Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Farmers' market photo diary: my weekly haul in pictures

I showed up at Federal Plaza this Tuesday morning for what I thought was my last downtown, weekday Nichols stop until spring. Thursdays at Daley Plaza ended two weeks ago, but I was told by the Nichols fellas that they’d be at Federal on Tuesdays for two more weeks. My whole damn garrison believed in the legend of Hamunaptra the Federal Plaza market so much, I planned to march weighty root vegetables all the way from Adams to my office. But when I got there all I found was sand, and blood. (Really I just found a lot of unoccupied cement on a cold, dark pre-November morning.)
And so farmers’ market season is over. Yes, the Lincoln Park and 61st Street markets continue into the winter. But my easy, joyous Thursday mornings scoping Nichols produce at Daley Plaza have vanished like Brigadoon back into the misty Scottish hills, not to be seen or heard from for another hundred years. (Spoiler Alert!) Or until love breaks the curse. Or until May when they are scheduled to reopen.
I stood open-mouthed in the empty plaza this morning, empty market bags on my shoulder, tears in my eyes… from the especially sharp and biting wind... doing the only thing I could think of: mentally shuffling through the most appropriate songs from Taylor Swift’s new album. Stay Stay Stay? The Last Time. Everything Has Changed. Come Back, Be Here! And through my headphones I heard that my phone had done some shuffling of its own: it was The Moment I Knew. No longer a song about Jake Gyllenhaal jilting Taylor at her 21st birthday, leaving her crying in her red lipstick and party dress (I’m barely paraphrasing here, in case you were wondering), it was now a ballad of my own loss—my own vegetal heartbreak.

Through the dismay I turned to take in the vacant square. And it was like slow motion. Taylor feels my feelings: It would have felt like a million little shining stars had just aligned to see those white tents, those bins of just-dug potatoes. You said you’d be here. What do you do when the one who means the most to you is the one who didn’t show? I’m not sure. I just walked to work, imagining myself as the protagonist in the saddest music video of all time. Baggus dragging behind me. Flashbacks of my happy moments at the market this summer—holding big melons up to my face to smell, greeting the first Brussels sprouts with wide eyes and laughter—playing in the reflective surfaces and puddles I passed. You should have been there, and I would’ve been so happy.

Let’s look back now, and remember the good times—from the first bright green asparagus to the last knobby little parsnip.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pizza is in at Pleasant House Bakery

Guys. Please don’t be sick of this. But I NEED to talk about Pleasant House Bakery again. I know it seems like I’ve said everything that needs to be said about them: They ooze local, make me smile, and constantly improve delicious.  You know Friday night BYOB fish fry has become a standing appointment for us, where we unwind, welcome in the weekend, and fight over the best bites of banoffee pie. And it might be my favorite meal of the week, but it’s not what I want to talk about today.
This summer Pleasant House Bakery started making pizza. And they made it good.
Chicken, curry, cauliflower, cilantro, ripe grape tomatoes, mozzarella, and heavenly doughy crispy crust. I can’t even think of a way to describe how warm and balanced this pizza was. The flavors, textures, smells were stirring. It was a pizza that made me feel feelings. And almost made me doubt the “best pizza in town” slogan painted on gigio’s window. We ate it mostly in wide-eyed, eyebrow-raised silence, on the PHB’s picnic-benched patio in the slowly fading August dusk.
A few weeks ago, the PHB crew revived the pizza oven for a special event and Alex and I were so. there. This time, the pizza was different. Not a bright, festive, colorful showcase of summer’s harvest. This time, accompanied by a side of dreamy mussels in a salty, leeky broth, the pizza was topped with braised Slagel pork, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, béchamel, and Pleasant Farms arugula. If I didn’t believe in the importance of living, eating, feeling seasonality, this pizza juxtaposition would have converted me.
The wood-fired dough was just as we remembered, exceptionally browned and light—and made for excellent dipping in the mussel broth. And again the balance of flavors: sweetness from the onions, tender meaty richness, slight spice from the greens, and nutty cheese. Pizza that appeals to all of your senses. It was a dark, rainy night and this pizza had such a pleasant, October-y feel.
Without cinnamon, pumpkin, latte, apple, caramel, spice, it tasted right for October. It reminded me of the damp fallen leaves, sticking to bright orange gourds we’d seen a week earlier during our annual Michigan, kids’ birthdays, pumpkin patch run.  Maybe because it was pouring rain both times. Maybe because both the pizza and the pumpkin run fit the season like the gloves we should probably start looking for.
We got Maisie a pink polka dot dress for her birthday. I told her, “Polka dots are totally in.” “Totally,” she agreed. Then, in the car on the way to the farm, Luc—master cornfield spotter and the only six-year-old I’ve ever heard use the phrase, “That was fantastic!”—announced that we were, in fact, driving by a cornfield. Maisie looked out the rain-splotched window to confirm our brother’s pronouncement, and turned back to me with a smile.
“Corn is in,” she said. “Totally,” I agreed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One night in Milwaukee

One of our very generous wedding gifts was a night’s stay at the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee—specifically, “the horsing around” package that included a bottle of bubbly, couples massage, and complimentary breakfast “in the library.” Our registry was made up of “things to do” because of a general overwhelming sense that we have too many “things.” (A situation aggravated by the amount of gear Alex accumulated last month.)
So this Columbus day we headed north, enjoying the autumn scenery that made for picturesque drive through this Midwest we love so dearly.
Our first stop: Honey Pie Café. We left early enough on Sunday morning to make brunch in Milwaukee, choosing Honey Pie on account of their good standing as a supporter of local farms. Did you know that I’m into that stuff?
Alex decided to jump right into the Wisconsin spirit, starting his morning off with chicken-fried pork chops and sausage gravy with an over-easy egg, potatoes and toast, while I chose the lighter option of a ham, cheddar, egg sandwich on a buttermilk biscuit. Wisconsin knows how to make a meal without vegetables. We cleaned our plates.
Next, we headed to the Milwaukee Public Market. There were very few people out and about in the Cream City that morning—almost alarmingly so—and we were surprised to find every place we planned to visit was within 15 minutes of the next. Milwaukee is just a little guy!
The Public Market held a bounty of pastries, cheeses, and lobsters, and we picked up a few edible souvenirs like pretzels and mustard, a caramel apple covered in salty peanuts, and compulsory bottles of New Glarus, sold only in the Wisc.
Befitted with our snacks, we made our way over to the Lakefront Brewery (not actually on the Lakefront, turns out) for a tour, some samples, and some really great and unexpected ’90s jams. I’m talking TLC, Goo Goo Dolls, and Gin Blossoms. NICE. The tour costs $7, comes with four “six-ounce” pours (our cups were filled well over the six-ounce line), and includes a complimentary pint glass. Also: John, the tour guide, was hilarious, ensuring we all had a drink in hand at the start of the tour, and stopping the tour halfway at a minibar in the tank room for refills.
Plenty of disparaging Miller Light jokes later, Alex and I emerged from LB ready for our next adventure: riding a bicycle built for two along the Milwaukee lakefront.
Riding tandem is a little bit tricky—nothing to do with the beer, I am sure—but we worked it out and managed to find what Alex called “Milwaukee’s bike highway”—think Lower Wacker meets the lake path. Day drinking and biking, never gets old.
We rode down the lake, past the art museum, and into the Historic Third Ward, stopping at the delightful Home Market, a home goods boutique I’d read about, and buying an attractive half-sized casserole dish. I like to call it our Milwaukee-moon bowl.
After returning our bike, meeting a dog, heading to the hotel to check in, relaxing through our massages, and stopping for a drink (the Ginger Snap!) at the hotel bar, we ordered room service.
Cheeseburger with Nueske’s bacon (is there another kind worth eating?) for Alex, iceberg wedge salad and beer cheese soup garnished with popcorn for me. Who’s more Wisconsin now?
The morning found us in the library for waffles and eggs, then we hit the road, rounding out our trip with one last stop at a liquor store for hard-to-find Wisconsin brews—more New Glarus and a selection of the Lakefronts we’d sampled (including Wheat Monkey, Wisconsinite, and Cream City Pale Ale)—“souvi-beers,” if you will.
That’s how you spend one day in Milwaukee.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It can't all be wedding cake – but it is on your wedding day

You guys! Alex and I got married last month to celebrate our ten-year anniversary! High-school sweethearts, best friends, enrolling in the ultimate family plan.
And no one used the word “finally,” which, let’s be honest, would have really bothered me.
(Yeah, this post is a little late, but I felt reflective this evening making dinner and listening to snap caps fly around the living room. Married life.)
To quote Betsy Ray (another Midwest girl who wed her sweetheart on a September afternoon), “...all of the guests were relatives or old, old friends. There was something heartwarming, Betsy thought, about a small wedding like this where everyone knew and loved you.”

That’s just what we had. But with more fantastic food, beer, and dancing. (No offense to Betsy.)
Imma break down the highlights:
  • Wearing mom’s turquoise cuff, which I also wore to Mairead’s wedding back in the day, as my something borrowed, old, and blue. Ah, traditions.
  • Guests have reported that a homeless man who resides at the ceremony site joined us for the vows. Not entirely unexpected.
  • The food. We celebrated at Owen & Engine. Of I-really-like-it-there fame. It’s home to Alex’s and my favorite cheeseburger in town. And it feels like home, too. We had juicy, dripping burgers with sweet caramelized onions, crispy fish and chips—with a-mah-zing malt vinegar aioli—, roasted vegetables, salad, and warm, doughy pretzels with mustard beer sauce.
  • The booze. Sure, it technically “isn’t classy” for brides to be drunk. But I was only drunk when we left. So that’s probably all right. The drinks were delicious. Craft beers on tap, including Bell’s Amber and Revolution Oktoberfest. Red, white, and sparkling wine, read: bright, bubbly glasses of cava. And a signature cocktail of Pimm’s, Hendricks, lemon and, yes, more cava, made just for me? Try and keep me from that bar.
  • The cake. I decided at the last minute that I wanted to slice a cake. I wanted to make toppers. And I’ve never been so happy I ditched a load of cupcakes. We got thick stripes of salted caramel buttercream layered between dark chocolate crumb. Full disclosure: I ate three slices for breakfast the next morning.
  • The dancing. I’m pretty sure I’m the next Isadora Duncan—my dancing inspires people. Or maybe it was that open bar that was so important to us… nonetheless, we dance partied. 

I loved it. I loved every second of it.