food things, this and that

A visit to the Chicago French Market

The other day while out running errands, I wound up at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, which is the Metra hub downtown. I ran my errand, ate some lunch, and headed back toward the station. Along the way, I noticed signs for “Chicago French Market.” Color me intrigued.

Inside I found, not French food (which is what I expected), but a full local market, complete with produce, meat and cheese, little food vendors and, yes, even some macaroons.

They had a seafood counter that reminded me of the famous one in Seattle (though of course much smaller), and little areas with gorgeous chocolates.

There was, after some wandering, a good group of other little shops selling flowers and small trinkets, and international/gourmet dry goods, which I enjoyed pouring over.

All in all it was a very neat place and I’m glad I discovered it. If you want a quick bite with multiple options available, or if you’ve got a little time to spend at the Metra station, you should check it out.

food things

Happy Doughnut Day 2015!

Beavers Donuts, mini doughnutsToday is National Doughnut Day in the US, one of our multitudinous holidays celebrating things that are random about mostly involve food. Not ones to pass up an opportunity for a good doughnut, though, we happily participated at a new-found gem: Beavers Donuts + Coffee in the French Market in downtown Chicago. We got a variety to try: from left to right, the June special (Oreo cream), cinnamon, and powdered sugar. So, so good. No-one does mini doughnuts like they do in the midwest. I have to give them credit for that.

food things, Two for Tuesday, wildlife watching

Tuesday Twos

I enjoyed telling you two little stories about the previous week last Tuesday so thought I’d do it again this week.

The first is less a story and more a general thing but I have finally decided to not let the cold win and I’m fighting back by wearing clothes I like (under the heavy coat as needed, of course) and cooking the foods I miss from other places I’ve lived. This includes chilequiles (which are an amazing egg and tortilla dish).Joanna cooks chilequiles

So I clearly picked that one up in California (well, Mexico originally), but then there’s a taste I miss from Hawaii. I can occasionally find this in markets and street fairs, but it’s always made with pork, which I don’t eat. This week I reached the point where I finally decided to try making it at home: (turkey) spam musubi.

Joanna cooks spam musubi

I need to marinade a little longer next time I think, but overall it was good. And I cut up a fresh pineapple to have with it and made a cheapy mai tai out of pog (pineapple orange guava) juice and pretended I was back on the island.

My last recipe isn’t one at all: I found a local Filipino market that sells banana lumpia (among many other tasty things) and Oishi ube pillows, which are my favorite ever Filipino snack. Seriously.

banana lumpia and oishi pillows

So I’ve been fighting the cold with food from warm and sunny and beautiful places and I think it’s helping. I can’t eat the junk all the time, of course, so there will need to be modifications to some (though the chilequiles I made with egg whites and lots of peppers and onion), but it feels good to have tastes I love again.

Now for story time.

Yesterday, J had the day off of work so we went down to the park that runs along the edge of Lake Michigan. It’s only about a mile and a half from where we live, so in warmer weather it’ll make a nice walk, but yesterday was, y’know, still in January, so we drove. We walked along the beach and found some lovely trees and had a really nice time and after about an hour and a half, we decided to head back to the car.

Along the way, we passed the entrance to a section of trail marked as a bird and wildlife preserve, and I stopped to look at some chubby squirrels, all bulked up for the winter, and the fluffy sparrows sitting above them.

chubby squirrel, winter in chicago

As I paused, an older man walked up and started tossing bird seed onto the ground. He smiled at me so I smiled back, and he continued up the trail. I watched the birds and squirrels hop around gathering the seeds a while, then decided to head along the bird trail just for a couple of minutes to see where it went. (J is a very patient guy.)

man feeding birds, winter in chicago

The older man came back down the trail and pointed to the top of the little rise behind him. “There’s a cardinal!” So we went up the rise to look. He came behind us, and when we got there, he walked right down to the bushes, whistling at all the birds, and tossing seed for them. He had a separate packet of different seed. “Special, for the cardinal.”

cardinal in snow, winter in chicago

There on the snow, a single bright red bird landed. He was surrounded by other birds, mostly brown sparrows, but his red feathers shone so brightly it was no wonder we were all watching him. “The sparrows, they’re greedy and eat everything!” the man said. He shook his head and walked away.

sparrow, winter in chicago

We watched the birds for several more minutes before heading back to the car. The man was long gone. I wonder if he comes every day in the winter to feed the birds, and if he’s got a whole list of them he looks for when he’s there. I wonder how long he’s been coming to the park. And I wonder what it will look like in spring when it’s not covered in snow and ice and mud. I’m ready to find out about spring.

cardinal on branches, winter in chicago

food things

Cupcakes for One: revisited!

cupcake with frosting

So if you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago I made a batch of cupcakes and then froze (almost) all of them to see how well they’d hold up in long-term storage, as such. I remember our frozen wedding cake being extremely edible (though all of the frosting shlumped off like a wet towel… which didn’t make it taste bad, so still a win in my book) and I decided to test out individual cupcakes. My recipe for just six is nice, but I can’t (or shouldn’t) eat all six in one sitting, so it’d be nice if I found an effective way to make a dozen and then have them for weeks without them going bad.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have occasionally had a cupcake. There are four left, and I intend to save them another week or so, but I thought I’d share my preliminary findings, for what they are worth to you, gentle reader, in your own quest for CUPCAKE.

cupcake, unwrapped!

Now, I am aware that these aren’t the very best photos of cupcakes EVER, but that’s because I peeled the wrapper partway off before I remembered to photograph it. That’s why they look a little lopsided. I assure you that they came out of the freezer in perfect, unfrosted condition. WAIT. I still have FOUR in the freezer!

cupcake, plain

There you go. That’s what they look like when they come out of the freezer. I take one out as I sit down to dinner, along with the cup of frosting I’ve got in the fridge, and let it come to room temperature. Then I put “fresh” frosting on the cupcake and voilà!


Cupcake BIG BITE

It’s a very successful way to have a cupcake handy when I really need one. Sometimes you just need a cupcake, y’know?

food things

An evening with Extraordinary Desserts

Extraordinary Desserts, cake case

The other night, a friend and I decided to try a new-to-us place called Extraordinary Desserts. The location we visited is only about a mile and a half from my house, and it was incredible. This is the same-day cake counter. They do wedding cakes and catering and the like, but they also have a huge walk-up dessert counter, plus a large selection of teas and coffees.

Extraordinary Desserts, with tea

The line took about 25 minutes, from the time we joined it to the time we sat at our table, but then our tea and desserts came out almost immediately. Considering the fact that it was Friday night, the wait wasn’t bad at all. And wow was it worth the wait. We ordered a roobios chai tea to split, and a raspberry tart (not my order so I don’t remember exactly what it was) that tasted amazing. And then I had my bread pudding.

Extraordinary Desserts, bread pudding

The bread pudding was one of the specials and just beautiful. I hadn’t ordered ice cream with it (so glad, it’d be too rich with it, I think) but that scoop on the side? That’s the real deal, homemade whipped cream. SO GOOD. The bread pudding is made with chocolate croissants and very light, all things considered. I couldn’t finish it by a mile, so I brought the vast majority of it home. This will definitely warrant a return trip.

food things

Cupcakes for one?

Rainbow cupcake

I like cupcakes.

When I have a long day, or when I want a small treat, or when I feel like baking, cupcakes almost always fit the bill. The problem is that most recipes yield two dozen of the things, and there is only one of me and I neither need nor want to eat twenty-four cupcakes all at once.

1/12/2012 completed cupcakes

I’ve tried a few things. I even have a recipe that makes only six cupcakes, from scratch! But they are only good when they are super fresh, so even then I end up with at least a couple that aren’t the best. So here’s what I’m thinking.

Cake freezes well.

Frosting can be made in small batches, and even store-bought frosting can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

SO I baked a dozen cupcakes,
did not frost them,
and put them in the FREEZER after they’d cooled about twenty minutes.

My thought is that they will last a WHILE…

…and then all I have to do is thaw one at a time, put on fresh frosting, and have

cupcakes with elephant sprinkles


food things, Travel

Taste of Hillcrest

Last Saturday, J and I set out to explore a new-to-us (but within walking distance of our house) part of San Diego. Namely, we got tickets to the Taste of Hillcrest event, with over fifty vendors (mostly area restaurants) offering bite-size portions of their food along a walking route of a couple of miles. The event was four hours long, of which we managed about two and a half before getting completely full (maybe we shouldn’t have gone to all of the rize-serving-places in a row…) but we finished most of the loop nonetheless and then enjoyed the walk back home.

Having about 30 samples of foods and beverages might sound overwhelming, and to an extent it was, but I collected business cards of the places I especially liked, plus a handful of them stand out in my memory. So here I offer my favorite “meal” in four tastes.

Appetizer: 100 Wines
When we saw 100 Wines on the list, we assumed a wine taste, but when we walked past them, we discovered they were serving pizza and lamb meatballs. While I didn’t try the lamb (J assures me it was very good), the pizza was some of the best I think I’ve ever had. Seriously. It had the perfect crispiness to the crust, the sauce wasn’t overpowering, and the cheese was lovely. I fully intend to go back and order an entire pizza from them sometime very soon.

Beverage: Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale
I’m not much of a beer drinker, but there were some local craft breweries participating in the event, and this was the one I liked best. The beer itself is an English style pale ale and was served very cold, which was perfect on that hot afternoon. It didn’t leave a heavy aftertaste and was very crisp.

Main: Origano
Origano was on the southern-most loop of the walk, and also a bit of a surprise. They were serving pasta, and I was already feeling the effects of a couple of tastes involving rice (seriously, the Indian and Thai places were all beside each other on the walking map) so I wasn’t especially hungry, but the pasta was so good I finished it. They serve handmade pasta and their sauces aren’t your “traditional” marinara. I wish I’d written down the name of the pasta we tried, though I’m sure if we go for dinner, they will point me in the right direction.

Dessert: Babycakes
There weren’t many dessert places on the list, and while I really like Fiji Yogurt and the bakery place had pretty good brownies, Babycakes was a very nice surprise. Their sample was a tiny cupcake with their buttercream frosting. I’m not normally a buttercream person, but this frosting was light, fluffy, and wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. They had a nice area for seating, and a full cafe menu that I want to go back and try.

All of these places (or drink, in the case of Firestone) were new to us, and we plan on going back for table service sometime soon. To me, that’s the real test of a place, though I have to admit that it was quite a feat for each restaurant to get over 1000 sample-size bites to taste that good. Nothing tasted like it had been sitting out, and a couple of times we had to wait while the next small batch finished cooking. It was a great way to try a wide variety of local places and to get out and walk around the area on a beautiful afternoon. We’ll definitely go back next year.

food things, geek life

Butterbeer at Home

Hogsmeade, Butterbeer mirror

Recently J and I discovered something kind of amazing, and I wanted to share it with you, gentle reader.

Hogwarts Hogsmeade Harry Potter

A few years ago, Hogsmeade opened for touring to the Muggle population, in an outreach effort and demonstration of goodwill to the non-magical community. Until recent times, the only place a wizard (or visiting Muggle) could purchase butterbeer was in Hogsmeade, which, as I’m sure you know, (after all, you’re reading this) is the only all-magical village in Britain.

Hogsmeade, butterbeer at Three Broomsticks

The ever-popular butterbeer drink has always been a favorite at the Three Broomsticks pub, and can also be found at the Hog’s Head nearby. Muggles seem to like it both chilled (as a soda) and frozen, and the fluffy, magical topping is delightful. The only problem is that the drink is so very good and yet not available anywhere else, that after a visit one might have a sense of sadness that it might be years before the next pint, or that sharing with a friend might be impossible.

Butterbeer, freshly poured

Until now.

While visiting a local soda shop that specializes in root beers, J and I stumbled upon this: Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer. Wizards and Muggles rejoice! The only thing missing was the marshmallow topping.

Being resourceful, I pulled the jar of Fluff I keep in the pantry (you never know, right?), and made my own!

Joanna’s Butterbeer topping recipe:

What you’ll need: 

  • 1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
  • 3 T heavy cream (half and half will work, too– just something thicker than regular milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Mixing bowl and whisk (though an electric mixer would probably do very well, I do all of my mixing by hand)

Put your Fluff into a mixing bowl and whisk it until it is smooth. Add the cream and keep mixing until they are combined. Finally fold the vanilla into your mixture. You should have a smooth, creamy bowl of goodness. Spoon 2 T of the mixture onto your drink and enjoy!

Voilà! The real stuff, here at home.

Butterbeer foam

Important notes for first-time-drinkers:

  • A little goes a long way with the topping. Too much and you’ll get overflow, as you can see from the above photo. It looks great in the pictures, but it makes the stuff REALLY hard to drink (I chugged quite a bit before it leveled out again). Two tablespoons per mug would give you about the same ratio as at the Three Broomsticks.
  • Stirring in the cream only makes your soda concoction expand at exponential speed. Be patient and drink the butterbeer through the marshmallow topping. Straws also cause the rapid-expansion.
  • This drink is very, very filling. I couldn’t finish mine. I’d recommend it being a dessert and not before a meal. Of course, this is just my opinion, your mileage may vary.
  • I found some recipes online that call for adding butter or rum extract to the topping, but having had the stuff at the Three Broomsticks, I’m not sure any of it is necessary. It might cut the sweetness, though, if you’re looking for not-so-sugary taste.

Butterbeer, after

food things

A tea problem?

I think I might have a tea problem.

Old Town tea aquisitions
You can’t even see them all, most are under that little shelf thing…

In my defense, I really do drink them all, and like to have different ones depending on my mood and the time of day (no caffeine at night, thank you!) and whatnot.

The little brown bags are all of loose leaf from the tea and coffee shop in Old Town I mentioned yesterday. Usually I only buy 2 ounces at a time, but this time I bought 6 ounces of one called Saint Andrew’s blend. It’s a black tea with a nice floral addition and is just nice.

So yeah… We probably shouldn’t get started on my library…

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

~C.S. Lewis


food things, this and that, Travel

Another evening in Old Town, San Diego

Old Town tin stars

Since I was running low on tea, J and I headed to the coffee and tea shop in Old Town this afternoon. I found some other random things while we were there, including a small tin shop with these gorgeous tin stars. They remind me of Moravian stars from back home in North Carolina, and I love that they light up with different colors of glass. I might have to get one in time for Christmas this year.

Old Town pickled beets

Another random find in a little shop: pickled beets. I didn’t think this was even a real thing, and had only heard of it because of (I’m not kidding) a Care Bears movie I watched all the time as a kid. Seriously. You’ll find it around the 38 second mark.

Old town churros

And since we were already there, and since we had a coupon for free churros, we ate dinner in Old Town, too. I have to say, these were the best churros I’ve had since Ensenada, and filled with vanilla cream. In fact, these are the only churros I’ve had with filling the whole time I’ve been in California, so kudos to this restaurant for having the real deal. Mmmm churros…. Oh, and that’s a chocolate sauce for dipping. I liked them better plain, but the chocolate was pretty good.