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!

How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Two

Hello friends and readers! We have just entered the second year of this blog and another year of concentrated sustainable queerness! Last year, shortly after starting our blog, we provided you with an introductory post about why and how we live sustainably and call ourselves Sustainably Queer.  We decided that as a means of looking back and celebrating our one year anniversary, it would be fun to revisit that post.  Please find a revised and annotated version of "How We Do" below! Spoiler alert: there have been some pretty big changes!

Note: This may go without saying, but new actions/changes are listed in bold, things we are no longer doing are crossed out, and notes are in green. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning   - We decided that we don't mind the smell of vinegar enough to go through this process regularly, plus the one batch I made last year lasted almost an entire year. We may do this again, but it's not high on the list.
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood - We took one class from the Rebuilding Exchange, but we haven't continued woodworking. We still have three unfinished table tops chilling in the basement, so hopefully eventually they will become tables, but who knows when.
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - We do this as much as possible, though we still haven't found a good substitute for paper towels for draining bacon (we're going to try some of these options soon).
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house - This is still the rule, but we've been scaling way back on our buying, so sometimes we give away things even without buying something new. A larger purge is planned for early summer, so we can put stuff away without feeling cluttered about it.
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it’s cheaper too!) - Still going strong!
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads - Love these still!
  • Recycling basically everything we can - We are planning a "How to Effectively Recycle in Chicago" post at some point, there are tricks to it.
  • Leather-working with Chicago School of Shoemaking - You can check out our blog about the experience here. We're currently saving up to take Leatherwork 201, with the end goal being saving up enough to take the Beginning Shoemaking class because, really, what's more awesome and sustainable than being to make your own shoes?!
  • Large-scale refrigerator/freezer organization - Things got real about a week ago when we bought some Fridge Binz. Yes, we try to avoid bringing more plastic into our home, but we also try to avoid wasting food. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with the plastic bins for now, with the idea of switching to bamboo or metal sometime in the future, if we find something that fits our needs. 

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - It took her years, but Kristl finally figured out a way to make this work for her hair. She's planning a post on it soon.
  • Making homemade deodorant - Rachel uses this exclusively, Kristl's pits are more delicate, so she's still searching for a recipe that her skin can handle.
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures - With the addition of epilepsy to her life, Rachel is now obligated to take a Western medication to control it, but otherwise, we are mostly reliant on acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine to keep us healthy.
  • Using OraWellness tooth oil instead of toothpaste
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice - We both really could stand to meditate more often and for longer, but it's still helpful even in small doses!
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products - We're planning a post about menstrual cups and cloth pads/liners in the next few months. 

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things (like sweet potatoes, yum!) - This isn't actually a new thing, we just forgot to include it on our initial list.
  • Making staples for the week (baked/boiled eggs, congee, etc) - We still do this, though the staples themselves have changed.  Recently, we've been making a lot of breakfast bars, and soups/stews that are good for eating over 3-4 days. 
  • Making bigger batches of the meals we create so we can freeze portions for when we aren't able to cook - This has saved us on many occasions! We can pull a container out of the freezer and have it for lunch or dinner instead of going out to eat or getting takeout. 
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far) - Rachel has infused vodka with all manner of things, including pineapple, blueberries and a specific spice blend to make it taste like gin.
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs  - We love a good shrub, but we make so much kombucha now, making drinking vinegar also would be too much
  • Making our own kombucha - So much cheaper than buying it!  
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheez-its, etc from scratch - Again, the actual things we're making from scratch has changed, but we are still committed to buying as few packaged/processed foods as possible.
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • We bought an upright freezer - We can keep more meat and veggies in the house and put up fruit and veggies from the summer without messing with as much canning. We now have more versatility in how we "preserve" produce.
  • Bringing lunch to work/school
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share  - We've changed our approach on this since Rachel is in farm school this year.  We will probably have some access to vegetables that we didn't have before and hopefully we will be able to grow more than we did last year.  The egg share we had last season has been restructured to only be offered to CSA members, so we are no longer getting a carton of eggs a week.  This is kind of a relief, as at one point last summer we had 4 dozen eggs in our fridge.
  • Joined a meat and egg co-op - True Nature Foods has a relationship with a local, pastured farm where the consumer pays $60 a year for membership and is then able to order/purchase a wide variety of meat products and eggs for a reduced price.  This makes eggs cheaper than our egg share and we only have to buy them when we need them. We are doing our best to only eat meat from local, pastured, humane farms.
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food - This is a huge consideration especially where meat is concerned.  Every choice you make about where to spend your food dollars impacts how safely and sustainably food is produced, in general. Cheaper food is almost always cheap due to government subsidies or externalities (pollution, run-off, inhumane practices, lack of oversight, diminished workers' rights, etc), higher quality food is often more expensive because care was put into it's production and little harm was done to third parties (consumers, workers, animals). Not only do you vote with your money, you also farm with your money, by proxy.
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap, Soup & Bread, Good Food Festival

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts - We didn't buy any Christmas presents in 2013.  We either created or re-gifted everything we gave out or we didn't give gifts at all.  It worked out perfectly.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot and backyard to grow food - We just got clearance from our landlord to use some of our backyard space to grow more things.  This is a very exciting development and we are still deciding how to make it functional and beautiful.
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting - Worms and composting took a little bit of a hiatus over the winter.  They hung out in our basement because the "earthy" smell was a bit much for us in the apartment.  The basement was cold, given our wily winter, but I have seen signs of life, so hopefully worm composting will be back in order soon. 
  • Bugeting via You Need A Budget (YNAB) - With Rachel quitting her full-time job and Kristl going through an office relocation, we knew 2014 was going to be a different picture financially.  We took the pro-active approach and started zero-sum budgeting in December with a program called You Need A Budget.  Things have been going very well so far.  We have been able to save in advance for big bills (like car insurance) and put money away for upcoming big expenses (new car?).  It's pretty awesome. They offer a free trial, so you have no reason to try it out for a bit. Full disclosure, if you sign up using the link above and subscribe after your trial ends, we'll both get one month free - it's a win-win!
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way
  • Kristl is moving her practice to a location with-in walking distance of our house - This exciting for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because she will not need to use the car!

Well, that's about everything, it is a bit overwhelming, but we're managing ok on a day-to-day basis.  As always, feel free to check out anything we link to and ask us more questions about the products/processes.  We are always willing to write posts based on reader interest, so if there are specific topics you want to hear more about, please let us know in the comments below!

Thank you for all your support! Here's to the success of year one, and plenty of sustainable queerness to fill year two and beyond.

Good Food Festival - Chicago: Our Overview

Selfie at the Exhibition Hall  

 

Recently, on March 14, Rachel and I went to the Food Policy Conference at the Good Food Festival, because we're giant nerds. (Seriously, we were talking about it and decided to go for it since neither of us could remember the last time we'd done anything "fun" other than going out to eat - yes, we decided going to a Food Policy Conference would be a good use of our fun money.) We opted to skip the morning symposium and arrived just after 10am to explore the exhibition floor before the first talk.

The first talk we attended was called "Urban Agriculture and Local Food Enterprises" and the panel included a couple speakers presenting on community-focused food and agricultural developments in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.  There was also a representative from the City of Chicago's Planning and Development department.  The panel finished up with a speaker from Cleveland's Green City Growers, one of the Evergreen Cooperative's community-owned, job-creating companies that focuses on farming in their city.  The panel was illuminating and a good introduction to our day. We hope to give you a more detailed post of some of these organizations in later posts.

After this panel, we got a whole hour for lunch and some time to browse around the exhibition floor. We got a kale burger from Green Spirit, a pulled pork sandwich from Gunthorp Farms, and mac and cheese with bacon sausage from Big Fork.  We usually take the opportunity to eat meat when we can be sure of the production practices behind it, so we chose the pork and sausage because they were locally sourced from farms we trust.  The kale burger was from a small vegan restaurant in Rogers Park, and the best thing about it was the beet ketchup. Go figure. After eating, we nabbed some Butter Bella cookies for later and talked to the folks from Seeds of Change.  Seeds of Change was giving away cool bags and free grocery items, like jars of tikka masala sauce. We never say no to free food.

Seeds of Change had a #PledgeToPlant photo booth

After lunch, we went to our next panel session on "Creating Justice and Food-Secure Communities with Sustainable Methods," which featured more speakers from the south side of Chicago, working on various projects related to alleviating food deserts and giving people more agency when they are making choices about what they eat.  Most striking from this bunch was Naomi Davis from Blacks in Green, who not only gave us a full picture of their vision for a fully walk-able economy in West Woodlawn, but was also inspiring in a general sense.  Here is a quote from Blacks in Green's website:

"We serve as bridge and catalyst among communities and their stakeholders in the design and development of “walk-to-work, walk-to-shop, walk-to-learn, walk-to-play villages” within black neighborhoods...our walkable villages are designed to increase household income, by increasing the rate at which neighbor-owned businesses are created and sustained, thus keeping resident money active locally, supporting community self interests, and preserving the heritage of a place. Thus, we address the terrible triplets of pollution, poverty, and plutocracy."

Pretty inspiring, right?  I know, here in Edgewater, we have some semblance of this, especially when the majority of our work, food, and play takes place within walking distance. It's not meant to say we never want to leave the neighborhood, merely that the ideal sphere for human interaction and community building is within a 1/4-1/2 mile radius of your home.  Click through to Blacksingreen.org to learn more about their Eight Principles of Green Village Building.  Clearly, this is fodder for a whole post separate post, as well.

Fair Trade banana from Dill Pickle Co-op

Finally, we thought Rachel would find the "Good Food U - How can Chicago-area higher education support healthy local food?" session a very interesting melding of her professional interests, but about 10 minutes in, we decided to try a different session (mostly because they wanted a group discussion and we wanted to listen and learn).  We hopped over to the session on "Fair Food for Global Sustainability" just as Sharon Hoyer from the Dill Pickle Co-op in Logan Square was finishing up her presentation about Fair Trade Bananas.  We, unfortunately, missed the opening remarks from Nancy Jones of Chicago Fair Trade, but the information about bananas was fascinating (we hope to do a post about Fair Trade in the near future, but for now, check out this video about the bananas!).  Then our favorite speaker of the day, Eric Rodriguez from Café Chicago, started telling us about the issues with undocumented day workers in the Midwest and his group's initiatives to give them more agency and power to control the type of work they do.  Café Chicago is a coffee roasting cooperative based on these concepts and we are 100% hoping to sit down with Eric at some point and possibly visit their location for more information, but their website gives a succinct run-down of what they do:

Cafe Chicago Coffee"Café Chicago is a worker-made, worker-run cooperative that roasts, packages, and distributes great tasting, fair trade, organic coffee in the Chicago area. With a new model of job creation, job training, and social action that create living wage jobs and provide training in coffee roasting and cooperative management, the for-profit Café Chicago also funds the social justice organizing of Latino Union at a time of dwindling non-profit funding. "

 

 

We left that presentation feeling inspired to buy Fair Trade across the board, and if we ever need coffee, a bag of Café Chicago coffee will be the first place we turn. About four days later, we were at True Nature Foods and right there on the shelf was freshly roasted coffee from Café Chicago.  It's very exciting that organizations like this exist and that their products are readily available all over the city!

We then headed back to the exhibition hall for some serious snacking and chatting with reps from all the delightful, local food organizations and companies.  I'm not going wear out our welcome and list everyone we talked to but some highlights were The Brinery (delicious fermented veggies from Ann Arbor looking to get more into the Chicago market), Mo Rub (meat/dip/veggie seasoning from Iowa now available at some Chicago-area Whole Foods), the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (advocacy group supporting our local food system), and the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship (national group of lawyers, based at U of C in Chicago, who focus on providing pro bono legal advice and support for new business owners in the city, specifically local food businesses).

It was a very full day and we learned a lot, but the Friday version of the Good Food Festival is not for everyone.  Last year we went on Saturday, and that was more our speed at the time.  There are more booths in the exhibition hall, and the presentations are focused on topics like "Brew Your Own Beer" or "Home Butchery and Curing" or "Food Co-ops 101", that kind of thing.  It's more focused on things you can do at home and less so on things that are happening in the community and the world of urban agriculture. We're hoping to make it to both Friday and Saturday next year, if we have the energy! (Also, we didn't even mention the Localicious Party! We didn't make it this year, but hope to budget for it next year. It's a party celebrating "the farmers who grow our food and the chefs who transform it.") The moral of the story is that if you like food, the Good Food Festival has something of interest for you, so you should check it out next year!

Delicious Breakfast Bars (Vegan, Grain-free, Refined-Sugar-Free)

Vegan, Grain-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Breakfast Bars
Vegan, Grain-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Breakfast Bars

We first posted about these breakfast bars on our Facebook page in October of last year. We've tested and tweaked the recipes a few times and decided it was high time to post them in January, but kept forgetting to take pictures. I finally remembered to take pictures a couple weeks ago and realized a few things - 1) The lighting in our kitchen is abysmal. 2) I am 100% not a photographer. 3) There was nothing I could do to make these bars look appetizing. Nothing. So just trust us when we say you should make them.

For the past couple of years we've struggled with finding a good on-the-go breakfast that could hold us over until lunch time. We used Smitten Kitchen's thick, chewy granola bars for a long time, but they were a little sweet (even though we cut the amount of sugar) and didn't always tide us over until lunch. Then one day Rachel sent me a link to this recipe for Tahini-Date Salted Caramels and said simply, "I WANT TO MAKE FAKE CARAMELS." I'm always game to try a new recipe and I love traditional caramels, so we made them that night and loved them. We made them a few more times before I realized I could probably add chopped nuts and dried fruit and make a no-bake, vegan, grain- and refined-sugar-free breakfast bar (if you use raw tahini, they're raw, too!). You know the absolute best part? They're easy to throw together and you don't even have to turn on the oven!

I decided to use walnuts and tart cherries to offset the sweetness of the dates, but you can probably use any combo of nuts/dried fruits that appeals to you. We also started adding chia seeds, which do get all up in your dental work, but help you feel full longer. We each take one for breakfast every day and I frequently will take an extra one to work if I have a full day of patients with no scheduled lunch break. They're also great a post-workout snack!

Delicious Breakfast Bars (Vegan, Grain-free, Refined-sugar-free)

Makes 16 bars.

Equipment needed: Food processor (or possibly a high-powered blender like a Blendtec or a Ninja), 8"x8" square pan, parchment paper

  • 1-1/2 cups pitted dates - We've made these with medjool, barhi, and deglet noor, and have found that the moistness of the dates matter. Deglett noor seem to be a little drier than the other two varieties, so we if we use them, we tend to mix them with either medjool or barhi.
  • 3/4 cup tahini - We like the East Wind Community tahini the best.
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil - room temperature 1 cup chopped nuts - We run whole nuts through the food processor, but you can buy chopped nuts and save yourself a step.
  • 1/3-1/2 cup dried sour cherries
  • 1-4 Tbsp chia seeds - We started with 1 T and have since increased this to about 4 T. Of course, it's up to you.

1. Combine 1-1/2 cups of pitted dates, 3/4 cup tahini, 3 Tbsp coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend until you have a thick, creamy paste.

2. Add the 1 cup of chopped nuts, 1/3-1/2 cup of dried sour cherries, and 1-4 Tbsp of chia seeds in on top of the paste. Pulse until combined and most of the cherries are broken up, everything is evenly distributed, and it starts to pull away from the sides.

3. Line a 8"x8" square pan with parchment and transfer the mixture to the pan. Press it flat with an off-set spatula, your fingers, or whatever floats your boat.

4. Refrigerate until firm (we usually do this overnight).

5. When firm, lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into squares. We usually use a pizza cutter, but a large knife should work as well.

How We Do (Sustainable Living)

Friends, we just jumped right in last night with that Food Swap post and didn't really give you a chance to get to know us. Or what we do. And we do a lot of things everyday that get us called dirty hippies or granola (lovingly, of course), but it's ok. It's ok to call us hippies, but it's also ok to learn from us and maybe implement some of our practices. We are admittedly some of the busiest people we know. We usually have at least one "after work" event a day and sometimes there will be 3 or 4 things to go to on a weekend day. Amidst all this business, we are desperately trying to keep the house at a controlled level of chaos and feed ourselves and our pets. With all this going on, there is some serious thought and intention put into what we are consuming, food and otherwise.

We want to be sustainable. We want to take small, significant steps to make our living intentional and reduce our impact on the environment. As you can see below, we do a lot already, but we are always looking to do more. I will probably post later on about how being sustainable is an act of queerness and how being queer fits into sustainable living. For now, consider this post less a manifesto and more of an act of full disclosure.

As a caveat, we do recognize that our lifestyle and our interests come from a place of privilege. We are both employed and we make enough money to afford the set up costs of some of the projects we take on. Some things, like making your own yogurt, require little investment, just a candy thermometer, but worm composting or buying a home carbonation device both have a sizable "set-up" cost. We would probably be able to achieve a certain level of sustainability even if we weren't so financially blessed, but there are definitely some things that would go by the wayside or would be much harder.

Finally, bear in mind that we plan to write in-depth posts about our planning and process for some of the projects listen below. This is just an overview. We just want everyone to know exactly how nerdy we are. If you feel you need to know anything immediately, please feel free to say so in the comments, and we will focus on those topics sooner rather than later.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood
  • Buying recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it's cheaper too!)
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads
  • Using rags instead of paper towels
  • Recycling basically everything we can

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo
  • Making homemade deodorant
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Making staples for the week (baked-boiled eggs, congee, etc)
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far)
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheezeits, etc from scratch
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • Bringing lunch to work
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way

We know that these projects and goals aren't static and that they will change over time, but for now this is how we do sustainable living in Chicago. We'll check back in and let you know how things are progressing. Please let us know if you have any questions.