The official user's manual for sunshine

Top Five Big-Flavor Food Fests This Summer

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Dog Dayz (June 27-28): At the Goose Island Barrel Warehouse (605 North Sacramento), Doug Sohn brings his legendary Hot Doug’s encased meat emporium back to life as a pop-up.

Chicago Food + Wine Festival (August 29-30): Lincoln Park hosts Chicago chefs and world-class wines.

Taste of Melrose Park (September 4-6): The corner of Lake and 25th in Melrose Park remains the traditional location for this yearly gathering of more than seventy food providers, the vast majority of which are local families presenting their personal best recipes.

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Doggin’ It: Nothing Finer Than Sausage Slinging in the Summer

Hot Dogs, Memoirs & Miscellany No Comments »
Vienna Beef

Vienna Beef

By Eric Lutz

In summers throughout high school and college, my friends and I worked at a hotdog stand called Voo’s—a mobile cart at an upscale outdoor shopping mall in the suburb where I grew up. From 8:30am to 5:30pm every day, we’d hang out, eat sport peppers and listen to ball games. Then, our boss—the eponymous Voo—would pay us eighty dollars cash from the register, plus whatever tips we earned which, on a good day, amounted to about twenty bucks a piece. It was—and remains—the best job I have ever had.

Amid the pretensions of the uppercrust mall, we were a kind of populist oasis where the low-wage mall employees and the bored shoppers could find reprieve from the carefully manicured shrubbery and high-end shops.

Most of these people were cool. There was the goateed Apple Store guy who ate probably six hotdogs per week. The fun couple that operated the roasted nut stand nearby. Even the Polish security guard who hurled insults at us as he sped by on his Segway found his way into our hearts. Read the rest of this entry »

Urban Foraging: Looking for Herbs on the Wild Side

Food & Drink, Gardening, Parks & the Great Outdoors 1 Comment »

Illustration: Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

We sit cross-legged on the trail in Douglas Park. Across the road is Mount Sinai hospital with its famous trauma center, where people are often treated for gunshot wounds that they receive in this very neighborhood. Somewhere nearby a car stereo is cranked up to the top level, playing angry rap. Meanwhile, Nance Klehm takes a patch of dry mugwort from a black plastic bag that she carries with her, carefully places it on the cracked asphalt surface, and sets the herb on fire. While the dry plant burns and smolders, emanating a bitter-sweet aroma, Klehm explains that we are making an offering to the land, a ritual traditionally done by herbalists before they start picking plants. Once the fire dies down, she reaches into her black bag one more time and takes out a pair of ordinary red gardening scissors. We are ready to start our foraging trip in the heart of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Fire It Up! Meat-Free Grilling at the Cookout

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Having lived most of my life in Brazil, I have come to really cherish the few warm months of late spring and summer, when I (sort of) relive those tropical days by lazing away on the beach, attending outdoor concerts, having picnics in the park and, of course, grilling—anyone who has been in Texas de Brazil or Fogo de Chão understands the deep relationship people there have with the grill.

I am not, however, your average griller, since I do not go to the nearest market for hot dogs or hamburger patties. For starters, I “retired” from red meat years ago (though I do eat poultry and fish), so when we barbecue I often bring stuff that leaves my meat-loving friends scratching their heads—that is, until they taste the final result. Read the rest of this entry »

In Service of Summer: A Brief Guide to the Margarita

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Photo: Akke Monasso

Made from the distilled sap of agave, a cactus the Aztecs held sacred, tequila gained popularity north of the border in a series of waves, starting with the Mexican movie boom of the forties and the postwar cocktail craze of the fifties. It is perhaps best loved as the driving ingredient in the margarita. In ’42, according to legend, a bartender named Pancho Morales got a drink order he didn’t recognized and made up something, a tasty concoction involving tequila, ice, fruit juice and Cointreau. His bluff went over better than he expected. Pancho had accidentally engineered one of the great summer cocktails.

Yes, it’s a hit with aging sorority girls at Bon Jovi karaoke night who want to get housed but also want smoothies. But some saucehounds mock the margarita without ever having enjoyed a real one. If your tequila isn’t 100-percent real agave (as many lower-shelf bottles are not), it’s rum. If it’s not from the Mexican state of Jalisco, it’s technically mezcal, not tequila. If it ain’t real scorpion honey in your glass, you’re not getting that extra kick that kept the Aztecs and Spaniards at each other’s throats for so many years. And let’s not mention those blasphemous “blended” slushy deals. Rocks and salt, period. Read the rest of this entry »

In Full Flower: Green City Market makes life of senses in the summer

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Photo: Green City Market

By Elias Cepeda

Jerry Heward didn’t know a thing about flowers growing up as a city boy in Northern Indiana. Yet he is surrounded by and selling purple lilac look-alikes on a sunny Wednesday morning in Lincoln Park. Heward is one of more than fifty vendors at the Green City Market.

“I was never really interested in this type of thing when I was young,” Jerry says. “My son actually got us started, my wife and myself. When he was in high school he worked for a farmer, a local farmer who lived in the city, and he would bring home these beautiful flowers and plant them in our backyard. Each year they’d get bigger and bigger. Our backyard ran out of room and so we said that we’ve got to move out into the country, buy some acreage and that’s how we got started.”

Today, Jerry and Jill’s Stoney Run Fields farm is a ten-year veteran of the Green City Market. The market itself has grown from a sparsely attended tiny alley operation next to the Chicago Theatre in 1998, to having more than 80,000 annual visitors a decade later.

All of the produce, meat, cheese, bread, flowers and more sold at the Green City Market are produced locally and in sustainable manners, in adherence with the market’s guidelines. Though Jerry, a retiree, says he does not depend on his flower business for income, he says the market does play a “big role,” in their overall sales.

Every Wednesday and Saturday he wakes up near dawn in order to pack up his flowers, make the trip to Chicago and set up his booth at the market by the 7am opening time. As a reformed city dweller turned farmer, Heward is patient with his mostly urban customers, and quick with a folksy axiom. Read the rest of this entry »

You Will Scream: Time for DIY ice cream

Food & Drink, Ice Cream, User's Guide to Summer 1 Comment »

haba-ice-creamIf there was ever a summer for DIY ice cream, this is it. With a new generation of cheap, efficient ice-cream makers readily available during a time of serious scrutiny in personal finance, it turns out that a $40 ice-cream machine pays for itself shockingly quickly. It’s also incredibly easy; most machines on the market simply consist of a bowl you freeze before adding ingredients and mixing, no ice or salt required.

Then it’s just a matter of getting the proportions right. Your simplest ice-cream recipe has, by volume, a ratio of about one-part milk to two-parts cream, with a little less than one-part granulated sugar. The basic ice cream recipe I use for my one-quart ice-cream maker is one cup whole milk, two cups cream (you can substitute light cream/half and half), and three-fourths cup granulated sugar, with a splash of good vanilla extract. In all cases you want to heat the dairy and the sugar until the sugar dissolves before pouring the cooled mixture into your ice cream maker.

My most successful variations to date have been, somewhat surprisingly, the simplest: cinnamon ice cream (add about 2 tablespoons of cinnamon, which is far more than you’ll think you need, to the basic recipe); and avocado ice cream (add one diced-and-then-crushed avocado to the mix when the ice cream is almost totally frozen). In fact, my friend Colleen and I have been talking about making an ice-cream burrito from red bean, avocado, tomato and sweet corn ice-cream wrapped in a sugared tortilla. I think we’re both afraid of trying it out for fear that life afterwards would be all downhill. Read the rest of this entry »

Hit the Deck: The back porch could use some Emily Posts as well

Food & Drink, Memoirs & Miscellany, Outdoor Concerts, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

Summer in the suburbs was sweet. On a half acre sheltered by towering oaks and dense shrubs we could perform whatever outrages we wanted and never see a neighbor without a formal invitation. Our daughter would sunbathe topless on the veranda roof with impunity, our errant son would hold drug-infested raves in the far back that the police pretended not to notice, and our artsy friends would commit abominations all over the lawns and porches free from public scrutiny.

When we moved to the city summer changed. Now we have a deck instead of gardens and terraces—a large deck, granted, but encroached on every side by other decks and porches and balconies, leaving us exposed and vulnerable. On one flank barely twenty feet away a sexy twentysomething sunbathes topless while her aging potbellied boyfriend wears an obscenely skimpy Speedo. On another side consultants from Chelsea Clinton’s firm host multinational MBAs with little in common but their True Religion jeans who chat with us across the void rather than face each other.

Deck etiquette challenges us daily. Do you greet your neighbors when they are relaxing five feet away, or respect their privacy and ignore them? Can you sit out in your pajama bottoms to read the morning paper? Is the bottom of a two-piece bikini adequate cover-up for women of a certain age? Do we introduce our guests, and do we need to muzzle our more outlandish ones? Do neighbors’ wind chimes assaulting our ear drums constitute a justifiable condo association grievance? Can I shoot my neighbors’ garrulous father-in-law, Cheney-style, when he peppers us with reminiscences of his life as a Houston orthodontist? Just because our deck offers the best views, does that mean the neighborhood kids are entitled to invade for every fireworks display and air show?

It’s trying for everyone. A fast-track young exec and his gorgeous girlfriend have to share an atrium patio with a family that includes two ADD boys under eight. A techie abandons his patio to his pugs, leaving angry neighbors retching. A misplaced social conservative across the alley emails me that we are all bound for hell.

I wish I could offer solutions, but there’s no Emily Post for decks. Navigating deck etiquette, like much else about summer in Chicago, seems just another trade-off for the excitement of living here: what you like most about it is also what you like least about it. (Burt Michaels)

A Sensual Feast: Summer’s bacchanal of tastes, smells, sounds, sights and textures

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By Michael Nagrant

Summer in Chicago is a food-porn dream.

At the Green City Market in Lincoln Park, a dewy sheen glistens on the tips of nubile spring onions and piles of bulbous Morels with more nooks and crannies than a Bay’s English Muffin spill from wooden barrels. Tender stalks of young white asparagus shoots splay about the farm tables. Verdant fields of leafy greens, bushels of arugula, spinach and mesclun mixes flay open in the morning sun. Rippled heirloom tomatoes burst with striped protuberances. Curlicues of frisee and fresh-cut vines flutter in the summer breeze. Bushels of jeweled apples compete for ocular affection with golden rivers of artisanal olive oils, tarragon vinegars and tubes of creamy ripe goat’s milk cheeses from Capriole farms. An ever-present mineral tang of earthy soils mingles with sweet tomato sauce and the smoky crust of the wood-burning pizzas and freshly grilled panninis. The oat-encrusted loaves of Bennison’s hearth-baked breads cast a yeasty aroma into the mix. Read the rest of this entry »

Greener Pastures: Ray Pride checks the organic farmer’s market where the chefs shop

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Wednesday mornings through October, for the sixth year, Lincoln Park reverts to farmland, or at least to the fruit of the land. The grassy expanses host an intimately scaled town square, Chicago’s Green City Market, a not-for-profit group whose goal is to support fresh, local and sustainable products.

Founder Abby Mandel’s supervised the operation as chairman of the board of directors for six years. “And I make organic plates every single Wednesday so come by and have one.” Read the rest of this entry »