why must I feel like that

It has arrived. My first winter cold. Pretty amazing that I've avoided disgusting germs so far this season given that I spend so much time with children and on public transportation. I'm grouchy, lethargic, and have aching muscles, but I'm still hungry. Rather than my usual one or two cups, I'm drinking hot tea throughout the day. Irish Breakfast in the morning, Orange Pekoe/Darjeeling/Cinnamon during the day, and Chamomile at night.

Feed a cold, grandmothers for generations have said. Eating is a remedy for pretty much every malady (excepting the stomach flu) as far as I'm concerned. This week I've fed my cold: fifteen cuts of meat at a Brazilian steakhouse, crepes, two kinds of meatballs, pub cheese, spicy salmon, dozens of holiday cookies, beef bourguignon, turkey three ways, udon, a clementine per day, shrimp linguine, dibs ice cream bites, bacon-wrapped dates, brussel sprouts, a bottle and a half of red wine, chicken skin, spanikopita, Life cereal, mashed potatoes, bok choy, and sushi. The cold is still going strong.

Nostalgic foods that have comforted me in the past usually do the trick when I'm really sick. Orange jello with suspended canned mandarin oranges. Cinnamon toast with a cup of constant comment red label tea on a saucer. Chicken and noodles - those big puffy dumplings - not canned condensed soup. Stuff my mom would bring me in bed. In college, I moved on to ethnic take-out in desperate times of illness far from home. Thai soups and Indian curries were standbys, but my go-to sinus headache cure was the Atomic Salsa from Ted's Cafe Escondido. The wait at any number of Ted's locations in the OKC area can easily top an hour or two, but Oklahomans are willing. They also have take-out, which was always my preferred method. Consistently, Ted's has awesome service. I arrived home once with the wrong take-out order. The manager delivered the correct order to my apartment (within 30 minutes), refunded my credit card charge, let me keep the incorrect order, and gave me a gift certificate. The food is decent, unpretentious, cheesy Tex-Mex. It might not be the best I've ever had, but it definitely gets the job done.

Ted's Cafe Escondido originally uploaded by DanHerron.

But the Atomic Salsa is perfect. Ted's, like any self-respecting Tex-Mex joint, gives you complimentary fresh tortillas, queso, and pickled jalapeno relish (aka escabeche) in addition to chips and salsa. You can also ask for additional salsas like a habanero version that I can't handle. The green Atomic is jalapeno based and has big chunks of avocado to balance the heat. It is the perfect mix of flavor and spice, opening your sinuses without burning your taste buds. I haven't had this salsa for at least five years, but with every cold and sinus headache I long for it.


home is anywhere you hang your head

Do yourself a favor this holiday week: start drinking early.

I love the bloodys at Tweet, a popular brunch spot attached to a gay bar in Uptown (also home of the only decent biscuits and gravy I've had in Chicago - someone please explain why the second city doesn't understand cream gravy!).  A couple of years ago, I broke down and asked the bartender for his secret to spicy and flavorful bloody marys.  He used Absolut Peppar, Sriracha (now a big food trend) and cracked black pepper.  I've tinkered with the recipe because I like mine really strong and spicy, so scale back if you can't stand the heat or hold your liquor.  I'm responsible for turning a recent Sunday brunch amongst friends into quite a few Monday morning hangovers. Combining sources makes for a depth of flavor in addition to just plain heat.  This recipe fits nicely in a pint glass, which is my recommended dosage.

Damn Good Bloody Mary
4 oz. good vodka
4 oz. Clamato
4 oz. Tomato or Vegetable Juice
1 tsp. horseradish (prepared, less if using fresh grated)
1 tsp. sriracha
3-4 dashes cholula (or tabasco)
3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
pinch black pepper
celery salt
celery seed
lime wedges

pickled pepperocini peppers
blue cheese stuffed olives
mortadella slices
blanched asparagus
pepperoni sticks
bell pepper slices
cheese cubes
cucumber spears (or pickles)

Combine a tablespoon of celery salt with a teaspoon of celery seeds on a saucer or small plate.  Rub a lime wedge around the glass' rim and dip it onto the plate of seasonings to coat.  Add some ice to glass, followed by the vodka, horseradish, hot sauce, Worcestershire and pepper.  Then add the tomato and clamato juices and stir to combine.  Garnish with preferred fixings.  Drink.


Happy Xmas

In second grade, after seeing an ad on television for the Mayor's Christmas Tree Fund during Tiny Toon adventures, I gathered up a box of my toys and wrapped them in newsprint to give to needy kids.  Not understanding that they would only accept new toys, I proudly presented them to my Mom to donate.  I also had no idea that the tree in our living room, the gifts under it, and many of our dinners that December had been provided by that very charity.  Though we didn't always have a telephone or electricity, I thought we lived comfortably enough.  It was kind of exotic to do homework by candle light like they did in the olden days.  Though my Mom didn't teach me to cook, she did teach me to shop on a budget, celebrate little things (champagne for Arbor Day!), appreciate the kindness and generosity of others, reciprocate, to write thank you notes, and about the importance of a well-rounded record collection.  We sometimes had to "grocery shop" at the local food pantry, but we also volunteered there regularly. 

Yes, the economy has gone to shit.  I'm not going to let that spoil my gift-giving fun.  Certainly it is a time for scaling back, reassessing America's sad backward values, and avoiding the big box retail hellhole.  It is not a time to ignore the thoughtful act of giving.  People should still party, still celebrate their friendships and forced workplace acquaintances. Donate canned goods.  Make homemade gifts.  Participate in Dirty Santa. Have a potluck.  Shop at a thrift store.  Send a card by post.  Do it your damn self. 

My favorite holiday card was made with scissors, glue, a Sears catalog, a sense of humor and a copy machine.  Some of my best holiday memories revolve around family traditions like fresh delivered homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas Day (from the Walkers!) and sitting on the counter while my Grandma Georgia made batches and batches of fudge and divinity.  Most of my presents this year will be edible, but as an homage to my favorite thrifty mother-daughter pastime - window shopping! - here are a slew of beautiful, silly, practical and covetable food-related items perfect for gifting or if you prefer, just wishing...

Six barware glasses, $39 at Velocity

Momofuku Cookbook, $23.40 at Amazon

Jelly Roll Pans with Cooling Racks, $30 at Sur La Table

Kitchy Coasters, Set of Six $6 at Anne Taintor

vic firth french rolling pin, $13.95 at Amazon

fallen hardwood serving trays, $36 at show

pastry scraper, $8 at William Sonoma

ACME shopping bags, starting at 8.95 at reusablebags

birch covered flowerpot, $3.99 at save on crafts

home sous vide machine, $449 at Sous Vide Supreme

porcelain salt & pepper shakers, $14 at Backgarage's Etsy Store

cocoa powder, 13.99 at Valrhona

slate cheese board, $69 at Viva Terra

Michael Aram Woodgrain Tray, $225 at Waterford

Besides this one, my favorite holiday food round-ups:
Dave Lebovitz lists his favorite cookbooks of the year.
Lottie & Doof celebrate 12 days of cookies with beautiful photos and recipes.
For under $10, The Kitchn's list makes for affordable stocking stuffers.


Marshmallow World

I first tried this recipe out for a camping trip where I envisioned grown up s'mores.  We ate them with graham crackers and dark chocolate while passing a warming bottle of whiskey around the campfire.  Maybe we weren't acting so adult - a Wisconsin forest ranger had to ask us to pipe down since our tipsy voices were bothering some nearby boy scouts.  Roasting the marshmallows on a stick was a bit problematic, because they melt a bit messier than a store-bought jet-puff.  In the morning, we used these as an alternative to cream & sugar in our campfire coffee too.  At home, I like these under the broiler for a crisp top or melted in hot chocolate.  Chai flavored marshmallows would make a perfect holiday gift.  While your mixer is doing the hard work on the marshmallows, I suggest you crank up the holiday mix at the bottom of the page to help pass the time.

Chai Spiced Marshmallows
adapted from Stephen Durfee,
The French Laundry, 2000

3 envelopes of Knox gelatin
1/2 cup cold chai*
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon

First, line a jelly roll pan with plastic wrap, letting excess wrap hang over the edges of pan.  Coat plastic wrap with cooking oil spray.  In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold chai. Soak for 10 minutes. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water* in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute. Pour boiling syrup into gelatin and mix at high speed. Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes. Add vanilla, cardamom, & cinnamon and incorporate into mixture at medium speed until combined. Lightly oil one of your hands or a spatula. Scrape marshmallow into the plastic wrap-lined pan and spread evenly.  After pouring marshmallow mixture into the pan, use another oiled piece of plastic wrap to press mixture into the corners of pan.  Remove the top piece of plastic wrap and let marshmallows sit for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.  Remove from pan, dredge the marshmallow slab with confectioners' sugar and cut into pieces with kitchen shears, a chef's knife, or a decorative cutter (a simple shape like a star or circle works best). Dredge each piece of marshmallow in sifted confectioners' sugar.

*After some experimenting, I prefer Tazo Chai Latte concentrate best.  You can definitely use your favorite chai tea instead - just be sure to chill it before adding to the gelatin.

** For spicier marshmallows, substitute 1/4 cup chai for the water in the sugar and corn syrup mixture.

Winter Holiday Mix

Marshmallow World - Darlene Love
Fox in the Snow - Belle & Sebastian
Mr. Mistletoe - The Magnetic Fields
Christmas in Hollis - Run DMC
Father Christmas - The Kinks
Little Drummer Boy - Johnny Cash 
My Favorite Christmas (in a hundred words or less) - Of Montreal
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - The Jackson 5
Warm Love - Van Morrison
Last Christmas - Wham
Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
O Holy Night - Sufjan Stevens
River - Joni Mitchell
Rockin Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
Winterlong - Pixies
Santa's Beard - They Might Be Giants

and my all time favorite:


foux da fafa

Et maintenant le voyage a la supermarche!

Yesterday, the Chicago French Market opened to much fanfare, political and otherwise.  The lovely cheese monger I chatted up at Pastoral said they had to call for five bread deliveries to keep up with demand and by the end of the day, Sweet Miss Giving's pastry case was empty.  Commuters and foodies alike are celebrating the new convenient access to produce, meat, and prepared foods in the West Loop.  I avoided the opening day crowds and sauntered in after the morning rush today.

Much like a restaurant in its opening weeks, reviewing the market on day two seems unfair and premature.  There are still workers hanging signs and plenty of uninhabited booths.  I wanted to meander on my day off rather than rush in for something on my evening commute.  I didn't have a shopping list and purposefully left my credit card at home.  I bumped into a sad little bunch of balloons on the way in, but then a nice construction worker opened doors for me - twice! - and I wasn't even wearing a dress.

I treated myself to a mini-cupcake from Sweet Miss Givings for breakfast.  It was a moist carrot cake - with lots of shredded carrots and raisins topped with cream cheese frosting.  The frosting was perfect, the way I like to make it, with a good amount of buttercream paired with the cream cheese.  All of the vendors were particularly helpful and talkative.  Some of the meat and fish offerings are on par with what you'd find in a regular local grocery chain, but the guys behind the counter offered to place orders for special requests.  There weren't very many good looking cut flowers, but the potted poinsettias cheered the place up a bit.

Because most people were already at work and the crowds had thinned, I got to hang out with some of the purveyors and discuss our first impressions of the market and their new customer base.  I'm slightly disappointed in the amount of locally grown food available - something I heard from a few vendors too.  Giant pyramids of watermelon aren't exactly in season.  Squash, beets, carrots, and potatoes are from Illinois and the Wisconsin Cheese Mart carries sheep, goat, and cow's milk cheeses all produced in Wisconsin.  I'm sure this will improve as the the season's change.  Sources are marked on most produce and a lot of it is organic. This isn't going to be a destination grocer, but it will handle a lot of commuter traffic and probably feed a lot of downtown workers lunch. I look forward to coming back, once all the vendors set up.

My entire lunch came from Pastoral.  I'm a big fan already, but having a small location on the way home from work will be nice.   I decided to eat like a french person today: a baguette with some cheese and olives, & maybe a spread of apple butter.

Total $21
small baguette
Moses Sleeper cheese, VT (camembert-esque)
Taleggio, Italy
French, Greek & Italian mixed olives
jar seedling apple butter

Just about every Chicago food resource has commented on, toured, and reviewed the market already.  The Kitchn has particularly beautiful photos. Time Out Chicago has been all over the coverage for months.  This was stuck in my head while I was perusing...Beouf/Soup du jour/Le Camembert/Jacque Cousteau/Baguette:


got me used to that clean white linen/and that fancy French cologne

After reading Ruth Reichl's defense of her refrigerator's contents, I feel compelled to justify my guilty food pleasures.  Reichl mostly blamed her husband for such pantry embarrassments as hot dogs and Campbell's tomato soup, but I will take responsibility for all the food in our house.  So what if I lose a little foodie street-cred?  Sometimes my ipod on random reveals the Dixie Chicks or Joni Mitchell nestled in amongst the Jenny Lewis and Elvis Costello.  I blush when that happens, but I should admit that I like some things that are tacky or classic or comforting despite the fact that they don't exactly mesh with my current aesthetic.  David Chang admitted on No Reservations that he loves Mcnuggets with sweet and sour sauce and Bourdain himself says he has a weak spot for KFC mac and cheese.  I use good olive oil, farmer eggs, and seasonal vegetables.  I have sriracha, pumpkin butter, and homemade pickles in the fridge door.  But I also crave Taco Bueno and sometimes buy bagged salad.

Hellman's Mayonnaise
I wouldn't eat the stuff on a sandwich.  In fact, I used to close my eyes when I used store-bought mayo in a recipe to pretend it wasn't there (yes, even as an adult).  Once I had the real deal, it was nearly impossible to justify having a jar of this crap in the fridge...but sometimes I'm lazy and want a chicken salad sandwich or deviled eggs and can't be bothered to make it from scratch.

Peanut Butter with hydrogenated oils
I hate stirring the oil at the top of all natural peanut butter.  I also hate that the last bit in the jar is inedible and dry.  I like my peanut butter creamy and terrible for my heart and arteries. 

Kozy Shack Rice Pudding
Besides "natural flavors", I can identify all of the ingredients in this product: rice, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla (er, vanilla flavor)...that means it isn't so bad or bad for me.  Michael Pollan says so.

Trader Joe's canned lentil soup
I have bags of dried lentils at the ready, and usually have mire poix in the crisper drawer, but dinner on the table in 2 minutes is hard to pass up.  I could eat this for lunch every weekday.  Last Winter, I did.

They are an eco-unfriendly indulgence.  Barbara Kingsolver's whole family makes me feel guilty for buying these.  But banana bread is delicious and I have to reconcile this with the fact that bananas will never be in season in Chicago. 

Tacos at Midnight Doritos
I impulsively and inexplicably bought a large bag at the marina during our camping/fishing excursion to Wisconsin.  I don't even really like Doritos.  I tried to act all snobby about the first few bites "wow...you can really taste the cumin" but it really does (as the AV Club pointed out) just taste like chips covered with a taco seasoning packet.  I still hoarded most of the bag for myself.

Melted Fast Food Cheese
My favorite part of any fast-food experience is scraping up the cheese that has melted onto the packaging and eating it with my fingers.  I admit this is gross and apologize to any of you who have been forced to witness this habit.  I find cheese waste to be unforgivable and will stop at nothing to save the last morsel.

I'm certainly not the only food-obsessive with bad food behavior.  Do you crave fast food even though you know better?  What are your guilty food pleasures?  What snacks do you hide in your office drawer?


everyday I write the book

I didn't write any such thing.  But Martha Bayne, of the Hideout's Soup and Bread fame, did.  She launched a kickstarter page and fundraising effort to print cookbooks commemorating the inaugural year's recipes.  If you remember, we were guest chefs...and we have a recipe included in the book.  We're published!  Buy one at the launch party Dec 9 at the Hideout or online here.  All proceeds benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  Mom, guess what you're getting for Christmas?