I had a stint this winter in Key Largo

When I left Key Largo in late January, it was 85 degrees and sunny. The people around me were sipping mojitos by the pool and working on their tans, or lounging around their boats. I filled my Fat Tuesday cup in Key West with unlimited piña coladas and partied with fun new friends in Miami nightclubs. Now that I’m back in Chicago, I spend my days wiping the snow off my car and trudging along icey pathways. The sky is gray and gloomy, the trees look like a stack of naked, dead sticks, and it’s not as much of an adventure being back in the same area you grew up. But I’m grateful–I have good reasons to stay for a little while, one of them being that Chicago is THE BEST foodie city in America! 

Key Largo’s food was superb, although Chicago has so much more variety. I mostly ate seafood in the Keys. I ate fresh lobster, oysters, dolphin (that would be a type of fish!), crab, scallops, south beach salads, conch, calamari, squid, oranges, coconuts, key lime pie, clams, mussels… excuse me, I’ve got to pause a minute, because just listing off the local foods of the keys is gettin’ me hot and bothered. I may or may not be heading in the direction of a foodgasm.

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Okay, I’m alright. I swear. Although I really should quit kidding myself and just admit that as much Chicago pride as I have, I do miss Florida and its savory seafood. Upcoming post: a restaurant review of Chicago’s eco-chic Prasino.

The Art of Being Still

An English professor by the name of Silas House wrote an opinion piece about writing in the New York Times entitled Art of Being Still. He begins by saying that most aspiring writers he knows “talk about writing more than they actually write.” He makes a list of what writers do instead: attend writing conferences, post Facebook statuses, get a bad case of creative block, etc. And then he talks about how what they should actually be doing is master the art of being still and just write. And then he uses himself as an example of someone who is always writing, even when he’s busy, he’s writing in his head; even when he’s doing every day tasks such as bicycling or grocery shopping. He ends with a piece of writing/life advice his old teacher told him (“discover something new every day”) and then addresses the reader by telling them he hopes they take his advice and get their mind focused to think like a writer.

This Silas dude sounded a bit self righteous to me, but it was funny because I was browsing the Times in the first place as a way to procrastinate on writing. So maybe he made a fair point. Just a thought.

The world is your oyster

It’s always odd to think that most seafood–oysters, clams, mussels, crabs, lobsters–used to be poor man’s food, especially considering how expensive a plate of it is today. Although, if you take a close look at most seafood, it’s not that weird. Lobsters and crabs looks like overgrown insects of the sea and oysters and look like rocks. As the late writer Jonathan Swift said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.”

I’d like to add the word hungry to Mr. Swift’s assertion. I believe he was a bold, hungry man that first ate an oyster. I imagine a homeless man named Clayton. He is a desperate, hallucinating hooligan with diseased skin sleeping on the docks and scavenging the piers for food thrown overboard by wealthy ship captains. One day, Clayton begs a pirate ship for some food and the pirates tell him to move his ugly, sorry ass out of the way. So he throws some rocks at the pirate ship in frustration only to discover that the rocks split in half and some slimy stuff comes out and he’s so hungry he just eats it, spitting the pearls out the way people spit out cherry pits.

Luckily, eating an oyster is not such a dire situation in our time. It’s expensive, but last week I discovered that Catch 35 in Naperville has a great happy hour for oysters! It’s from 4-6pm and all oysters are half off. I would recommend getting whichever ones are the smallest. The smallest oysters always have the most flavor. (As it is with vegetables; the smallest vegetables always taste better.)

Finally off the ILC!

The very first thing I did when I arrived home from the ILC (Island of Limited Cuisine) was sit at my mother’s kitchen counter and devour all of her home Thai cooking.

Thai food that Thai people eat at home is different from Thai food that is served in Thai restaurants in America. It’s not that what’s served in the restaurants isn’t authentic–there is such thing as pad thai and tom yum soup in Thailand and those are great dishes. It’s just that the standard Thai restaurant in the U.S. is typically lacking some fundamental Thai plates.

For example, some food my mom whipped up (please excuse the spelling–not sure how they translate some of these in English so I just wrote them phonetically):

Soam Thaam
A spicy, shredded papaya salad. Usually served with a side of pork rinds. (You read correctly. Pork rinds. I thought that was just my mom being weird but I recently found out that it’s actually a part of her culture!)

Nam Pick
A heavily spicy dipping sauce.

Pla Doak
A certain kind of catfish caught in Bangkok. It’s usually fried and served with Nam Pick and sticky rice. This catfish has some pretty distinctive looking whiskers. The meat is soft and white.

Pickled stuff
There is always a bunch of pickled stuff in Thai and Chinese cuisine, like pickled fish, or cucumbers, or anything really, but how often do you ever see that on a menu? More Americanized dished like crab rangoon and orange chicken usually dominate.

Thai fruit
Thai people are so skinny, and it’s probably because after dinner they eat fruit instead of sweets and they also consider bread a rarely consumed “cun-nom” (dessert). While they have bananas and tangerines just like we do, usually they eat a bunch of tropical fruit most of us have never even heard of, like mangosteen, durian, rambutan, lychee, etc. These fruit are pretty much never offered in Thai restaurants around the U.S., probably for the best. Importing those fruits would probably make our eco-footprint even heavier and bring in a bunch of fruit bugs. (Although I have seen frozen durian at Asian supermarkets.)

Anyway, I am not complaining by any means. I love my creamy crab rangoon and a good dose of orange chicken! I’m just noting the difference between the Thai food my mother cooks at home and the Thai food served in restaurants in Chicago. It’s fascinating!

The meat infatuation is over!

The other day, I was on the phone with my friend Saara talking about–you guessed it–food.

Saara is rather particular about her food. She has a sensitive digestive system and is lactose intolerant. Also, she is passionate about environmentalism and sustainable agriculture, so discussing good food is not so weird to do with her.

Saara told me about a wonderful, balanced, organic, romantic, tasty meal she shared with her boyfriend, and in turn, I lamented over the food I’m stuck eating on this island of limited cuisine. That’s what Mackinac Island should really be called: Island of Limited Cuisine. ILC for short.

I described to Saara a cheeseburger I ate that day at my work cafeteria. The meat was terribly process and overcooked and rubbery, as if someone had dunked the patty in a bucket of gray paint. I ate the entire burger out of hunger, but the rest of the day I spent feeling like I needed to puke it up, the same way I feel if I drink too much (which is like, one beer, as I am quite the light weight).

That burger was like poison in my body and I suddenly wished I knew how to make myself throw up, (more…)

“Suck on my antidisestablishmentarianism”

The title above is a line from Eminem’s “Almost Famous,” and I feel that that line alone makes Eminem a bad ass.

There’s an interview Eminem did with Anderson Cooper that I think I’ve watch now about five times. In it, he talks about growing up poor in Detroit, his music, and his family. He also rhymes the word orange with like six words, which makes him even more bad ass than he already is.

It is no secret that I think highly of Eminem. I love his words, his style, his intensity, his message, his face. I’d like to think of myself as a respectful fan–not the kind to hang photos of him on my wall as if he were a god or listen to his music every day non stop or write to his publicist begging to meet him or stalk him when he’s on tour or read about his break ups or daughter or whatever else crazy fanatics do. I’ve never even been to one of his concerts, since I’m not much of a concert goer. (Although if the opportunity arose I would not pass.)

I just like what I know about him. If I ever bumped into him I probably would leave him alone and not chase him for a picture. Maybe just a meek, “Thank you for your contribution to art.”

(This may sound like a dumb thing to say, but I don’t know what else I’d say. It’s similar to what I did when I met Obama while he was campaigning in 2008–I shook his hand and said, “Thank you for running for president” and that was it.)

My favorite part of the interview is when Anderson Coopers asks Eminem, “What do you want?” and Eminem replies, with no hesitation and in utter seriousness, “Respect.”

Foodgasm

A foodgasm is, by my definition (which, by the way, is the only definition since I am the one who coined the term foodgasm), an act or state of intense, pleasurable, satiable feeling in the body and soul as a direct result of eating something absolutely divine and delectable.

The other day I softly bit into a chocolate chip espresso flavored creme puff, allowing it to sit in my mouth a few seconds longer than necessary before swallowing. I moaned in delight and made my coworker stare. This was not some daft effort to draw attention to myself. I just can’t help it when I foodgasm!

Hello again!

This blog is (more like was) a forum for me to write about food, but as it goes with so many internet blogs, I abandoned it for quite some time. Almost a year!

I do not have an explanation. The only reason I could think of would be that I’ve gone through several personal changes since I last posted. Plus, my voice is drowned with millions of others on the web so I feel like I can come and go and no one really cares. It’s kind of nice that way.

Lately I have not been doing any cooking, which is kind of a sad thought. I work a ridiculous number of hours a week and I haven’t the time. It’s funny I say that because I actually don’t like it when people say they don’t have time for the things love because I firmly believe(d) that if you truly love something or someone, you’ll make the time. But I can’t help it; it’s the truth of the matter. A sixty hour work week means I’m too worn out to do make much more than an easy mac. My fridge is filled with to go containers of restaurant food. I have been eating to live, and not living to eat! Thankfully this is temporary.

My life update: I’m currently living on Mackinac Island, Michigan until the end of October and I can write a food review for this island in one sentence. Actually, just one word will do. That word would be (more…)

Chicago’s food cart dilemma

During the quiet, wee hours of the morning, a late night crowd often gathers and smokes just outside of The Owl bar in Logan Square. Amidst the cigarette fumes, beer breath, and chilly Chicago air, beholds an entity seldom seen in this city: a food cart.
The cart is white with a logo depicting a pig’s face with two X’s over the eyes and a fork and knife crisscrossed behind it. The words “Carnal Swine” are underneath the image. Hot steam rises from the cart and the scent of barbeque sauce permeates the air.
Behind the cart stands a bald, tattooed man who sells pulled pork sandwiches for five dollars. His name is Scotty, and he never grants interviews but agreed to talk to me after I explained that this blog has approximately three hits a month.
Scotty’s pulled pork has a strange, yet lovely mixture of spices, and is topped with sweet coleslaw made from a recipe his grandma gave him.
“There are twenty-three spices in Dr. Pepper and it mixes well in my food,” said Scotty.
Food carts aren’t exactly illegal in Chicago, but there are limitations. Food carts aren’t allowed out past 10 p.m. and never within 200 feet of a restaurant.
Scotty explained that there are several restaurants in the city who lobby against food carts because they don’t want the business competition.
In contrast with those lobbyists, there are some restaurants Chicago restaurants that take the side of the food carts because they have carts or trucks themselves. Among them are Lucky Star in Wicker Park and Bucktown’s popular Lillie Q’s, which has trucks out of use.
A few Chicago groups advocate for food carts to have more operating privileges. Most prominently, Chicago Food Carts is an organization with a mission to “start the mobile food revolution in Chicago that other great cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have had for decades.”
Next week, on July 25, the Chicago City Council will vote on a food truck ordinance introduced by Major Rahm Emanuel which proposed longer operational hours.
Scotty hopes this ordinance will pass.
“When food carts aren’t allowed so much, there’s just some thing missing in Chicago streets,” said Scotty.

All day meat roast is heaven on earth

From three in the afternoon til seven in the evening this past Saturday, there was a pot resting on my stove with the heat on low. In the pot there lay a piece of heaven on earth: a two pound hunk of beef simmering its own broth mix with some dark beer, some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onions, garlic and rosemary.

My mouth salivates at the mere memory of my dinner Saturday night. Slow roasted, tender, juicy, beef doused in titillating homemade beer-broth-onion-garlic sauce. Fluffy, buttery homemade garlic herb mash potatoes. Beef gravy. Swiss chard sauteed in olive oil, garlic and red wine.

A bespectacled, enthusiastic young cook at the Good Food Store recommended searing the meat just slightly before commencing the slow roast, to pocket in the moisture. That young man is now my god. Everything he told me I listened with the obedience of a devoted worshiper. Other tidbits of advice he gave me on meat roasts:

1. If you don’t have a crock pot (which I don’t) find a thick bottom pot and have the heat set to a simmering temperature.
2. Try a dark beer to soak your meat in, along with some start up broth. (The meat will juice up more of its own broth.)
3. Minimum four hours, can go up to eight.
4. Onions, garlic, herbs, a bay leave, butter… all good things.
5. Scraps the stuff on the sides of the pot every couple hours. It’s flavorful.

One of the best things about an all day meat roast is doing other activities, like say, watching a movie. (Today it was The Bodyguard for me.) You’re at a scene that fails to hold your attention and your mind wanders off to other things. Your to do list, your job, and then, suddenly, you remember. There is a giant chunk of meat roasting slowly on the stove, and at this very minute it is sweating out all of its beef juices, producing one of the most delectable flavors in the world. That thought comes to mind, you smile in excitement, and then you go back to trying to watch your movie, knowing that that by the evening, your food has been working and sweating for you all day long, finally ready for your teeth to bite into.