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Category: Experiences

What I Love This Week: Schwa (Part I)

The last few weeks of work have been hard. Back-to-back deadlines have meant I’ve had to do late nights and weekends, which means cancelling on friends, missing social events, and moving plans. This, coupled with my propensity for anxiety, has meant the past few weeks were straight up brutal.

I’ve always been an anxious person. About three years ago, a particularly blunt and honest friend told me — just a few weeks into our friendship — that I probably had an anxiety problem. In many ways, it serves me well. I have never missed an assignment, am able to get passionate about almost anything I’m working on, and learn very quickly. However, it also causes me to get nervous and snippy when, say, my brother is running late to brunch and the server won’t seat our massive party until everyone is present. (Hypothetically speaking…) It also can lead me to be short-tempered or impatient, and this behavior is what I have been specifically trying to nip in the bud. However, when things seem to be piling up, or my life feels off-balance, I can start to feel overwhelmed and deeply unhappy. This, I’m sure, tends to happen to everyone. But non-anxious people seem to be better at letting something fall by the wayside and avoid feeling crushed by the pressure to perform.

So, anyway, that gives you a bit of insight into my mental health on the third week of seemingly non-stop deadlines and late nights amid the crushing backdrop of the realization that what I currently do for work is likely not what I want to make my career. Before you sigh “Millennial,” hear me out. I love working. I imagine myself always working a lot. However, I imagine myself doing it in a profession I love so dearly, that it is not my job, but rather an extension of my life. I’m still figuring out what that profession is, and in the meantime, I love the job I have right now, which is, all things considered, an amazing gig: I’m compensated nicely, I am empowered to take on a meaningful role, I get to freely communicate with my “superiors” and benefit from their experience, advice, and leadership styles, and I have an office full of peers who are constantly making me a better person through constructive criticism or by good example. However — here comes the anxiety again — every so often I find myself lamenting my youth that feels like it is slipping away and the experiences that I am missing all for a career I don’t want. Obviously, this is terribly dramatic. But, that’s how I felt towards the beginning of last week.

Amid this crazy work schedule, PIF scheduled a surprise birthday dinner for me, and, after being pushed a week due to deadline chaos, was rescheduled for Tuesday, July 26th. Somehow, despite a report due that Friday, the stars aligned (actually, shout out to Alexis who made those stars align), and I was skipping towards the 22 bus by 6 PM, meaning I had more than 2 hours to get ready for dinner.

And when I say ready, I mean mentally and emotionally ready, because although PIF had tried to keep a secret (he never can), I knew where we were going that evening.

We were going to Schwa.

My knowledge of Schwa was that shit could very well go down. The chef, Michael Carlson, was unpredictable, prone to cancelling the night of a reservation, and that the whole staff often got drunk throughout service. (Like the enablers we are, we still planned to bring some bourbon for the kitchen.) However, up until this point PIF had had enough conversation with Carlson that made it clear cancellation was unlikely and that the restaurant was a little more predictable these days, though you still get a reservation by calling the restaurant during the week and hoping you get through. PIF never gives me enough detail when he retells interactions, but I imagine these conversations went like this:

Early July

PIF: *ring ring ring*
Carlson: Hello, Burger King, may I take your order?
PIF: Uh, I’m looking for Schwa?
Carlson: This is Burger King, do you want a burger or what?
PIF: Uh, no, uh, I’m looking for Schwa…
Carlson: Yeah, dude, this is Schwa.
PIF: Oh, *nervous laugh* great! Do you have anything in a few weeks?
Carlson: Sure, how about Tuesday July 19th?
PIF: Oooh, perfect, cause Anthony Bourdain says Tuesday are the best days to eat at restaurants.
Carlson: My restaurant is good every day.
PIF: *Laughs*

They discuss wine and he tells PIF to bring champagne, a non-oaky Pinot Noir, or a white Burgundy.

After my deadline is shifted

PIF: *ring ring ring*
Carlson: Hello?
PIF: Hi, uh, I have a reservation for July 19th, but something came up…could I move it a week?
Carlson: Your girlfriend is making you change it, isn’t she?
PIF: Yep.
Carlson: Sure, come the following Tuesday, 8:30 PM.

Afternoon of July 26th

PIF: Phone rings and he sees it’s Schwa.
PIF, thinking it’s Carlson cancelling: Hello?
Carlson: Hey, man, you still coming tonight? (Oh, the irony that I am now so flaky that the most flaky chef needs to make sure we aren’t flaking.)
PIF: Yep!
Carlson: Cool, see you then.
PIF, remembering that I told him we may need to bring wine glasses since I read they don’t carry it: Oh, also, should we bring stemware?
Carlson: Nah, man, we got you.
PIF: Okay, cool, ’cause we read online…
Carlson: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Though PIF and Carlson were BFFs by now, little old anxious me was having heart palpitations as I got dressed. I wanted to look cool, but not snooty. How was I going to act? I’m obviously a food geek, and this wasn’t Alinea where you have to fake it til you make it even though you can’t afford the wine pairing and you’re trying to convince them you’re still as high society as the foreign dignitaries sitting two tables over and getting a special menu. How do I exude coolness without seeming like a total douchebag, anyway? I eventually opted to just put on a comfy dress that covers any tummy bulge and flat sandals, cause nothing would be worse than tripping in heels in a tightly packed 800-something square foot restaurant.

PIF arrived at my apartment with two bottles specially picked by Melissa at WineHouse — a real champagne, of which only a few bottles are made each year, and a light Pinot Noir — as well as 750 mLs of Buffalo Trace (his fave affordable bourbon) for the chefs. And after a quick costume change on my end, we were out the door.

To be continued…

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What I Love This Week: Ritual

You know what they say, time is money.

Well, time is not money — it’s invaluable. And whereas the time I spend commuting can sometimes be put to better uses, like reading the newspaper, the time I spend waiting in line I often just spend small talking and anxiously counting the people in front of me. Considering the amount of time I’m willing to wait (and how often I do wait) for good food, this is a bit of an issue. Luckily, I recently discovered Ritual, an app that essentially let’s you cut the line by planning ahead. And you won’t even get the stink eye.

Simply download the app, fill out your profile, and order! The app will tell you when to leave your location to pick up your food or beverage and when you get there, simply walk right up to the counter, grab, and go. It’s that simple, and you’ll save minutes every order. Which adds to hours…which adds to days.

What’s more is you can even save money through Ritual discounts and promotions. Even get started with $5 off by using promo code RACHAEL2190 or going to http://invite.ritual.co/RACHAEL2190.

And, as always, let me know your thoughts!

Disclaimer: I do get a kickback when you use my personal promo code. However, I only vouch for products I truly love. Regardless of whether or not you use my code, Ritual is a great way to save time and money at your normal spots.

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What I Love This Week: The Doodle at Doodle’s Doughnuts

3X Doodle

Per the suggestion of a (female) coworker, I’ve recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Sandberg, she is the current COO of Facebook and the previous Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. As such, Ms. Sandberg is one of the few female executives of a Fortune 500 company and has made it her mission to speak out about what needs to change in the business world in order to better accommodate female leaders, as well as what women can do to be successful within the current system.

As soon as I began reading Lean In I began to notice my own failures to lean in. Meanwhile, my male peers appeared to have no issues leaning in hard.

The first realization that I had conformed – at least in part – to gender norms was a slap in the face. During our weekly meeting, a managing director with whom I work rather closely announced that he had a new case but was very busy and was looking for an analyst to take the lead on it. Obviously, it was a great opportunity. I immediately began thinking of excuses for why I shouldn’t volunteer: he would have just asked me if he wanted me to do it, I have a lot of work on my plate, I don’t have the quantitative skills. While I was hesitating, a less experienced male analyst who had never worked with the managing director before walked right up and said he’d love to help.

Shit, I immediately thought. This is exactly what Sheryl was talking about. 

Before that point, part of me had thought while reading that I don’t exhibit the typical behaviors of the working woman. After all, I’m highly confident and work in a female-heavy office, which makes it easier to speak up and be involved. And yet, here I was, sitting like a lame duck while my male counterpart walked right up and grabbed the metaphorical trophy. At that moment, Lean In became my manifesto.

I immediately began thinking of excuses for why I shouldn’t volunteer.

Despite critic feedback to the contrary, I don’t think Ms. Sandberg’s advice is limited to a single type of woman, namely the working woman. I don’t even think it’s even solely directed to women. As the daughter of a kickass stay-at-home mom who touts the importance of finding a partner as opposed to a rich/handsome/cool husband, I appreciated Ms. Sandberg’s commentary on how men and husbands can support women and wives, and, perhaps more importantly, how women can support other women. All too often, I’ve witnessed or experieIMG_9430nced women failing to support – or worse – deliberately trying to sabotage other women. This can happen within the workplace, but it also happens when stay-at-home moms throw shade on career moms and vice versa. Or when women who choose not to have children are criticized for their decision. Women are much more powerful as a whole than as individuals or subgroups and we should all be supporting each other as we make it increasingly possible for more women to pursue whatever will be most fulfilling for that individual and encouraging each other to do so. Men have been doing this all this time. When one woman sacrifices her gender for her own individual gain, she sets the entirety of the group back and therefore injures her own success. It’s a vicious cycle that I believe we are now in a position to break.

So to get the ball rolling, I wanted to use this week’s What I Love This Week to give props to a woman who pursued her dream and started a business that is doing something totally unique while simultaneously serving a demographic that has, perhaps inadvertently, been shut out of the market. Dana Lanier, a long-time doughnut maker in her own home, founded Doodle’s Doughnuts to help spread the love her IMG_9442home state of California has for Mom and Pop doughnut shops. Unlike all the other doughnut shops in Chicago, Doodle’s does not mimic Harry Potter’s bedroom-under-the-stairs aesthetic. Instead, it’s in a large two-floor space with lots of light, seating, and colors that make it easier to navigate strollers and hold play-dates. It’s also the only doughnut shop located in Old Town (sorry, Dunkin’, you don’t count).

Doodle’s signature doughnut, The Doodle, is a Bismark doughnut that’s filled with your choice of vanilla or chocolate cream and covered with pure white icing. Each Doodle comes with a mini piping bag of icing in your choice of color, with the option to purchase more colors if you’re really feeling like Picasso. Besides being fun to decorate, The Doodle (I had chocolate-filled and can’t speak on the vanilla-filled) was beautifully moist with a perfect filling-to-dough ratio.

Doodle’s sells a variety of donuts in addition to Doodle, including the Samoa doughnut, which I would not recommend over either The Doodle or the maple bacon doughnut. Want them to hold the doughnut? Not a problem — Doodle’s also sells strips of honey Sriracha, candied, or standard bacon.

However, the combination of being unique, fun, and delicious makes The Doodle my must-try for the week. And, as with all doughnuts, make sure to get it nice and early so you get them a peak freshness.

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Madison & Rayne Promo Code!

Hey, everyone! It’s no secret that I love Madison & Rayne, a Chicago-based business that does the meal prep for you and delivers the ingredients right to your door. I first fell in love when I won a food photo contest and got to try a week of free meals, which you can read all about here. I’ve been using it ever since and am consistently impressed by the quality of the ingredients and creativity and variety of the dishes.

As a total food snob who works a lot but loves to cook, Madison & Rayne has allowed me to eat out less, but get higher quality, home-cooked meals. In fact, I attribute learning how to select better cuts of fish and cook them perfect entirely to M & R. I cannot rave about it enough.

You don’t have to take my word for it, because now you can try it yourself at a reduced cost! Use promo code RN30 at check out and get $30 off! 

Disclaimer: I pride myself on recommending only what I find to be truly the best — this is not a paid advertisement. PIF & I get three meals delivered each week, which we pay for in their entirety. 

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What I Love This Week: Sepia

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This What I Love is a bit overdue. However, I assure you that finals and the nice weather — rather than a lack of enthusiasm about this restaurant — have distracted me from just sitting down and typing this up.

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The cheese plate

As I may have mentioned previously, I work in the Loop five days a week. That means five days a week I’m eating lunch (and occasionally dinner) in the Loop. Because of this, I spend a significant amount of time researching the best places to grab a bite during my lunch break.

The other day, PIF suggested we try Sepia. We’d passed it a million times before, but we’d never made it in. It happened to be a light work day for us both so we decided to meet there for lunch at 12:30.

After a few back and forths, we found the door and headed in. The space — a refurbished 1890s print shop — is both beautiful and cool. Every last detail has been planned to a T, including the bread “plates” that are wood planks with a carved out space for the butter knife.

We sat in the front bar space. Since it was a sunny day, I wanted to soak up the sunlight through the window. However, the back room is so gorgeous, I highly suggest visitors choose to sit back there if you can. The server brought us bread which was warm and shaped like a bare tree branch. We gobbled it up and ordered the cheese plate, sunchoke soup, pumpkin cappelletti, and potato gnocchi. All were amazing, but the sunchoke soup with charred sweet onions and apples was truly a standout.

sunchoke
A sunchoke.
(Source: www.theproduceguide.com)

The gnocchi was absolutely perfectly pillowy and the short rib ragu that accompanied it was deliciously rich and salty. The pumpkin cappalletti, which were more sweet and delicate, paired perfectly with its heavier counterpart. All of the cheeses were unique and interesting, but it was the one dish we could have done without had I not been craving cheese so badly. We finished our meal by sharing their cookies, which are made fresh every morning. I’m not even a peanut butter fan, and yet my favorite one was their peanut butter and jelly-esque bar.

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PIF and I both agreed it was one of the best lunches we have ever had. In fact, PIF ended up going back later that week for their Happy Hour, which he reported was amazing as well. Amid the repetitive and half-assed lunches that litter the Loop, Sepia is fresh, thoughtful, and delicious.

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Sepia
West Loop, Chicago

Best for: Business lunch, lunch with parents, when you can take a longer lunch break, Happy Hour, dinner dates*
Price:
 $$ to $$$, depending. For lunch, you can get away with appetizers.

*Based on our intuition and to be tested soon

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Review of Madison & Rayne

A few months ago, a picture of one of my favorite recipes won me a free week of Madison & Rayne meals.1 The New Year brought a lot of changes for me that even further limited my available free time, so this timing could not have been more perfect.

For those unfamiliar with Madison & Rayne, it’s a meal order service that comes only partially prepared. So you order by Saturday, and on Tuesday a little green bag arrives that is perfect for reusing when grocery shopping on your non-Madison & Rayne days. Then, the meal only takes minutes to make and you get to eat fresh, delicious food that’s likely better than whatever you would (or could) whip up in that time.

madisonandrayne

Along with the ingredients, Madison and Rayne sends a detailed recipe card that walks you step-by-step how you can make the perfect dish, including how to organize your work bench (much appreciated, since one of my biggest cooking flaws is starting to cook before laying everything out).

ingredients

For our first meal, both PIF and I got roasted salmon with chipotle squash & coconut soup, black eyed peas, and broccoli. I was immediately impressed by the quality of the fish. Seriously, look at that thick, fatty salmon.

Normally, PIF is the chef de fish, but I wanted to take shot at it. And, voila:

mealone

mealonecloseup
Look at that crunch

Meal number two, we decide to mix it up. Since PIF is allergic to shrimp and I don’t (usually) eat meat, I got lemon oregano shrimp orzo and PIF got pork posole soup, which officially marked the first and only time I’ve ever cooked meat for PIF.

posole

posolecloseup

shrimp

Because the first salmon dish was so amazing, we decided to go back to a salmon dish for our next meal. This time it was pan roasted salmon, avocado & pumpernickel panzanella, kale salsa verde.

salmonpanzanella
With all the energy saved on prep, I got to try my hand at plating. K, I’ll keep working on it…

Overall, my impression of Madison & Rayne was nothing but positive. It enabled me to eat gourmet, healthy, and delicious food even when I didn’t have time to run to the store or to tired to spend an hour cooking. I looked forward to seeing what was inside that little green bag and I even learned transferable skills. I most definitely would use Madison & Rayne again even if I had to pay for it, and in fact, probably will, likely under their chef tasting program, which you can customize and costs $14 per serving. And honestly, the quality is such that it’s better than what you’ll get pre-made for the same price and, if you like cooking, there’s some value-added from that aspect as well.

In summary, I was majorly impressed by the quality, convenience, and flavors of Madison & Rayne and highly recommend it for those who enjoy cooking but don’t always have the time to do it from scratch.

For $30 off your first order, check out this post!

 

1. Thanks, ChiataGlance for recommending I enter and for Chicago Food Whores for throwing the contest and selecting me! Check them out at www.chiataglance.com and www.chicagofoodwhores.com.

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Green City Market Haul 1/9/2016

Every Saturday I can, I grab my canvas bag with a kidney on it and head into Lincoln Park – the actual park, not the neighborhood – to the Green City Market. If you live in Chicago – especially in Old Town, Lincoln Park, or Lakeview – and have not yet done the same, you’ve been missing out on some of the best produce, meat, and dairy available within the city.

Every Saturday throughout the year, Green City Market comes into fruition. During the summer months, local farmers pitch tents in Lincoln Park, right across from Hotel Lincoln. In the winter, they pile into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Needless to say, this is something I look forward to each and every week. And despite having gone a dozen or so times now, I’m still discovering all the great food available here. So, I thought I’d take a page from the book of all my sister’s favorite YouTube make up artists and do a “haul.”

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…IMG_7137
from left to right

Kinnikinnick Farms
Eggs
$6.00 for a dozen

1871
Whole Milk 
$7 for a 1/2 gallon, plus a $2 deposit for the jug

Bushel & Peck’s
Jams (Raspberry Habanero, Hedgerow, and Chipotle Cherry)
$8 each for RH & CC, $7 for Hedgerow

River Valley Ranch
Crimini Mushrooms
$12.50 for 2 baskets (I think ~2 lbs…I eat a lot of mushrooms)

For those who have been, share your favorite goodies. For those you haven’t, do the same once you try it out next Saturday. And don’t forget to bring a dollar for coffee while you roam around!IMG_7150Green City Market is currently in session from 8 am to 1 pm on Saturdays in the Peggy Notebaert Museum.

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When I ate at…Arbor (Chicago)

After ogling at their Instagram for weeks, PIF and I finally made a reservation for Arbor, located in what used to be an underwear factory in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

When I say we made a reservation, I don’t mean we called and talked to the host, told him or her we wanted a reservation for two on Friday night at 7:30, then hung up and showed up at 7:30 on Friday night. Arbor does it completely differently. When PIF called one day to see if we could get a reservation for later that night, he was given the phone number of the chef and told to text him. So he did.

Via text message, Chad Little – the chef and owner of Arbor along with Leonard Hollander – explained to PIF how Arbor’s entirely unique Midwestern Omakase worked. Only available on Thursday and Friday nights, Arbor crafts a 3-, 5-, or 7- course dinner tailored to your tastes and past experiences. Because they were fresh on our mind, PIF told Chad about the unique and delicious hamachi pipettes and amazing oxtail dish we had in Austin, Texas (and, incidentally, were part of a recent blog post, which you can read here). He also told Chad the intimacies of our food life, for example, how I am an “opportunistic” pescatarian, “who won’t say no if you put a nice piece of pork belly in front of her.

The day of our reservation, we still had no idea what to expect. We were literally squirming with excitement as we rolled up to The Green Exchange,  a repurposed and multi-functional space that was lively that Friday night. Smack dab in the center of the second floor, enclosed in glass walls with exposed ceilings and an assortment of tables to fit every seating preference, was Arbor.

We walked in and in the slightly awed confusion of newbies tried to figure out what to do next. The restaurant, which also functions as a cafe by day, was dark aside from the light from the hallways diffusing softly through the glass. Small parties engaged in intimate conversation were scattered around at the tables, which ranged from high tops to two tops to benches. Over at the bar, obvious regulars were sipping on beers and cocktails comfortably while chatting with the bartender.

As we stood there taking it all in and grinning like idiots, a handsome man-bun donning fellow approached us and, in an accented voice of ambiguous origin, asked where we’d like to sit. Being a sucker for cushioned seating areas and an even bigger sucker for nooks, I asked if we could take one of the little couched private booths.

“Of course!” he responded and proceed to grab the closest table and carry it over to the little nook, which I had failed to notice was table-less. That turned out to be one of the least accommodating gestures we received that night.

Alyosha, whose accent turned out to be Moldovan, immediately poured us a glass of a prosecco-like wine, which we sipped on as we gushed about our first impressions. A few minutes later, one of the chefs appeared and delicately placed in front of us a colorful board, complete with cheeses, house-made bread, house marinated olives, picked onions and cauliflower, dried grapes, cherry compote, and honey from Arbor’s hives, complete with the comb. I couldn’t help but exclaim that that honeycomb was one of PIF’s absolute favorite foods.

Every single part of the plate was delicious, so much so that PIF ended up eating one of my slices bread. (Yes, I saw that.) We savored each and every bit individually before seeing who could come up with the best combination. When we finished, the chef who had been delivering a course to a nearby table removed our plate before Alyosha returned with a new wine. During this pour, the fact we were celebrating the fact that PIF had recently received his H-1B visa came up and he and

Alyosha bonded over being resident aliens. By the time our next course arrived, the three of us were knee deep in an intellectual discussion on the history of world political movements.

Course number two was a beet carpaccio topped with an apple and mixed greens salad and accompanied with housemade granola, sunflower butter, and fine vinegar, an interesting combination that perfectly combined the five tastes.

After that was the moon fish ceviche with pineapple, red onion, and sunflower sprouts. Don’t know what a moon fish is? Neither did we. Luckily, Alyosha came in with the assist. Moon fish is round and flat (kind of like…a moon…) with a vibrant pink color and a deep fishy flavor kind of similar to tuna. Because of this, it was a heavier ceviche than those I have had with white fish, which was good considering it happened to be the first snow of the season.

Next, Leonard brought out tagliatelle with apples, beef cheek, and a soft boiled hen’s egg, inspired, he explained, by his trip to Italy. The pasta was just imperfect enough to make clear it was housemade. The soft, sweet, and slightly tart apples – an ingredient I have never before had on pasta of any kind – balanced the rich beef cheek, reminiscent of the ox tail from Austin’s Vox Table. The egg, which was so beautifully boiled that I couldn’t stop to snap a picture after cutting it open, was seriously one of the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot of eggs) and added an extra bit of moisture to the dish such that no sauce was needed.

Between dishes, while PIF ran off to the bathroom for the third time (we were doing the wine pairing but…come on), Alyosha stopped by holding a bottle. “Do you like vodka?” he asked. “Oh, yeah,” I responded, which elicited laughs from the couple nearby, who were somehow related to one of the kitchen staff.

Alyosha set down two “eyeball” glasses and showed me what was in the bottle – St. George’s green chili infused vodka. When PIF, making the short now-familiar commute back from the bathroom, caught sight that Alyosha was holding something new (remember, glass walls), he ran over, eliciting more laughs from the couple. Alyosha poured us two glasses and told us to sip it. Spicy, but relatively gentle, I immediately wanted to mix it with strawberry into a nice summer cocktail. But that’s a topic of another post.

 Besides, the vodka was all but forgotten upon the arrival of the dessert. Leonard began to describe the small cake, made with butter, sugar, and flour, before PIF burst, “what is that?” and pointed to the bright magenta frozen dessert that lit up the plate. It was beet gelato, which was creamy, tart, and true to the ingredient that gave it its brilliant color, which proved to be the star of the meal. Also gracing the plate was a subtle icing, crunchy housemade granola, and a golden gooseberry. Paired with a sparkling dessert wine, it was an all around perfect way to end the night.

You may remember that there are few things PIF loves more than honeycomb. After dessert, Chad came out and told us he was going to bring us some to taste and we were so excited to get to extend our stay at Arbor a little longer. Shortly thereafter, he returned with a plate dotted with an array of golden to dark red puddles of honey (and some little chunks of “bee bread”) each labeled by hand along the rim. Chad pulled up a chair and walked us through each one – honeys from various seasons, years, and states of processing from Arbor’s own hives, inexplicably dark and chunky honey from the South Side of Chicago, bright orange sea buckthorn- and quince-infused honeys from Latvia, and propolis honey. With little spoons, PIF and I indulged in each one, comparing flavor, sweetness, and texture and gaining a greater appreciation for the diversity and complexities of honey with each bite.

Eating at Arbor is kind of like eating a gourmet meal at the home of a close friend, assuming that friend also has a garden with 60 varieties of herbs, fruits, and vegetables at his or her disposal and happens to have studied the art of plating. Apart from the food, the meal was perfectly paced, with plenty of space between us and the next guess, and no sense of being rushed. It was comfortable to chat with the staff about anything from the plate put in front of you to world politics, a nice contrast from the normal divide between diner and waiter. All around, Arbor presents exactly what I look when I go out to eat – a chance to experience and learn something new, to feel a sense of togetherness, and to live entirely in the moment. And for that, we can’t wait to go back.

Read more about Arbor and Chad and Leonard’s vision by going to www.arborprojects.com.

 

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Empellón Fiesta at The Aviary!

I’m not sure how many people have been told they need to work on their “hair game” by Nick Kokonas, but PIF and I are two of them.

A few Mondays ago, we attended the Chicago release party of Alex Stupak, chef and owner of the Empellóns in New York City, and Jordana Rothman’s new cookbook Tacos: Recipes and Provocations.  This was our first soirée into the world of Chicago’s Food Elite. We spent the night eating and drinking well over the worth of our tickets in tacos and mezcal and got to have conversations with Chefs Alex Stupak, Jenner Tomaska (Next), and Grant Achatz (Alinea), and, obviously, Nick Kokonas (co-owner and co-founder of Alinea and founder of Tock).

Overall, the night was incredibly eye opening. The people we talked to, aided no doubt by the mezcal, were blunt and honest; the crowd was elegant and gave off an air of importance that was contagious; and the food – guacamole with uni, lamb barbacoa tacos, and char roe pico de gallo – was incredible. I was at once captivated, intimidated, and excited. We happened to run into a friend of mine from college who is an aspiring chef and was (smartly) taking advantage of his ticket and treating the event as a job fair. Flanked on both sides by extreme extroverts, I was encouraged to introduce myself to as many people as I had time for in between servings and, as such, I got to shake the hand of every industry influencer there that I had learning about for months.

Later, as I reflected on the evening, I realized that the night had left me with more unanswered – or perhaps unanswerable – questions. None of these brilliant and influential people perfectly embodied exactly what I wanted to be doing in the food realm. Today, I’m still very unsure of my place (if I have one at all), other than that of a voracious eater, enthralled hobbyist, and self-proclaimed critic. If I had to choose, I’d say I fall somewhere between a Jordana and a Nick. While I love to learn, brainstorm, and create, I am simply not a chef. But I am inquisitive, creative, and fully enchanted by this industry that is centered around creating goods that last mere seconds or minutes, experiences that last hours, memories that last a lifetime, and ideas that are both eternal and eternally evolving.

However, there is at least one thing I learned definitively that evening and it is that fresh tortillas taste infinitely better than store bought ones. And, just as importantly, they are extremely easy and fast to make at home. Making tortillas is already a super cheap process, but here is my even cheaper, I-Live-Alone take on Alex Stupak’s recipe.

Corn Tortillas

Adapted from Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman’s Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 2 tortillas

Ingredients:
1/4 cup masa harina
water
gallon sized Ziplock bag

1. Mix 1/4 cup masa harina with 1/8 cup water in a bowl and mix with hands and roll into a ball. Keep adding water in small increments until you can press the ball without cracks forming in the dough. (I find I generally have to add quite a bit more water.)

2. Once you get it to a good consistency, make two equal sized balls from the one big ball and cover with a wet cloth (This is what Stupak recommends, but I place the ball back into the bowl, which should have a bit of water on the bottom, and cover with a cutting board). I find my tortillas turn out better when I let them sit for 20-30 mins after mixing, so I typically leave it while I prepare the insides.

3. Place one skillet over medium-high heat and another over low-medium heat.

4. Tear the freezer bag along the edges so it is just a large, plastic rectangle.

5. If you don’t have a tortilla press, I had pretty good results pressing the dough between two cookie sheets with heavy books piled on top. To set up your “press,” place one rimmed baking sheet face down, place the open Ziplock bag on the baking sheet, and go get a bunch of heavy books.

6. When you’re almost ready to serve, take a ball and press between your fingers so it’s slightly flat on either side.

7. Place the ball on one side of the Ziplock bag and fold the other half of the plastic bag over the ball.

8. Press the bottom of the other cookie sheet on top of ball and place heavy books on top. Press down until tortilla is desired thickness. Tortilla should be around 5 inches in diameter. Too thin, and it will be impossible to peel off in one piece. Too thick, and it just won’t taste as good.

9. Carefully peel off one side of the Ziplock bag. Place hand over tortilla and slowly peel off other side of the Ziplock bag.

10. Carefully flop tortilla onto the low-medium skillet. (Stupak actually recommends sliding the tortilla onto the skillet but this takes some mastering.)

11. After 15 seconds, use spatula to flip the tortilla over and onto the medium-high skillet for 30 seconds. Flip over, still on medium-high skillet, for 10 seconds. Repeat this one more time. Then move tortilla to a plate and repeat with the other tortilla. (You can make this a more streamlined process by having the other tortilla pressed and between the plastic baggy, ready to go as soon as the first tortilla is done. If you’re cooking with multiple people, have a sous chef press the tortilla while you cook man the stove or vice versa.)

12. Prepare to be blown away.

Enjoy!
 

 

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Austin City Limits 2015

It literally took me a full week to mentally digest, reassess, and prepare this post about our trip to Austin, Texas for Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL).

If there’s one thing PIF and I love nearly as much as food, it’s music, and Weekend 2 of ACL could not have been more perfectly designed for us. I survived high school in part by listening to Modest Mouse and meanwhile, PIF has been listening to one of his favorite artists, Deadmau5, for 10 years (I know, lots of mice up in here — my dad has already made that joke).

Both Modest Mouse and Deadmau5 were playing during Weekend 2, and, if it couldn’t get any more perfect, Modest Mouse was the set right before Deadmau5 on the exact same stage. We’d never seen Modest Mouse together, but when PIF and I saw Deadmau5 together for the first time nearly a year ago, it was a night that *cliche alert* changed our lives — or at least our relationship (though I suppose they are one in the same). Deadmau5 was also doing an after-show, and we had gotten tickets to that so we’d be able to see his DJ set in a smaller venue. For these reasons alone, plus the chance to eat all we could in a new and fabulous food city, this was set to be a really special weekend.

Austin far exceeded our expectations.

When we reluctantly had to return home, we left agreeing that the best thing about Austin is that the food scene is so wonderfully creative. And I’m not just talking about the high-end, Michelin-starred, famously avant garde restaurants. Even the most affordable little cafes — nay, even the food stalls at the festival — were doing things we had never seen before.

Here are some of the highlights:

// Vox Table //

Smoked Hamachi Pipettes
 

As tasty as they are pretty and interesting – You slide all the speared goodies off with your teeth and then shoot the sauce inside the pipette into your mouth. 

Braised Akaushi Oxtail
We couldn’t resist – oxtail isn’t something you come by often. And this oxtail was so perfectly cooked, it literally melted in your mouth. And the little potato pillows were fantastic as well. 

 

// Odd Duck //

Raisin toast, pork belly, pb&j, fried egg, blue cheese, tomato jam
 

 

This dish shouldn’t work. But it does. Oh, but it does. PIF and I ate in stunned silence. Buttery pork belly with all the other fixings – this dish was gluttony incarnated. And yet, because it was somehow perfectly balanced, it was surprisingly light.
 
Hot & Crunchy – Avocado
Photo via Instagram by @thesimplesol
 
Everywhere we looked people were carrying tortilla-wrapped fried goodness stuck inside a cone cup that looks like something you pull from a water cooler. We finally got ourselves one and immediately regretted not getting these at the fest all weekend. Huge chunks of fried avocado, topped with all sorts of goodies, wrapped in a beautifully fresh tortilla and stuck in a paper cone that allows eaters to keep their hands clean! Brilliant! 
(Side note: The Mighty Cone is the reason I developed a cardinal rule of music festivals — only buy food from stalls that have a food truck. Why? They know how to either prepare food in a small space or know how to prep food that had to be transported.)

Chile Spiked Watermelon 
Photo via Instagram by @acleats
 
It was f*ing hot, we were probably dehydrated, and since we hadn’t yet discovered The Mighty Cone, we didn’t want to risk spending $10 on a shitty taco and the lines for smoothies and ice cream were about 100 people long. And that’s when I saw him. A man carrying a giant wedge of watermelon, covered in a deep red powder, walking away from a stall with a line only a few people long. We walked triumphantly past the hoards waiting for ice cream, because just from the smell of it, we knew this was going to be good. At it was. The only pit fall? Big hunks of juicy watermelon covered in red dust is really, really messy. Which is why I’ve adapted it to this much more white-shirt-friendly version:

 

Chile Spiked Watermelon (clean version)

Ingredients 
(per 2 cups watermelon)
 
watermelon
zest & juice from 1/4 of a lime
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
(less if you’re weak — just kidding. But 1/8 tsp will be pretty hot & spicy)
1/8 tsp salt
a few pinches of pepper
mint (optional)

Instructions
  1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Grind together lime zest, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon, until it’s a uniform dust.
  3. In a large ziplock bag, add watermelon and lime juice. Shake it up.
  4. In small batches, add dust and shake bag after each addition so that chunks get evenly coated. Repeat until all the dust has been added and watermelon cubes are evenly coated.
  5. Place in refrigerator and allow to sit for 30-60 mins. (This will allow the juices to soak in and the cooler watermelon is more refreshing, in my opinion. However, if you don’t want to wait, by all means go ahead and eat! It’s still very tasty.)
  6. (optional) Top with chopped mint.
  7. Serve!

 
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