The Art of Simple Conversation

Alice Waters is doing a good thing.  She’s been doing a good thing for a long time.  If you are unfamiliar with her work, you have been living under a food rock for nearly three decades.  Chef, author, food aficionado, and most notably famous for her restaurant in Berkeley California, Chez Panisse,  Alice Waters is largely responsible for bringing local, sustainable and organic food practices to the plates of American’s nationwide.   In the 1970′s a food revolution was happening in northern California.  Waters was paving the way along with Ruth Reichl- author,  critic and editor for both the The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, and the last editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.  She laid her roots in Berkeley California where she was co owner and chef of Swallow- an important establishment of the 1970′s food revolution which Alice Waters was pioneering.

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Ruth Reichl & Alice Waters

A few months ago, I had the honor of attending The Art of Simple Food: Alice Waters in Conversation with Ruth Reichl at the Art Institute- one of the host’s for The Chicago Humanities Festival where Waters was promoting her new book- The Art of Simple Food 2.   I owe this privileged experience to the good folks at Chicago Foodies who hooked me up with a media pass to cover the event.  CF does not like us to repeat our posts on personal blogs so for that reason, I will send you here  (although I will admit the intros are pretty similar).  However, I will tell you that this was one of the best foodie experiences I have had yet.  Being a big fan of Alice Waters for a long time and having read and cooked from many of her books, I was especially excited to attend.   I have also always been aware of Ruth Reichl’s important presence in the food writing world.  It was an evening where two masterful food philosophers spoke eloquently about food and food practices. I was hanging on every word.  Afterward, Waters signed a copy of her new book.  I asked her to dedicate it to Olive.  I also told her that as an emerging food writer, teacher, and new mother I appreciated being a part of the evening she hosted.  She grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously and  looked into my eyes as if to say she empathized with me.  She signed the book “With hopefulness, to Olive Julia”.

P1070735atH4dzxUovH9DJbjYSoi6xMUgFvUxyKttXCDZQCHwsZMIpPvpKmOLquUG6bX3MNEmCILEDfeyo0YpZPlQM8E3m01cNoY1Pb9W-nXyBkFUcBkhPdxvhSYHX4R_nGXfuqWUjSHERy1awB4ZPA9Aw67=s0-d-e1-ftOn the way home, I took an Uber car.  The driver was from Pakistan.  We talked about food practices in Pakistan versus America, spiritual butchering rituals, goat’s meat, where to eat Pakistani food, and gyros (his favorite food since moving to America).  Our conversation was an easy one to have.  Anyone will talk about food.  It’s a good opener.  It’s what needs to happen in order for our food world to change.  More conversations about where our food comes from and how it is made.  Until then, talk to the people around you.  Ask them what they make for dinner, where they buy or grow their food, or start by listening.  See the video below:

A Visit with Purple Door Ice Cream

P1070562 My earliest memories of eating ice cream are with Bubby, sitting at the kitchen table in our one bedroom, third floor walk up in West Rogers Park.   Chocolate was her favorite flavor evident by her all too often stained house coats and pockets plump with tissue.  Deliberately she would place each spoonful of ice cream into her mouth as she closed her eyes and swallowed.  When the bowl was close to being finished, Bubby would etch the spoon around the bowl as it collected the very last bits of melted chocolate ice cream.  She wasted nothing and savored every mouthful.

During those years, our apartment where we lived with Bubby would often become chaotic and if there were any quiet at all, it usually drifted into the back of the apartment, into our kitchen. There we would sit, among the burnt orange teapots dotting the wallpaper, the lamp above the table whose painted stars we lit for Papa Jack on night’s like his birthday, among the towels which draped from cabinet handles, and the canned fruits and vegetables strategically placed so her blindness would not stop her from knowing what was in her own pantry.   It was there where we sat and munched and slurped and scooped, licked our fingers and wiped ourselves clean.  The simplicity of those moments has never been lost on me, and  with the winter in Chicago being so brutal coupled with working long days and not seeing my Olive as often as I’d like, I have found great joy in the simple moments myself, always highly aware and savoring every moment.

When I was invited by Lauren and Steve Schultz of Purple Door Ice Cream to visit their new build-out, set to open in mid-March, I was thrilled.  I had first heard of their ice cream on an episode of Wisconsin Foodies.  At that time they were working out of Clock Shadow Creamery, a cheese purveyor  down the street.  Now, with their grand opening around the corner, Lauren and her husband Steve are expanding the team at Purple Door Ice Cream to include a part-time ice cream maker.  “Up until now it was me and Steve making every batch by hand.”  When I asked Lauren about the inspiration behind her store, she said “It had been a dream of mine since middle school.”   It was that same imagination and tenacity that helped bring Lauren’s dream to fruition. What sets Purple Door apart from other ice creams is the simplicity and boldness of its flavor.  Using local ingredients and hand crafting every batch, Purple Door Ice Cream keeps its taste simple, its texture rich, and does not disappoint in flavor.  “We have eleven base flavors, but we hand swirl all of our mix-ins.  We want to keep the integrity of the ice cream.”   The fourteen percent butterfat uses milk and cream from Wisconsin dairy farms while their quality ingredients are carefully selected from local artisans including Anodyne coffee beans, Rishi tea leaves, chocolate and even liqueurs to name a few.   “Sourcing locally provides a lot of inspiration”, Lauren tell us as she pulls pints for Matt and I to sample.  With the expansion of their store, Purple Door Ice Cream will also branch out into local restaurants and stores in Wisconsin and the Chicagoland area including Whole Foods, Mariano’s and Southport Grocery.

Chicago has seen dreary weather for many months now, and although I find myself longing for the sun’s affection, I try to acknowledge the small moments that are my own bit of sunlight; Olive’s infectious smile in the morning, Matt’s grasp as he helps me hurdle the snow, tastes of rich ice cream on a blustery February afternoon.  Our visit to Purple Door Ice Cream reminded me that summer isn’t so far away, and in the meantime I have much to celebrate.  For Lauren and Steve, they are growing their company while staying close to their Midwestern roots.  For Bubby, she celebrated hugs from me and my sister and bowls of chocolate ice cream.  Former Olympic runner and noted author, Don Kardong once said “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.”  Lauren’s invitation (and the many, indulgent helpings of ice cream) helped bring light to this forever winter, evoking memories with Bubby, who in a time of uncertainty and confusion was always my forever light. 2060_771183305330_3658_n

Chicken Thighs with Parsnip Puree

I literally have no food in the house.  We are talking bare bones.  A few lingering carrots, a random bag of parsnips, and the only saving grace  – a few chicken thighs in the freezer.  With little to nothing but a bit of intuition, a beautiful combination of flavors emerged that nurtured our spirit and made for a very satisfying dinner.  I rarely swoon over my own dishes, but with this I had no shame.  I swooned the shit of this dish.  I highly encourage all of you to make this on a cold night, when you feel like you could use a little extra warmth at the end of a very long day.

Ingredients:

Serves 2-3

1 lb Chicken Thighs

Salt/ freshly ground pepper

1-1.5lb chicken thighs

1/4 cup or so chopped onion

Capers

2-3 cloves crushed garlic

Sweet paprika

Smoked salt

Fresh thyme

Chicken broth

2 Bay Leaves

4 large parsnips

¼ cup or so heavy cream

Fresh thyme

Salt

1-2 crushed cloves of garlic

Instructions:

Rinse, pat dry and salt and pepper chicken thighs.  Place in pan- I prefer my dutch oven- brown chicken thighs on both sides.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add olive oil to dutch oven and saute onions until they begin to sweat, add in capers and stir about, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the dutch oven and finally adding the crushed garlic, mix about.   Add chicken back to pan along with sweet paprika and smoked salt.  You will notice I did not include specific measurements in the recipe because I simply did not keep track.  Just do what feels right for you.  Stir about, coating the chicken in the onion/caper mix.  Lastly, add thyme.  Pour chicken stock over chicken thighs, just covering them. Cover and simmer 45 minutes.

For parsnips, fill a large pot with salted water and two bay leaves, bring to a boil.   Add in four parsnips, peeled.  Cook until tender.  Remove parsnips from water and place in food processor.  Add 1/4 cup or so of cream, or 1-2tbl butter, whatever fat you like, fresh thyme, salt and 1-2 crushed cloves of garlic.  Process until smooth.

Sit chicken in the parsnip puree, top with stock from the pan.  Enjoy.

Decadent Comfort Food for the Winter

I LOVE CHRISTMAS.   I love the pagenatry, the romantacism, the sparkle, the anticipation, I love it all.  There is an undeniable spirit that I find irresistably delightful.  This year, our tree was full and bright, adordned with  ornaments- each year adding a new one to our collection; keepsakes of our budding family.  1499426_10151786641901331_1470693544_nThis being our first Christmas with our darling Olive, I wanted to make the holiday extra special.  I had planned on cooking for both Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day breakfast.  I wanted the food to be decadent and rich, something that could warm our bellies and hearts.  For Christmas Eve dinner I turned to Alice Waters.  Her cookbooks are full of simple and elegant recipes and use whole ingredients that are easy to prepare.  Everything is equally satisfying and tasteful.    Her slow cooked pork shoulder is easily one of my most favorite things I have ever made.  To accompany the salty and fatty pork, I roasted brussel sprouts alongside sweet potatoes of which I drizzled honey and dusted with cinnamon and curry powder.  I included a parsnip and thyme puree which added an interesting textural and aromatic component .  For dessert, a lemon blackberry cheesecake.  It was my first cheesecake, It was really good.

Cheesecake Batter

Cheesecake Batter

Christmas Day, I made grilled brie sandwiches layered with roasted strawberries and dark chocolate.  I credit this find to Jessica at How Sweet It Is.  For this treat, simply toss halved strawberries in olive oil and lay a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast for 20 mins at 350 degrees- toss halfway through roasting.  In the meantime, butter two slices of good grilling bread like sourdough, or maybe try experimenting with challah or brioche- on the outside.  Layer one side with brie, broken pieces of dark chocolate (I used dark chocolate with coffee) and top with roasted strawberries.  Grill in pan until outside is golden and the inside begins to melt.  Use a fork and knife.

Grilled Brie Sandwiches with Roasted Strawberries and Dark Chocolate

Grilled Brie Sandwiches with Roasted Strawberries and Dark Chocolate

But really, this post is all about the star of the show-  Alice Water’s Long-Cooked Pork Shoulder from her Chez Panissee Cafe Cookbook.  This is a go-to, no-brainer recipe that always steals the show at every dinner.  The longer cooking time allows the fat on top to render making the most perfectly crisp top that melts like butter in your mouth and helps keep the meat tender and moist.  It is pure pork heaven.

Ingredients: 1 bone-in pork shoulder about 4 lbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

Chopped sage

Instructions:

Alice Waters recommends having your butcher tie the meat to the bone.  Keeping the meat close to the bone greatly enhances the flavor.

Liberally season the meat with the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and sage the day before.  Wrap and place pork shoulder in the fridge.

The next day, bring the pork shoulder to room temp.  Waters recommends roasting the pork in an earthenware baking dish at 4oo degrees for two hours and twenty minutes.  After two hours, baste the pork with the rendered fat.  Let the meat rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Pork Belly and Chickpea Chili- A Comeback Story

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I am not sure I have ever made chili but maybe once in my life…probably because I really do not like beans and therefore stay away from chili.  This weekend, however,  I found myself not only making chili but also tasting lots of it after my friend Amy asked me to help with her first ever annual chili cook-off for charity.  Her idea was to invite folks who would decide if they wanted to be chili makers or chili tasters, and in addition raise funds for The Greater Chicago Food Depository, a charity that provides thousands of meals to people in the Chicagoland area everyday.    Cook-off and charity sounded like a no-brainer at first, but to be honest I was not sure I would be able to participate.  Being swamped at work with a variety of agendas I wasn’t sure how I could make another commitment.  Beginning to struggle back and forth about whether or not I could commit, I realized something very important which has catapulted a new attitude for me about the year ahead.  Sounds heavy, doesn’t it?  I mean, I get it.  When did chili become so profound?  But what this cook-off gave me was the opportunity to choose between stressing over whether or not this would fit into my schedule or embracing the commitment and trusting there would be time because food and event planning are things I love to do — things I want to be doing always and more of — so the decision to do this cook-off wasn’t just about “Could I?” it was about seeing an opportunity and embracing it.

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Here is what I mean when I say “an exploration into a richer life” because you never know what may come of something and it can’t be wrong if it is something you truly love.  So when the world said, “Here — here is something that you love to do”,  I did it, and the reward was amazing.  Unfortunately, my pork belly, chickpea chili did not win (I mean, it was pretty awesome and got the praises of the TND crew- so, definite personal win), but regardless the whole day was really brilliant.  Everything seemed to flow right.  It was a day full of good food, good beer, good people, everyone down to be down.  I met some wonderful people at the cook-off and visited with more friends late into the evening over wine, little bites, and fulfilling conversation about art, theatre, food, travel….gah- I love stuff like this.  At the end of the night, while looking back at the happy mess of empty glasses among leftover cheese rinds and bits of mustard and relishes left strewn about, I scoffed at the fact that I had even considered not doing the cook-off.   I saw how the commitment paid off in evolving friendships and laughter coupled with ideas and stories that went on in my head long after everyone had gone home.  I had decided in that moment that this year is going to be a great year.  It is going to be my year, and with this post I re-claim my title as food (and sometimes travel) blogger, and am excited about what’s in the works, which includes a visit to Purple Door Ice Cream in Milwaukee and a sit down with my new fave gal pal and outstanding food stylist- Johanna Lowe of Martyn George.  In the meantime, here is my pork belly, chickpea chili recipe especially for you my dear Chicago friends.  This is sure to unearth you from the cold and warm your bellies and your hearts.  Unless you don’t like pork belly, but then you’re probably not reading my blog anyway.P1070362

RECIPE

*This recipe is from The New Best Recipe Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen.  This is my go to cookbook for solid, standard recipes.  Great if you are not an expert chef, and useful if you need a base from which you can add personal touches.  I adapted their Beef Chili with Kidney Beans recipe just a bit by adding more or less spices here and there, and exchanging the beef for ground pork belly and the beans for chickpeas.  Make a night or two ahead if you can.  Chili is always best when it has had some time to rest.

ingredients

2tbl veg or corn oil

2 med onions finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 in cubes

6 garlic cloves, pressed

1/4 Adobo Chili powder

1 tbl freshly ground cumin

2 tsp freshly ground coriander

1-2 tbl red pepper flakes

1 tsp Herbs de Provence (original recipe calls for dried oregano)

1/2tsp cayenne pepper

2 lbs ground pork belly (ask your butcher to grind the meat for you if you do not have a meat grinder at home)

2 15 oz cans of garbanzo beans (rinsed)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can tomato puree

salt

lime wedges for serving

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onions, bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, Herbs de Provence, cayenne, and cook — stirring occasionally until the onion and pepper are softened and browning — approx 10 mins.  Increase the heat to med-high, add half of the pork belly, cook for 3 or 4 minutes breaking the meat up as you mix, then add the other half of the pork.  Stir for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, bring to a boil then bring back down to a simmer and cook covered for one hour.  In the second hour, take the lid off but continue to simmer for 6o minutes.  Once it has simmered, take off of the heat and adjust seasoning.  If making a day or two in advance, let the chili cool to room temp before putting it in the fridge.  If serving right away, squeeze in a half to whole lime and mix throughout.

 

Part Six: Burgundy

I am having trouble sleeping.  And in a fit, I tumbled out of  bed about 10 minutes ago, desperate for a hunk of bread smothered in creamy butter and dolloped with jam.  I guzzled it down with soda water and then beckoned Lola away from the yellow roses sitting in water on the windowsill lit by  amber street lamps along Wilson.  She’s eating the roses. I am no one to comment.  At this point, I would eat those too.

It may be the dead middle of night and although I have crumbs strewn about- all over me and all over the counter where I savagely pulled the bread apart and nearly slam-dunked it into the countertop butter- it is this type of fare ( and certainly not the way it was eaten) that reminds me of many meals across France last summer.  I have often asked myself why I have not finished my six part series about our travels as I have sadly neglected our favorite destination,  Burgundy.  I would love to say it was difficult to end the series because we were so very fond of our time there or that by writing this post I would be summoning a closure to the part of our lives that is just the two of us before we embarked on our growing family.  The truth is- I got lazy and as the months went on, Burgundy became more of a beautiful passing memory instead of something I could relinquish in words and images.  That was until tonight when this hunk of buttery and sweet goodness- for some reason or another -flooded my memory and filled my heart with the sights and tastes of Burgundy.

North to Burgundy

North to Burgundy

We left Cannes and I drove most of the way from the South of France north to Burgundy.  Tumbling in sunburnt and punch-drunk from our stay on the coast, I was immediately set at ease by the lush green hills rolling on  and into the sky from the highway, one folding into the other.   The air was cooler and easier to breathe.   It was clear from the onset that Burgundy was going to be the right way to end our travels- so much so that we cancelled our hotel in Paris and extended our stay in Burgundy by one night requiring us to drive in the middle of the night to make it to Charles De Gaulle for our flight home.   I turned to Matt to share in the moment only to find his head lobbying back and forth only to be interrupted by his mouth catching itself agape only to close and open again as he rocked back and forth with the motion of our car.  He needed sleep.  Burgundy had settled him into a listless nap.  We were in the right place. P1040767 We stayed in Beaune, a small town recommended by Matt’s boss, a professor at the university who has lived in France for many years.  Beaune is the epicenter of wine in Burgundy and some say the wine destination.  It is an ancient city, dating back to pre-Roman times, marked by medieval architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and business is officially and certifiably the growing and producing of wine.  Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the grapes most grown in the region, but you can also find Gamay and Aligote-  two of the more rustic varietals to their before mentioned big brother and sister.  Beaujolais and Chablis can also be found as they are technically part of the Burgundy region and south of Chablis is the Cote D’ Or where the Grand Cru vineyards reside.  This is just the tip of discovering Burgundy through wine.  There are regions upon regions based on terroir, soil, tradition and land.  We did our fair share of wine tasting, visiting caves(those are wine cellars to us) in the town center and moving on to Pommard.  We met an amazing wine maker who taught us traditional village songs and talked us through maps, bottles, and tastings that expanded our knowledge of the region and connected us to the people who are responsible for the beauty that is Burgundy. P1040762 P1040792 P1040801 In the center of Beaune, we stumbled upon what became one of our very favorite restaurants on our entire trip.  We did not follow much of the Lonely Planet suggestions for restaurants because I find them typically limiting and often unfullfilling no matter where we travel, however Beaune is small and we were quite hunrgy upon arrival and a quick go to was helpful.  We found ourselves at Le Bistro Bourguignon;  a quaint bistro filled with a mish mosh of eclectic and whimsical art work, exposed brick, and an advertised jazz night on the front door.  Friendly, warm, and serious about their food and wine.  Very serious- as we came to discover Burgundy’s focus is entirely about exquisite yet homestyle cooking accompanied by beautiful and approachable wine.   We ordered traditional dishes- beef bourgoginone and chicken in cream sauce with mushrooms.  Wine was recommended by the restaurant’s owner, Virgile whose family has operated the bistro for several years- in fact Le Bistro Bourguignon is the oldest wine bar in Burgundy.  The food, the wine, and the company were unpretentious and solid.  We loved it so much that we ate at the bistro the following night knowing  full well that this would be our last dinner in France.  We shared apertifs and chatted with Virgile at the bar, ordered Charolais beef burgers smothered in local Dijon mustard, and ate slowly and passionately savoring every fatty, mouth-watering piece – with a knife and fork of course.   By the end of dinner, Virgile was like an old friend to us.  He was even gracious enough to tape a Butter&Yolk business card to the bar…B&Y business card posted in the oldest wine bar in Burgundy? Win. And Virgile, if you are reading this, we cannot wait to visit again soon.  Thank you for making our last evenings in Beaune- and in Europe- truly remarkable.

Le Bistro Bourguignon

Le Bistro Bourguignon

Beef bourguignon

Beef bourguignon

Utter satisfaction after macaroons with yuza and fig and nougat glace

Utter satisfaction after macaroons with yuza and fig and nougat glace

Burgers at the bar

Burgers at the bar

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B&Y card in the bar!

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We filled the rest of our time in Beaune in a daydreamy state as we were ending a long journey that started in Amsterdam and brought us all the way from the chaos of Parisian streets to the humble cobblestone paths of Beaune.  As we moved together, hand in hand, we lingered in and out of local boutiques and bakeries sampling pate sandwiches, giant slabs of meringue, soft cheeses, and more wine of course.  We bought dark chocolate ice cream bars and sat in front of the town carousel.  We drank sexy wines in our budget hotel late into the night and looked forward to heading home yet marveled in our accomplishments in Europe.  For Matt and I, this was an important trip for it marked an adventure that him and I were taking on together.  We threw ourselves into unfamiliar situations in unfamiliar places only to more fully appreciate and discover our ever-growing love for each other.  It was- without a doubt- time to come home and try to bring life to a new soul that would symbolize our love for each other and be an integral part of the next adventures to come.  Indeed, we did just that.  And we welcome her nearly a year after our return from Europe.  Stay tuned for our newest adventure, Baby T, arriving this summer.  Until then, au revoir.

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