Guest Blog: Andrea's Winter Market Breakfast

I am finally here, happy and curious, even if a bit chilly. Last weekend Allison highlighted our trip to the indoor market in Evanston where I proceeded to gleefully spend money as though I were not unemployed. Two of the purchases that I loved the most were the beautiful farm eggs and the Jane Addams Day plum jam. I love foods that are best when prepared simply, and these two did not disappoint. The morning after our suburban sojourn, instead of venturing out into the freezing Chicago air to search for jobs, I decided to do what professional people do when looking for employment, I posted my resume online then stayed in my pajamas and made breakfast with our farmers' market booty. The eggs I fried in a little butter, with a minimal amount of salt and a moderate amount of pepper, over easy. The yolks were incredibly yellow with a texture that seemed creamier than regular store bought eggs. We had a log of Vermont Butter and Cheese Company goat cheese left over from a party, which I spread on a toasted english muffin and topped with the plum jam. The jam I have to say was quite runny for jam, but its flavor perfect, plummy and not too sweet. Both the eggs and the jam represented what I love about great food; it should taste as much of what it is as it possibly can. Eggs should taste like eggs and plum jam should taste like plums. I know, sort of an obvious concept, but in a time where people can buy liquid egg substitute and high fructose corn syrup flavored jelly, it is nice to know you can find real food in a local market even in the dead of a Chicago winter.


à la card

It may be old news to people who regularly read Time Out Chicago, Thrillist, The Chicagoist, or The Reader, but I am seriously excited about the à la card Chicago. I happened across the booth at Saturday's indoor market - drawn in by the list of restaurants on the sign.

I'd probably be too wordy, so here's how the website describes the concept:
"A deck of 52 cards... each card describes a unique chef-driven/owner-operated restaurant in the city of varied price-points, cuisines/genres, and neighborhoods. Additionally, each card is a $10 gift certificate to the restaurant it describes."

Since I went to more than ten of these restaurants last year (and a few of them more than once), it would be silly for me not to buy the darn thing. If I go to three this year, the purchase will pay for itself. You can and should buy them online or at other various Chicago locations.


Winter Marketing

My new partner in food crime, Andrea, has arrived in Chicago at last. She accompanied me on an expedition to a church in the suburbs to check out Markets and Meals for Hope. The organization boasts four central ideals: Earth Stewardship, Community, Spirituality, and Justice. Three out of four ain't bad. Being a heathen, I worried about the location. The event wasn't churchy exactly, but the markets are held in parish halls and have lots of booths that involve signing up for causes. We skipped those and headed straight for the food stuffs where Andrea's iphone saved the day since I forgot my camera.

We bought some eggs from a nun and sampled many things that shouldn't really be eaten in succession: various vinegars, honey, cheese curds, many kinds of salsa, dried fruit. Andrea said - of the Bron's Bee Cake - that the Heritage Prairie Kitchen must have, "...injected buttery moistness in there somehow." She explained away her purchase, "Even after learning it was $10, I couldn’t say no." The tiny cake - about three and a half inches in diameter is slathered in icing and weighs a ton (ok, about 6 oz.). I may give her $2 for a bite.

Some of the vendors were familiar faces from the fair weather market scene like seedling and River Valley. There was a nice man from Scotch Hill Farm offering up a cookbook, some potatoes, and a reasonable CSA program that delivers to the Chicago area from Wisconsin. It was worth the roadtrip.

I lost track of how much we spent and can therefore guarantee it was too much.

a dozen eggs
1 lb. oyster mushrooms
1 bag whole wheat flour
2 bags Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds
1 container dried Seedling cherries
1 bee cake
1 jar plum jam

The indoor winter farmers market is an interesting proposition. It was 7 degrees when we crunched through the ice toward the church gymnasium. The growing season is dormant here, but you can buy dry, preserved, or stored food along with food products like pickled mushrooms or baked danishes. You can still mingle with the growers (or sometimes their kids or interns) and like-minded food buyers. Something is kind of sad about the bad overhead lighting and lack of dirt. I love getting all muddy during a rainy market day and just seeing all of the green. I also didn't like having to sift through hippie soaps and knitting products to find the edibles. The Nature Museum is housing the Green City Market's new indoor market, so maybe that will cheer me up.


Freezer? I Barely Know Her.

The Tribune is keeping tabs on how long Chicagoans have been suffering through sub-zero temperatures and "Continued Bitterly Cold" is the forecast for the foreseeable future. I am wearing enough items of clothing to guarantee a win in any mean game of strip poker, though I wish I had a pair of these gloves. The inside of my freezer is actually warmer than it is outside, so I figure now is as good a time as any to discuss frozen food tips.

In college, the only things in my freezer were vodka and 99 cent "pizzas". I'm trying harder to use all the parts of the food I buy, save leftovers, and plan for inevitable evenings when I lack time for cooking proper meals.

What's in my freezer now?
1 gallon bag of blueberries
1 bag edamame
2 bunches overripe bananas
1 bag white wine cubes
1 bottle stoli orange
1 box veggie burgers
1 bag frozen mangoes
1 bag frozen pineapple
1 gallon bag celery stalks/leaves, carrot ends
1 bag leftover ham bones
some whole wheat flour

What's in my ideal freezer?
2 containers each chicken stock, veal stock, veggie stock
1 bag red wine cubes
1 bag white wine cubes
half a lamb
2 containers pesto
2 containers tomato sauce
endless supply of Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream
1 bottle Hendrick's Gin
1 bottle Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka

Some freezer tips:

-Make cubes of leftover liquids to use in future sauces and gravy. I like to do this with wine, small quantities of stock, and fruit juice. Remember to wash the ice cube tray well between uses and label your baggies so you can identify your cubes.
-Keep your fridge away from heat sources to maintain consistent temperatures(not like my dumbass landlords who put it right next to the oven).
-Freeze fruits and vegetables individually first and then combine them in a bag and remove as much air as possible.
-Put the ends of your loaves of bread and crusts (especially helpful if you have a picky child) in a freezer bag to make into homemade bread crumbs or croutons when you've amassed enough.
-Poultry carcasses and bones freeze well for making future stocks.
-Once bananas are overripe, freeze them whole in their peels. These defrost quickly and will always be available when you have a hankering for banana bread.
-Freeze items when they are in season and on sale. Butter the week of Christmas and Thanksgiving is always less expensive - I found some butter for 60% off during the holidays.
-Remember that liquid will expand when it freezes, so when packing stocks, soups and sauces: leave some room at the top so the lids of your containers stay tight.

Happy thawing!


new year

Last year I decided what I want to do with my life. This year, I have to really start doing it. The markets shut down for winter and my blogging trailed off. I didn't quit buying, eating or preparing food; I just kept it to myself. Sorry about that.

In the beginning, I envisioned this as solely a way to document my foray into purchasing food outside of the structure of the grocery store last summer. I expanded it to recipes and lists and music. Why stop there? Eating well sustainably and seasonally in a city blanketed by record snowfall has proven to be a challenge. But I've spent the past few months being resourceful and have decided to share my adventures again without as many parameters. This year I'm planning to write about ethnic and neighborhood markets, foodie books, kitchen gadgetry, restaurants and my adventures starting a business during an economic crisis.