SQ Nature Break - 10 Day Instagram Challenge

It’s June in Chicago. Which means that it’s sometimes warm and sometimes cool, but it really does feel good to get outside. However, for a lot of city dwellers, those of us at SQ included, we still find ourselves cooped up inside regardless of the weather, working, starting at computers, and not really enjoying all that nature has to offer. No matter where you live, it can be a struggle to disconnect and go sit out in the yard for a few.

So, we wanted to issue a challenge and make it visual. We want you to commit to 10 days of spending at least 10 minutes outside, in a spot of your choosing, and post a pic each day on Instagram, with the hashtag #SQNatureBreak.

Sounds easy, right?

Challenges are all about commitment and accountability. We’ll be participating right along with you, but we want to know who is in.

Sign up through this link and we’ll send you an intro email the day the challenge starts with some suggestions to make it go smoothly. If you don’t use Instagram, you are still welcome to participate, you can even post the pictures in our Facebook Group!

Remember, this is about taking a break from the hustle and bustle and chilling out with the birds and the trees. Or the bees, if you are into that. Everybody needs a  little SQ Nature Break.

The challenge starts Wednesday, June 17th, sign up today!

Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Two - Restaurant Edition

It's time for us to continue our list of favorite things and this is a chunk of our very favorite restaurants in Chicago, which are very near and dear to our hearts.  We love food more than pretty much anything else and it's very important to us that our food choices do not have a a negative impact on the world around us. We chose these specific restaurants because they go out of their way to do one or more of the following things:

  • Source local produce, meat, eggs, dairy etc in season
  • Grow their own produce locally or onsite
  • Choose to serve meat that was raised sustainably or at least without added antibiotics/hormones
  • Change their menu to reflect the season and do not exhaust resources to serve dishes out of season
  • Do significant prep work, brewing, or baking on site, little of their food is pre-made or processed
  • Go back to original recipes or sources to provide the most interesting/nourishing meals possible

That being said, here is a short list of our favorite restaurants in Chicago, feast away Chicago friends (Note - the numbering is contiguous from the previous post so that we get to ninety-nine one day!):

Brunch at Gather - these might be Kristl's favorite potatoes

17. Gather - Our favorite restaurant in the city right now. We usually get two appetizers and then share a main. We particularly love their hamburger, arctic char, and crispy breakfast potatoes (only available at brunch on Sundays). Woah. They have precise seasonal menus, source a portion of their food, and the portions are large and affordable.  Lovely atmosphere, but be sure to make a reservation on the weekend! Oh and most days the owner is the host and does the seating, because he cares. (If you see brussels sprouts on the menu, you simply must order them.)

18. Edzo’s - This is an old school burger joint with your choice of sustainably sourced meats to choose from. There are also a dozen different types of fries and daily specials to keep you on your toes. The Lincoln Park location just closed, but the Evanston spot is going strong.

19. Hopleaf - They source some of their produce from urban farms on the south side and change their menu to match the season. They do the same with the beers on tap, if that's what you're in to. The food is delicious and they have a lot of room for gatherings, as long as you check their calendar first, because when it's busy, it's packed.

20. Frontera Fresco - The smallest and least renowned of Rick Bayless's offerings have brought us the most joy. We go to Frontera Fresco in the mall at Old Orchard and get tacos almost every time we are there. It's nice to know that there is some mall food coming from local farms and the meat is relatively well sourced too.

Dukbokki with Bulgogi at Dak

21. Dak - The most meager in terms of sustainability (though they do use antibiotic- and hormone-free meat),  but they have made up for in some sense by being really convenient and delicious for us.  We just wish they would stop using styrofoam for carryout. Sigh. (When we remember, we bring our own containers for leftovers when we eat in.)

22. Nightwood - We heard about Nightwood for their brunches, specifically the donuts, but we've only been there for dinner and drinks.  They made Kristl a truly excellent non-alcoholic cocktail, which is hard to find, though we found that the appetizers far outshone the entrees. Maybe someday we shall return for brunch.

23. Sola - We go to Sola anytime we need a fix of upscale food with Hawaii in mind.  It's not Hawaiian per say, but Chef Carol Wallack's love of Hawaii definitely shines through.  Menus are seasonal, which we love, and often feature a seasonal ingredient. They try to source locally and sustainably as much as possible, and if you are salivating over something on the brunch menu, go early because they will run out (sadly, we speak from personal experience)!

We had to taste a bunch of pies to narrow it down to only two for our wedding reception

24. Hoosier Mama - What is there to say except that these pies will ruin you? We've probably tried twenty flavors and I haven't been upset about any of them. And no, we aren't going bankrupt eating pie, they have a pie flight after 6pm everyday where you can choose 3 pies and get smaller slices of all three to try. Seriously though, they use great ingredients and old recipes. They also sell sandwiches and salads and have a full coffee bar at their Evanston location. (We had two Hoosier Mama pies in the dessert buffet at our wedding!)

25. Bang Bang - Nestled down in Logan Square is another great place to get pie, but to be honest the last time I was there I didn't even think about pie. No. I did, however, have biscuits three different ways. Oh, yes.  Just go there with like three other people, and order all the biscuits, and eat biscuits until you can't move. Don't worry, they only use seasonal fruit and the leaf lard that goes into their baking is rendered specifically for them by one farm. Magic.

26. Honey Butter Fried Chicken - We were recently talking with a fried who had just eaten at HBFC for the first time and we were gushing about how DE-licious it is and he was like yeah, but it's not cheap. It's true, it's not cheap, but that's because Honey Butter is not your corner shop that tastes good only because it's fried and is gonna violate health codes every 6 months or so. This place is legitimately tasty and legitimately sustainable. See their philosophy here. All that being said, I highly recommend "Da Club" sandwich, and the regular old fried chicken with honey butter. Yes.

27. Leghorn Fried Chicken - Not as high-brow as Honey Butter, but these are Amish chickens as well and the other classy thing about Leghorn is that when they sell out, they close up. Boom, done. Check out the menu before you go, because you have to be ready to choose which type of brine you want, which type of meat, any sides, sauces, or toppings.  It can be stressful, but it's so worth it. We're partial to the pickle-brined thigh on a biscuit, Rachel gets it hot, Kristl doesn't, but we're sure you'll love whatever you get!

28. Big Jones - If you want real Southern cooking and not some mockery of it, then you really must go to Big Jones. Big Jones uses heirloom recipes from the deep South to inform all that they do in the kitchen and also how they source their ingredients, all they way down to the grains that they use to make their griddlecakes. One surprising result of this is that their brunch is now gluten free. Naturally, not intentionally, because all the heirloom flours used in southern cooking didn't include gluten to begin with. For dinner, we tend to fill up on starters and share a main, but you do you.

29. Brown Trout - I guess you could just go ahead and say that we are fried chicken fanatics, because fried chicken brought us to Brown Trout too.  We have had other lovely dinners at this in-your-face sustainable restaurant, but the best use of your time and money, in our opinion, is Sunday night fried chicken and blue grass. They cook the chicken sous vide first and then batter and fry it to perfection. So juicy and wonderful. Dark meat highly recommended.

30. Revolution Brewing - Whether or not you enjoy their beer, the pub is worth a visit. They have small rooftop for growing vegetables in the summer and they butcher a pig or two a week from a local farm. The food is really well thought through and very good. And let's be real, who is mad about sustainable pub food? Not us.

31. Sauce and Bread - This small cafe is the child of two companies - Crumb bakery and Co-Op hot sauce - and it is a beautiful baby. Both businesses continue to exist in their own right, but Sauce and Bread is the location where their magic meets.  They have limited hours, but it's wonderful for a low key brunch or an afternoon snack - we actually had our post-wedding brunch there and they were incredibly nice and accommodating.  They also host a supper club that we have every intention of weaseling our way into sometime.

32. Au Cheval - It's the upscale diner of your dreams. There are burgers everywhere. It's impossibly delicious. A single is a double. A double is a triple. They make their own baloney. If you go at a busy time there is often a 2-hour wait, so we suggest going at an off-time. And let's be real, now is a good time. You have no excuses. We dragged ourselves there during one of the many frigid polar vortex days last winter because we figured (correctly) that we wouldn't have to wait.

Pea soup with roasted lemon puree and breaded goat cheese at Kendall this past spring

33. Dining Room at Kendall College - Kendall College is known for culinary arts and hospitality in Chicago and you can take part in this tradition by making a reservation at their dining room and seeing what the students can do.  We recommend going with a partner or a friend for lunch, because we've found that the lunch menus are more interesting and two-top tables tend to get extras. One time we got several extra appetizers thrown our way and we weren't mad about it. Kendall has a commitment to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, and the price is right too.

34. Cafe Spiaggia (for Restaurant Week) - Restaurant Week is a potentially good thing that can turn out to not be that great of a deal depending on where you go, but we think we've really found a spot that delivers a deal and really excellent food. Go to Cafe Spiaggia. The food is as good as actual Italian food from Italy (which we can say having recently been to Italy), and the Restaurant Week deal is actually a deal. It's classy, it's wonderful, and it's delicious.

35. Pleasant House Bakery - Finally, Pleasant House Bakery is a great place to get British style savory pies. They grow a lot of their own vegetables during the growing season. They make their own sodas, and they have specials on different days of the week. We highly recommend their Tuesday Burger. Yum. They are also selling the pies they make in house under the name Royal Pies around Chicago at local groceries.

Jeni's!

36. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream - This is the only chain on this list, but it's a midwest chain (based in Columbus, OH) that uses local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Jeni's is amazing. Some of our favorites are the Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Sweet Corn with Black Raspberries, and The Buckeye State. The ice cream sandwiches (many of which are gluten-free) are mind-blowing. We rarely eat ice cream these days, but when we do, it's Jeni's.

37. Ras Dashen - We went to Ras Dashen last night and were delighted to see a notice that they are now using local, antibiotic-, steroid-, and hormone-free chicken from Gunthorp Farms. We love Ethiopian food and we are often hard pressed to choose a favorite.  In general, the cuisine is pretty friendly for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks, and the crepe-like injera bread is fermented before it is cooked making it easier to digest and better for your gut flora. Our runner up Ethiopian recommendation would definitely be Lalibela on Ashland, which always has gluten-free injera on tap and is a little cheaper.

So, those are our recommendations at this time, we hope that you give a few of them a try. We hope that you love them as much as we do. We also hope that if you are going to try one out and have a bad experience, that you let us know, because we will probably leave this page up and wouldn't want people to  go on having bad food experiences in Chicago forever. This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many delicious restaurants in Chicago and a number of them have sustainable practices. Our goal for 2015 is to hit up all the ones we've missed so far!

Please click HERE to explore part one of the Ninety-Nine things we like, and here is the link to part three: local goods we like and where to find them!

Facts on a Date! - INJURIES!

Tuesday, June 10, I woke up and the first thing I thought was, "Oh no! We missed Nine on the 9th!" (I'm not even kidding. It was literally the first thing I thought when I opened my eyes.) As always, we've got a boatload of things going on - Rachel started her internship at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Fruit and Vegetable Garden (meaning she has to get up at 4:45am, so that's been quite the adjustment!), I finally was able to start seeing patients in my new practice space, we decided to move a few blocks north of our current apartment because we got an out-of-the-blue offer to rent a friend's condo for the next 2-5 years, AND we set a date for our wedding reception. All of that happened in a span of a week or so, hence the complete lack of a Nine on the 9th post. To make it up for you, we're going to do a random number of facts on whatever date we end up finishing this post! Aren't you the luckiest?! 1. When Kristl was around 3 or 4, she sprained her arm diving across the room to grab a toy bus. This is the first "real" injury she remembers.

Kristl couldn't find a pic of her sprained arm, so she thought this adorable ruffled-bikini-bandaid-on-each-knee pic would be a good alternative.

2. About six weeks before graduating from high school, Rachel was participating in the dress rehearsal of her high school musical review and was rushing to get to the dressing room and tripped over own (damn) feet.  She went sprawling, and broke her elbow (also sprained her ankle, gave herself a mild concussion, and shattered the bracelet she was wearing at the time).  When the dust settled, she wasn't quite sure exactly what had happened, and for better or worse, no one had seen her fall, so there she was, curled up in a fetal position for no apparent reason. She did sing in most of the musical review that weekend with her arm in a sling and with her mind on Vicodin.

The show must go on, even with a broken elbow, sprained ankle, and concussion.

3. As a junior in high school, Kristl fell down walking so many times, that she had to have knee surgery. Seriously. The first incident happened on the first day of band camp - they were practicing marching formations and her knee gave way when she popped her heel up. She had to sit out for the entirety of camp (it was on the Big Island, so she couldn't easily go home). The final time, she was supposed to participate in a panel discussion at school. She was walking across the courtyard and her knee gave out again. She blacked out from the pain and the next thing she knew she was lying on a bench. She ended up having surgery on her meniscus. One of her greatest regrets is getting general anesthesia instead of local - she really wanted to watch the surgery!

4. In summer 2012, in the way of most lesbians in love, Kristl and Rachel decided to finally shack up.  This involved moving some of Rachel's stuff temporarily into a storage space.  Rachel cleverly decided wear open-toed sandals for the big move and managed to rip off her left big toenail while moving a piece of her sectional.  Blood squirted everywhere for a little while, which was awesome, and it took almost an entire year for the toenail to grow back completely. For some reason, we affectionately named the affected toe "Toebert."

5. As a senior in high school, Kristl managed to chip her knee cap without coming into contact with anything. She was standing up, turned to do something, and felt such excruciating pain in her knee that she fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. She reached out to break her fall and almost tore a cabinet door off its hinges. She ended up in a full leg brace, which is really awesome when you're sixteen.

Leg brace + DIY too short bangs = best senior year ever

6. When Rachel was training to be an Resident Assistant at Calvin College, they went on a three day biking/camping trip as part of the training.  On the last day of the bike trip, Rachel was getting off of her bike, but the clips holding her feet in got stuck.  Her legs were still stuck to the bike, but her body was not, so she dislocated her right kneecap.  It was the most painful thing. By far. Ever.  The knee cap migrated back to it's usual place once her teammates helped her off the bike, but she definitely didn't do anymore biking or walking on that trip or for a while.

Rachel (possibly) writing angsty poetry about her dislocated knee cap.

7. Shortly before Kristl visited Chicago for the first time, she sprained her knee doing a dip while swing dancing. She had to navigate Chicago on crutches, which may be why so many people asked her for directions. She fell in love with the city and moved here for good two months later.

8. As an eight year-old, one day in the early spring, Rachel had a day off from school and was just helping her dad do errands around town while wearing her snow boots.  Somehow this made her sprain her Achilles tendon. Mysteries abound. (I believe it's because the snow boots were a bit over-sized and stressed out her poor tendons trying to keep the boots and her feet all in the same place.)

9. During a slow afternoon at esthetician school, Kristl made a coffee run for her classmates, even though she has never been a coffee drinker. On her way back, she stepped  off a curb wrong, sprained both her ankles, and fell face first in the street. She managed not to spill a drop of the 79 cent coffees in her hands, so there's that. She tore up both knees, which is even more of a sight when you're required to wear all white, as she was for school. She also had to wear an aircast on each ankle for weeks after. She still has those aircasts and, unfortunately, still uses them on occasion.

10. Rachel and her dad used to go scuba diving in old rock quarries around the Chicagoland area.  (This is not as weird as it sounds, but it is kinda weird.  People make money by filling in old rock quarries with water and fish, sinking small boats, helicopters, planes, etc in the quarries and then charging scuba divers to dive in them during the warm months.  Usually, people learn how to dive here, so they can be ready when they go somewhere where it's actually pleasant to scuba dive like, I don't know, the Bahamas.  But some interesting people, like the Schipulls, will go for fun.)  Rachel had finished her dive and was bobbing around the surface taking pictures of the fish with her underwater camera.  Suddenly, a bluegill jumped out of the water and bit Rachel in the eye. This caused quite the commotion as you could imagine, but luckily Rachel was wearing soft contacts at the time and the bluegill got a mouth full of corrective lens and Rachel went home with a sore eye and one less contact.

11. About six weeks after they started dating, Kristl sprained her ankle dancing at a friend's wedding. Rachel had been liberally partaking of the open bar and was in no shape to drive them home, so they had to wait for her to sober up. Kristl is staunchly independent and was beyond mortified to need Rachel's help that night. She actually tried to crawl to her condo from the parking lot because she didn't want Rachel to help her walk. Rachel, however, was insistent and Kristl finally gave in.

Dishonorable mentions:

12. Rachel has some fire ant scars on her right wrist from growing up in Florida where you have to check the color of the ants you are working with.  Black ants are relatively benign, red ants will mess you up.

13. Kristl hates being tickled; Rachel sometimes tickles Kristl anyways.  Sad things happen.

Kristl *really* doesn't like being tickled

14. Despite her numerous injuries, Kristl has never actually broken a bone. The closest she's gotten is that chipped knee cap. *knock on wood*

15. When you are having a grand mal seizure, the common medical advice is for your friends and family member to arrange you on your side so that you do not choke or lose the ability to breathe (job #1).  When you are convulsing, your joints are kinda at the mercy of physics and gravity and whatever else might be lying around. Rachel tends to get seizures while she's asleep, so she was already on her side the last time she had a grand mal. Because she was on her side while seizing, her poor shoulder took the brunt of it and ended up dislocating. Dumb epilepsy. (We are still taking donations to pay for Rachel's medical bills, if you haven't had a chance to donate yet, please feel free do so here.)

Well, there you have it!  A random number of facts on a random day!  Although, here is a random fact that is not related to injuries: Rachel and Kristl just passed their three year anniversary! (AWWWWW.) They will try to be careful and not have any more ridiculous injuries as they go forward with all their big changes this summer. Happy last week of June everyone!

Soup and Bread: Delicious Community

Tofu Matzo Ball Soup
Tofu Matzo Ball Soup

Our process of choosing which posts to write and when sometimes makes sense and sometimes it doesn't.  Writing a post about the Good Food Festival within a week or two of going to the Good Food Festival makes sense, but writing a post about a weekly "winter" event as spring is (finally) dawning does not make a whole heap of sense.  However, Kristl and I were finally able to make it to Soup & Bread last night and were inspired to share it with you ASAP, even though there's only one week left for you to try it out this year.

Rather than recreate the wheel, I'll let Soup & Bread's website explain what they are and how it got started:

 

Soup & Bread is a free weekly community meal based at the Hideout, a bar and music venue in Chicago.

Each week we round up a handful of chefs, caterers, musicians, writers, artists, and home cooks of every persuasion to donate pots of soup. We serve them up to all comers — along with fresh bread donated by Publican Quality Meats — until the pots run dry or the late-night jazz guys kick us out. It was designed to be an easy, low-key way to get folks out of the house and socializing in the dead of a dark Chicago winter — not to mention, when we started this up in 2009 our friends were losing their jobs left and right. At times these past few years it’s seemed the entire city could use a nice hot bowl of soup.

Toward that end, while the meal is free, we solicit pay-what-you-can donations each week that are donated in turn to a wide range of neighborhood food pantries and hunger relief agencies. Over the last five years, through events at the Hideout and out of town in Madison, New York City, Seattle, and beyond, we have raised more than $40,000 for Chicago-area food pantries as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository (the central food bank serving the Chicago region), the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and Western Washington’s Food Lifeline.

 
Vegan Thom Kha Soup
Vegan Thom Kha Soup

So, basically, you show up between 5:30 and 8pm on a Wednesday in the winter, grab a bowl, give a cash donation if you're able, and get in line. There are usually 4-6 different soup offerings loosely grouped under a theme.  The cooks are stationed behind their soups and serve you, plus they are usually excited to talk about their soup and offer additions.  There are tables and chairs set up throughout the bar and the tables have giant baskets filled with hunks of crusty, donated sourdough bread.  People are encouraged to try multiple soups and mingle with the other folks in the room.  There are a few buckets sitting around for donations, and usually the charity or non-profit benefiting from the event will have their literature out to peruse or take home.

I think we've been 3-4 times total, and the soup has been consistently delicious.  There is always a good variety, and I think the organizers try to have a solid mix of professional chefs and home chefs, and meat, veggie, and vegan options. This week was a good example of that.  The theme was "Tastes Like Chicken" and there was a vegetarian tofu matzo ball, vegan tom khai, rabbit and pork pozole, spicy sicilian chicken, vegan cream of chicken, and ramen with hard-boiled eggs and pork belly.  Lots of different flavors, but I think our favorite of the evening was the pozole, with the ramen as the close second.  The cooks had clearly put a lot of care into their creations and the atmosphere was jovial. Drinks were available at the bar and we even saw people we know! What's not to love?

Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)
Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)

All this is to say that you have ONE MORE WEEK to try it out for this season. The theme is "The Fields", and there will be pie... Check out Soup & Bread on April 16, and you might just see us there.

Here are some basic tips we've come up with if you're planning on going to Soup & Bread:

  • Bring your own bowl and spoon. This way you're helping the environment AND making the stash of disposable bowls and spoons go a little further.
  • This is probably obvious, but bring cash. There are a few donation jars throughout the space and you can put in as much or as little as you like.
  • You can go up to the soup bar multiple times - we tend to go about three times per person, to try different soups and get a good meal in.
  • Talk to the people at your table. This event is about community, so at the very least, smile and say hi to those with whom you're sitting.
  • This may be our own rule, but we don't go back for seconds of a soup we liked. The quantities are limited and we want them to last so that as many people as possible can enjoy them.
  • We also tend to steer away from the soups that cater to dietary restrictions because we do eat meat, gluten, and dairy, so we want people who don't eat those things to be able to enjoy their experience at Soup & Bread and have as many options as possible.
  • Get there early! They've run out of at least some soup every time we've gone, so if you want to have the most variety, get there early.

September 2013 Food Swap

September Swap
September Swap

It's always so exciting when it's time to start prepping for another Food Swap.  We started prepping for this swap about mid July, when we were getting a HUGE number of cucumbers from our CSA (Angelic Organics).  We don't eat a lot of raw cucumbers, so the natural decision was to make pickles. We don't like the way canned (shelf stable) pickles become less crunchy after processing, so we made fridge pickles.  The pickles we decided to bring to the swap were our second batch of fridge pickles for the summer.  The first time we made pickles this summer (and for our broccoli stem pickles), we used dill weed to make them taste like dill.  This time we used dill seed.  The difference is a deeper, but more subtle dill flavor.  We thought bringing some of these pickles to the swap would be a good idea, because it would give a couple weeks to mature in flavor and be just about perfect for our lucky swap friends to eat right up. We even used the Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars Kristl won at the last swap!

The other two items we brought were very different from pickles.  We brought homemade organic vanilla marshmallows and curried pumpkin goat cheese dip.  We made marshmallows for the first time earlier this summer with my friend Tracy in North Carolina. (It was part of an all-from-scratch s'mores project, which was really delightful, even though the chocolate making kit's directions didn't make any sense.) They are surprisingly easy to make, especially if you have a good stand mixer.  We used organic corn syrup, because we really try to avoid GMOs in our food, and Kristl used a real vanilla bean to flavor them.  We were, however, up against a lot of other marshmallows at the swap today, so even though they came out perfectly, they didn't go very quickly.

The curried pumpkin goat cheese dip is a recipe we came up with a couple years ago as a last minute dish to bring to a party.  Kristl was like, "Oh pumpkin goat cheese would be like pumpkin cream cheese!" And I said, "Yeah, and if we add curry it'll be nice and savory!" And a delicious fall party dip was born. (I'm pretty sure those aren't the real words we exchanged, but you get the idea.)  It's a ratio of about two to one, cheese to pumpkin, with curry to taste (probably around a tablespoon), a little salt, a little honey, and a little lemon.  I can't really give you a whole lot more direction than that, as I did a lot of mixing things in, tasting, and mixing a little more of honey or curry to taste.  It was our most popular item at the swap, and unfortunately, we only had three 1/4 pint jars to give away, and the sample jar (which we gave to a friend at the end of the day.)

Before I go into what we got, I will say that this swap was really overwhelming.  It was held at the Petersen Garden Project's office, which is pretty similar to other previous swap spaces, if you include the outdoor area.  Unfortunately, it was raining, and the backyard had limited tenting, so a few poor folks were set up outside, but the majority of the 50ish (I'm not actually sure about numbers, sorry) swappers were crammed inside the building. It was pretty chaotic, and you could definitely see some folks were overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  I am the more extroverted between Kristl and I, so I was on deck for the majority of the bartering and squeezing around other swappers to find the people and items I wanted.

One new aspect of this swap was that it had sponsors! Jarlsberg USA and Woolwich Dairy provided abundant (and delicious) cheese samples for swappers, as well as providing cheese to two swappers to create an original recipe with! We volunteered to be one of the lucky swappers, but were too late. We did use goat cheese in one of our swap items anyway! We're curious to see how things work out with future swap sponsors.

Our bounty
Our bounty

We ended up getting a nice collection of items, regardless.  I was heading out of state on business for most of the week, so Kristl wanted to make sure we didn't get too many perishable/sweet things.  The majority of our swap items were in the realm of the savory.  The only thing not pictured is Chris's sprouts, which were lovely, fresh, and our snack on the way home from the swap.  Most of the items are untested at this point, but Kristl  told me the brussel sprout salad was delightful and the brownish saran-wrapped item, a Filipino rice dessert, was a sort of like stickier version of butter mochi (a sticky rice dessert popular in Hawaii which may make an appearance at a future swap).

It's just amazing to me how creative our fellow swappers are and how different the offerings are at every swap.  Kristl and I try to strategize what is best for each swap, what types of dishes will be popular, and what will get us a diverse collection of items to take home.  Sometimes we are spot on (we think August was our best swap to date) and sometimes we make similar items to everyone else.  That's what happened with marshmallows this time around; who knew so many people would think to make them?  We have follow up plans for marshmallows (think chocolate and graham cracker creations), but for the September swap we still managed to walk away with inspiring items and delicious food.

You know we can't post a swap recap without adding at least one tip for swappers. This one's an important one. Be sure to thoroughly label your swap items.This is the first time we received multiple items with absolutely no labeling. I realized after the swap that we hadn't included a date made/use by date on our swap items.

Here are some things to absolutely include on the label:

1. What the item is. 2. Whether it is shelf stable/should be refrigerated/etc. We usually just throw everything we got from a swap in the fridge, because we don't know if something has been properly canned or not (unless it's labeled or the swapper told us otherwise). 3. Date it was made/canned. 4. Estimated "Use By" date. 5. Instructions for use (if necessary).

If you have additional space, you can also include the following:

1. Your name. 2. A way to contact you if there are questions (email, website, Twitter, Facebook, phone number, etc). 3. Ingredients.

The next swap will be held on Sunday, October 6, at 4pm, at the new Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. The swap sold out really quickly, but if you're interested, you can add your name to the wait list! Spots always open up, so there's a good chance you'll still be able to get in. Jill Houk (amazing chef) and Angie Garbot (fabulous photographer) will be at the space at 3pm to sign their new cookbook The Essential Dehydrator. We'll do our best to get there early to see them, since Kristl randomly knows both Jill and Angie.

The November swap will be held at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart on Sunday, November 10, at 3pm. The last swap of the year will be on Saturday, December 7, at 3pm, at Enerspace Chicago. I believe the capacity for both swaps will be relatively large. Be sure to follow Chicago Food Swap on Facebook to be notified when the swap registration opens. Unfortunately, we have conflicts on both of those dates, so the October swap will be our last for the year. Hope y'all don't miss us too much!

August Food Swap Recap

Yesterday we attended our third Chicago Food Swap and I can definitely say that it was our favorite one yet. Our host was Green Home Experts, which is an awesome store that I will make sure stop by whenever I'm in Oak Park. They have all sorts of eco-friendly items for the home, which you know is right up our alley. This time we convinced some friends to come along, which I'm sure added to the fun for us. We also decided to take it easier with our swap items to ensure we wouldn't be in a mad panic right before the swap. I, for one, am an excellent procrastinator AND an overachiever, so the last two swaps were pretty hectic for me. I had it in my head that I wanted to bake all of the things, even though Rachel gently told me it might be too much, and I forged ahead and ended up being super stressed. The swap shouldn't be stressful! So we stuck with things that we had made slowly over the past 4-6 weeks and didn't bring anything that would require last minute baking or cooking. We brought more pineapple-infused vodka, since that was such a hit at the last swap. We also brought cherry-infused vodka, some of our raw fermented strawberry vinegar, and sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter Escape
Sourdough Starter Escape

We picked our friend Jess up around 2:20 and headed to Oak Park. We arrived at 3pm on the dot and went inside; Rachel and Jess found a place to set up our goods while I filled out our nametags and raffle entries (yep, there was a raffle at this swap!). We saw our friend Sarah and her friend Amara, of Eat Chic Chicago, and oh my goodness did their table look amazing! Sarah's a professional chef and Amara is a nutritionist, so they totally brought it (in the form of roasted corn and feta salad, cherry fig infused balsamic vinegar, and peach lavender infused white wine vinegar - we ended up swapping for ALL of their items).

We ended up sharing a table with Chris, of the delicious organic bean sprouts and just-spicy-enough (for me, at least) olive dip. Jess outdid herself by making whole wheat croissants, both with and without chocolate, brown butter rice krispie treats, and vegan granola. Once everyone was set up, Emily ran through the instructions and then we started checking out the goods. I really liked the variety at this swap. I immediately saw a few items I needed to have, as did Rachel. Amazingly, we were able to swap for all of our "must have" items!

Once the actual swapping started, things moved so quickly! Rachel is definitely the most extroverted of the three of us, so she blazed her way into the swapping arena and did the majority of the actual swapping. Jess came and went, getting a taste for how the swapping works (I'd say that the actual swapping is the most nervewracking part for newbies!). I mainly stayed at the table, fielding swap requests. It was all over relatively quickly and I was really pleased with our haul. We came with 14 items and left with 16 (it helped that Sarah and Amara gave us the sample jar of their peach lavender vinegar!). Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

Swap Haul
Swap Haul

Not surprisingly, the sourdough starter was our least popular item. We probably won't be bringing more to future swaps, but if you are in the Chicago area and want to try your hand at using a starter, let me know and I can hook you up with some! Also, for those of you brave souls who swapped for the starter, this is the recipe I used to make the sample bread. That link also has information on how to feed and care for your starter. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! This time there was a raffle with 6 Heritage Collection Pint Jars from Ball and the Desserts in Jars cookbook. Everyone put their name into a basket and Emily drew a winner towards the end of the swap. Guess what? I won! I've already got my eye on a few recipes to try out for future swaps.

We've come up with a few more tips for swappers (in no particular order)! Check out our recap of the June swap for more swap tips.

1. Try not to overdo it. As mentioned previously, I went a little overboard at the previous two swaps we attended. Food swaps should be fun events. If you're going to make something that's really time consuming, flesh out the rest of your swap offerings with some easier items.

2. Wear something eye-catching. Our friend Jess wore a t-shirt the color of a brand new tennis ball to the swap and it made it SO easy to point her out to other swappers who were looking for her.

3. Realize what you're willing to spend. The swap itself is free and how much money you put into your swap items is completely up to you. Some people put time and money into creating labels and getting cute jars, some people put their stuff in a Ziploc and label it with a Sharpie. Some people will use a lot of fancy, high end ingredients, others won't. All of those options are totally valid for your swap items, just be aware that not everyone is going to choose the option you choose.

The next swap will be on September 15 at the Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Registration opens on August 18. The October swap will be on October 6 at the Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. (Please note, the September and October locations have switched since our June recap went up.) The November swap will be on November 10 at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart.

If you want to read more recaps of the swap, you can find some here, here, and here.

Our First Chicago Food Swap (and a Recipe!)

Ever since we started dating, Kristl and I connected deeply on the subject of food. We love to eat together, eat out, cook, bake, and talk (endlessly) about food and all things related. Kristl follows something like 5-8 food podcasts, I have a blog with my friend Tracy about our cooking exploits. We make things from scratch, we watch food documentaries. It's clearly a shared interest. Because of this shared interest, a huge portion of our shared past times are (you guessed it) food related. Recently, we were able to take our passion for making cool and interesting things from scratch and share it with a bunch of other people who like to make cool and interesting things from scratch at the Chicago Food Swap.

We signed up for the food swap as soon as we figured out it existed, because we knew we would love it. These swaps are very popular and there is usually an extensive waiting list for each meeting. Up to this point, the swaps have been running every other month and 30-50 people are able to attend, depending on the size of the venue. Local businesses have been gracious enough to host the swap, so the location changes for each event.

Kristl and I spent probably three weeks dreaming about all the things we could make, including infused salts, sugars, alcohols, homemade cheez-its, cookies, cakes, pies, various canned and fermented goods, really the sky was our limit. We are unlikely to admit this in public, but we always try to win. Shhh. As we got closer to the swap and got real about what our busy schedule would allow us time to make (including the added wrench in the works that I was going to be traveling for work the week preceding the swap), and we decided on 4 items: sriracha salt, lemon rosemary salt, candied nuts, and salted caramel sauce (check out the recipe below).  They were all really pretty (and delicious) but we didn't remember to take a picture of what we brought.  Whoops. We're still figuring out this blogging thing.

We were unfortunately late to the swap because of the Assyrian New Years parade in Edgewater (weirdly, I didn't have that one on the calendar), so I can't report to you what it looks like from the very beginning. However, the swap organizers were nice enough to let us snag a table in the back of Local Goods Chicago and we were able to browse for about 5 minutes before the swapping began. Each swapper has a sheet for each of their products with a name, list of ingredients, and other relevant information.  It also has 6-8 lines where other swappers can bid on the product with one (or two) of their own. For example, someone looking to score one of our sriracha salts wrote down her name and then offered to trade a jar of applesauce for it. If we thought applesauce was worth it for the salt, once trading began, we could locate the other swapper and make good on the deal. This part of the process is really fun.

Kristl and I divided and conquered. Sometimes I stayed by our goods and fielded trades from other swappers and sometimes Kristl would stay and I would take a jar and go find someone with something we wanted. Most trades were pretty equal and towards the end people were really trying to just not take their own products home with them. For first time swappers and for missing a great deal of the browsing/bidding portion of the event, I think we did a really good job of getting a great variety of items.

Well? What did we get? So we had brought about 15 items and we got roughly that amount in return:

I can't believe this is the only picture we took that day!
I can't believe this is the only picture we took that day!
  1. Garlic butter
  2. Pumpkin seed pesto
  3. Applesauce
  4. Apple butter
  5. Date Cola syrup
  6. Dill pickles
  7. Grapefruit ginger curd
  8. Pizza rolls
  9. Salted caramel chocolate cupcakes
  10. Lumpia (meat)
  11. Lumpia (sweet)
  12. Quick bread with spinach and feta
  13. Banana bread fudge
  14. Spicy Pepper Sauce
  15. Pear Ginger Cashew Conserve

Wow. And doesn't even scratch the surface of what was available. Part of the beauty of the swap is that we didn't want everything and not everyone wanted our stuff. You get to decide what you want, and you can always say no.  We will definitely be back, and we will bring weirder more elaborate things.  You can bank on that.  

Kristl's Salted Caramel Sauce

Slightly adapted from The Kitchn - Makes 3 cups

2 cups organic cream

1-1/2 cups organic sugar

1/2 cup filtered water

1/4 cup organic salted butter, cubed

1 tsp sea salt

Warm the cream in a saucepan to about 100°F (if you don't have a candy thermometer, don't fret!). The cream shouldn't boil, just be kept warm.

Over high heat, mix the sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepot until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, but watch the pot like a hawk. The sugar will bubble and then you will see streaks of golden amber. These amber streaks will very quickly become darker streaks, at which point you should lift the pan and swirl it carefully. Put it back on the heat and watch it carefully until it smokes. When you see the first tendril of smoke rising from the caramel, remove the pot from the heat.

Carefully pour in the warm cream and whisk vigorously with a long-handled whisk. The mixture will bubble and expand a lot, so be very careful. Nobody wants a caramel burn! Whisk in the butter and salt, then return to medium heat until the sauce reduces to your preferred consistency.

Let the caramel sauce cool and then pour it into jars. Usually we pour it into a quart jar, but for the swap, we used three half-pint jars and it fit perfectly. Supposedly it'll last at least two weeks in the fridge. I've never had it last more than 2 days. ;)

Note: Sometimes when I've made this it takes a little coaxing to get the cream to incorporate into the caramel sauce. When this happens to me, I turn the heat on medium-low and just keep whisking until it incorporates. (Sadly, I'm not enough of a caramel expert to get perfect results every time. Not YET anyway.)