek from college was upgraded to a purple Kona. A couple years later, the purple Kona was pinched right out of the basement of my apartment building. (Bastards). The abducted Kona was begrudgingly, yet cost-effectively replaced with a second-hand Schwinn ten-speed that weighed roughly 200 pounds. It was identical to the first adult bike my parents bought me, circa 1996, and was at least that old. It cost $50 and I rode it for 7 years until both gear shifts haphazardly flew off of the handlebars mid-ride last summer. (To the guy who was sitting in the parked car that one of the gear shifts crashed into: Sorry about that! I hope it didn’t leave a mark. Also, thank you for not chasing me down.)
This spring, I upgraded. I love the feeling of being on a bike. Pedaling down the lakefront path on a sun-soaked day is about as good as it gets for me. It’s powerful and carefree at the same time, and one of the easiest ways to feel pure joy. The day after I bought this bike was cold enough for flurries to fall, but I went for a short ride anyway, because I’m hardcore. A few weeks passed, the weather gave way slightly and I got onto the lakefront path. It was great.
A couple of weeks after that, I rode to the farmer’s market on a lovely day. I sat in the grass for a while and watched the people totinh canvas bags stuffed with lettuces and apples. Afterwards, I thought that I would ride 1 mile north to visit the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, one of my favorites spots in the whole city for its serenity. I’m pedaling along, happy as can be, and then
I got doored.
I got doored by 20-something guy from Mississippi who was exiting a cab with his wife to check out the Lincoln Park Zoo. They were on vacation. The cab was stopped in traffic. I screamed in the split second between seeing the door swing open and making contact. He was terrified. I was too.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, “getting doored” is when someone opens up a car door without checking to see if anyone or anything (in this case a cyclist) is coming up behind the car, and then the cyclist crashes head on into said door. Ouchie.
I value my life, and I’m also not a moron so I was wearing a helmet. Thanks to that helmet and a good bit of luck, the damages were minimal. I cracked three teeth and got a decent-sized bruise on my left knee, but that’s it. I didn’t fly over my handlebars, or into the parked cars next to me, or into oncoming traffic. No broken bones or disconnected joints. I didn’t even have any scratches, and miraculously, neither did my new bike. I am so, so lucky.
An hour or so later, after a very nice policeman finished up his report, and issued the cab driver a ticket for not pulling over to a safe place to release his passengers, I rode home. Credit shock for giving me the balls to do that.
It’s two weeks later. I’ve already gotten my teeth fixed and you would never know that anything had happened. I haven’t gotten back on the bike yet though. I’d like say that it’s because I haven’t had time, or that the weather has been bad, both of which are true enough. But in reality, I’m a little afraid. I had 14 glorious years of riding around Chicago fearless and unscathed, but I don’t have that fearless feeling any more. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? I’ll get back on my bike soon, maybe even tomorrow. I’ll be a little afraid, but I hope that feeling will subside, and I’ll feel powerful and carefree again.
As 2014 comes to a screeching halt, social media is inundated with cliched “Best Of” lists and “Top 10” countdowns. These compilations can be trite, but they can also be a great way to reflect back on a year, on the people who you shared it with, and where you spent time. What is the best thing you ate in 2014? Who were you with, and where were you?
Here’s my list, in homage to a very good year.
1. Vigorón street vendor in El Parque Central; Granada, Nicaragua
Vigorón is a traditional Nicaraguan street food. Tender slabs of boiled yucca (AKA cassava) are covered in thick, crunchy chicharrón (fresh pork rinds) and then smothered in a very tangy cabbage, onion, and tomato slaw. It was my first meal in the country and a perfect introduction to it’s simple cuisine. What is even more memorable than the food though, is the setting. I bought lunch from a street vendor and sat at a picnic table in El Parque Central, the large public square in the center of town. The square is docked on one side by an enormous, bright yellow cathedral, and on another side by a similarly-colored Spanish Colonial hotel with beautiful balconies. Peddlers hawking knickknacks, perfect for vacation remembrances, line the perimeter. Freshly rolled tobacco wafted from a small cigar shop. Horse-drawn carriages click-clacked down the streets. An impromptu concert of lively music drew a crowd. A man kept the mid-afternoon dusty haze at bay by continuously wetting the ground with a garden hose, Women tempted us with homemade peanut candies and rich chewy caramels. When I think of eating salty and sour vigorón, I’ll always remember my first day in Nicaragua.
2. Spicy Seafood Chulpan Sik Gaek, Flushing, NY
This place is best known for live octopus, but the real star of this meal was the chulpan. An enormous pot was full of steaming seafood broth flavored with gochujang and teeming with all manners of crustaceans and mollusks. Underneath that big red lobster lay razor clams, squid, conch, shrimp, crab legs, and abalone resting in a nest of long rice noodles. We cracked shells and slurped soup to the beat of loud Korean techno music. A good time was had by all.
And about that live octopus…I ate that too, but it didn’t make this list. Those little suckers (literally) hang on to your tongue, the roof of your mouth, or the insides of your cheeks just as long as they possibly can. If that sounds fun to you, and you enjoy the deeply salty and mineral taste that is overly described as “of the ocean” give it a try next time you’re in Queens.
3. Pineapple Upside Down Cake Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Chicago
If I could pull a “Freaky Friday” with anyone in the food industry for a few days, I’d do the ol’ switcheroo with Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Ice cream, in all of its frozen incarnations, is my very favorite food, and Jeni’s flavor pairings are modern and innovative. Her cookbooks are drool-inducing, and she’s running an expanding chain of the coolest retail scoop shops in the country. She’s my hero!
Pineapple Upside Down Cake Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt is a mouth full for sure, but the mellow, roasted, tangy flavor more than makes up for the tongue-cramping name. Just look at how happy I am to be eating this on a warm summer evening. Don’t think I could even be any happier.
4. Stamped Cinnamon Biscuit (Cookie), The Cinnamon Tree Bakery stall at Borough Market, London
Tell me that isn’t THE COOLEST cookie you’ve ever seen in your life. I was completely taken with its imperfections – the slight cracking at the edges and the uneven white outline of the off-centered elephant. Now imagine that it tastes just as interesting as it looks. Pure cinnamon in the form of a crisp, buttery cookie. No other “fall baking spices” muddying things up. Just cinnamon, in all of it’s spicy and warm glory, and tasting exactly the way it looks.
5. Basque Cake MFK, Chicago
There’s only one dessert on the menu at MFK, one of the city’s most-lauded new restaurants of 2014. In my mind, the Basque cake rides solo because nothing else could come close to being as good. It’s a rich, tender cake with a faint almond flavor underneath a darker, caramelized crust. As someone who eats cake nearly every day, I can say without a doubt, that this was the best cake I ate in 2014 (including my own). Congratulations to Chef Nick Lacasse and Sous Chef Joey Schwab, both of whom I have had the pleasure of working with. (Now give me the recipe for the cake, pretty please!)
6. The Eastman Eastman Egg Company Food Truck, Chicago
You know that overused phrase that simple food prepared simply is the best tasting food? That’s what is happening here. I would never have thought to pair cucumbers with scrambled eggs, but why not? I would never have thought to put sweet chili sauce on eggs either. Add a slab of ham, a bit of cheese, and sandwich it all together on a fresh ciabatta roll.
After I ate my first Eastman, I started putting cukes and sweet chili sauce on my homemade egg sammies, too. Easy like Sunday morning. Tastes like Sunday morning, too.
7. Yo Amigo Taco Salad, Native Foods, Chicago
This is the perfect salad for salad haters, like myself. It’s beautiful to look at and has a lots of different textures, from crunchy to creamy, which means it doesn’t get boring after 5 bites. And surprise! Native Taco Meat isn’t really meat at all! It’s seitan (sounds like the dark lord of the underworld, but it’s less scary), a vegetarian protein made of wheat gluten that cooks up and tastes just like the real deal. Toss in some crispy tortilla strips and add avocado for a very large, very summery meal.
I’m 35 years old today*.
Yeesh, that sounds old. I’m usually not affected by birthdays or adding another year, not even when the big 3-0 hit. But this year feels different. 35 seems significant. It’s a new box to check on surveys when you’re asked for you age…18-24, 25-34, 35-(the end).
Yesterday I could say that I was in my early-30s, but today there’s no getting around it. I’m firmly planted in my mid-30s.
I’ve been reflective over the past week. I got the urge to look back to where my life was 10 years ago, in 2004, when I turned 25. I was living alone in an apartment in the Andersonville neighborhood, just one month away from finishing my pastry degree at CHIC (now Le Cordon Bleu Chicago), dating a total d-bag, and going out most nights of the week.
If my 35-year-old self could give advice to my 25-year-old self, this is what it would be:
1. Good job busting through the pastry degree while working full-time, but there’s no time to pat yourself on the back. Keep working hard. Getting that degree is the best decision you’ve ever made, and it’s going to enable you to work towards a fun and fulfilling career with loads of opportunities that you can’t even imagine yet. Keep working hard. It pays off. You get to be a part of a small group of people who really love their profession, and that is very special.
2. About that douche bag...He broke up with you on your birthday. On the actual day of your birth. Who does that? He’s not worth your heartache. It’s going to take you a little longer to find the right guy, but it happens. And on that note…
3. Be open to dating blonde guys. Yes, seriously. Let go of the notion you’ve had since childhood that blondes only look good with other blondes. So what if Barbie and Ken were both blonde, and you’re not? It’s a weird and irrational thought. There’s a tall towhead coming your your way that you don’t want to pass on.
4. Speaking of hair, for the love of all holy things, DO NOT EVER cut your hair into a pixie cut with blonde highlights again. That one “friend” who told you it looked great? She turned out to be a bitch, and you looked ridiculous. For a long time, ridiculous. Keep growing that shit out. It looks better long.
5. A Short Poem About Sunscreen:
Slather it on,
Just little dab,
Keeps wrinkles at bay.
Embrace the paste (of your skin)!
5. You enjoy living alone. You enjoy silence once in a while. You’re doing it right now, but it’s going to be a long time until you can afford it again. The next time you do it, you’ll have a huge sense of pride because you’ve bought your very own space in the city that you love. Tom Hanks’ place will have nothing on this money pit, so start saving.
6. You’re going out. A lot. You’re staying out late, dancing until you’re sweaty, and probably spending too much cash. Keep doing that for as long as you can, because this time doesn’t last forever. Friends are getting married. They’re getting really involved with their careers. Soon they’re going to start families. Slowly, as time goes by, you just don’t see each other as much. Reality is a beast. Take full advantage of this time now. Say yes to every invitation. Enjoy the people in your life. They’re amazing.
7. The migraines are coming! The migraines are coming! There’s not a whole lot you can do about this, but enjoy your 25-year-old so-called “hangovers” while they last. You won’t know real day-after pain until you hit 30 and are forced to swear off the booze for a bit until you can get those headaches in check.
8. Get a personal trainer. You don’t know it yet, but you love it. It feels good to work out really hard. The soreness that comes the day after a session actually feels great. Plus, you can eat a ton and not gain weight which is a total bonus, as your burgeoning cake career is going to involve copious amounts of buttercream frosting.
*Written on my actual birthday, but held for digestion for a few weeks before posting.