My love affair with a sandwich

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On Monday Otherhalf and I went to the grocery store.  Normally this is an errand I dread.  Some people find it relaxing or spiritual or something.  I think it’s a pain in the ass.  If only I could open the fridge door and the groceries would magically already be there.  But we don’t mind going so much when we can stop at Nhu’ Lan Bakery just across the parking lot.  It is a teeny tiny wholeinthewall Vietnamese bakery that makes their own fresh French baguettes all day long.  And they make my most favorite sandwich in the whole wide world.  The Number 16 Banh Mi.  (insert angels singing – aaaaahhhhh!)

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A “banh mi” is a Vietnamese sandwich with French influence, from back when the Frenchies colonized in southeast Asia.  Banh mi (which actually translates to “bread”) starts with a baguette and is filled with any number of meaty options like pate, headcheese, ham, bbq pork, pork belly, pork rolls, meatballs, etc. They are then topped with sweet pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno slices.  And there are usually some vegetarian varieties as well.  I have had these sandwiches in a number of different Vietnamese eateries, but in my humble opinion, Nhu’ Lan makes the best.  Otherhalf and I could eat there everyday.  And sometimes we do.  Like we did on Monday.  (aaaaaand also on Sunday . . .)  They know us there.

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So there are the banh mi, and also a bunch of ready-made muncheroos like pork steam buns, and spring rolls and sesame balls. They make exceptional Vietnamese iced coffee (cafe sua da) and offer bubble tea smoothies as well as cans of “exotic” juices.  The place is tiny.  We usually manage to have pretty good timing though, and are able to sit at one of TWO, count em, TWO tables.

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As much as I love the cafe sua da, I can only have them every once in a while as the caffiene and sssssugar makes me all TwITcHy like. Otherhalf isn’t phased.

Now back to the Number 16:  it’s pate, ham, and a FRIED EGG.  The pate and ham are a savory meaty base.  Oh, and there’s some kind of sweet delicious mayo in there too.  The egg just makes it amazing- it’s warm, and soft, but not runny.  Er, it’s that special place where the yolk is not runny anymore, but hasn’t yet turned into a dry, pale yellow, hard cake.  It’s still vibrant and almost looks like lemon curd.  It’s perfect for the sandwich because it doesn’t run all over the place (like up your arm) meaning you don’t miss any of the yolky goodness.  The veggies on top add super important crunch factor and a bit of freshness.  Don’t pussy out and get it without the jalapenos.

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                                         the magic of the Number 16

The first time I tried it was on one of our treks to the burbs.  Otherhalf was driving and I was riding shotgun, stuffing my face with the egg sammich- moaning and such with carnal food pleasure, while he had one of the other usuals.  The next time we went he ordered the eggy one also, and I watched his paradigm shift.  Together with the thick, supersweet, superstrong iced coffee, it’s a perfect combination that makes my heart go pitterpat.  It has become our “usual.”

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Last week I went for the more healthy “lemongrass tofu” and while it is a very tasty sandwich, it doesn’t hold a candle to the #16. Buyer’s remorse ensued.

Sure the crusty baguette tears up the roof of your mouth, but it doesn’t matter.   The immediate overload of the pleasure receptors completely outweigh any chance of slowing your roll and eating with caution.  We are talking serious foodgasm here, people.  But don’t forget to savor it.  What’s your favorite sandwich?

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Fruit Flies and Other Wonders

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This weekend I attended the Good Food Festival and Conference at the UIC Forum.  I met up with my friends Jen and Kelly.  I met Jen at my sister-in-law’s birthday dinner at this amazing Italian restaurant, and we hit it off over a fabulous rib roast (with the bone marrow . . .droool. . .)  And lots of red wine.  Jen and Kelly met at a canning class.  We like to go on food adventures together when we can.

So this Good Food Festival:  It’s an event hosted by FamilyFarmed.org, which is an organization whose mission “ . . . is to expand the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food, in order to enhance the social, economic, and environmental health of our communities.”  Groovy.  It was a big indoor fest of 150 vendors hawking their locally grown/ produced food products, (why yes, thank you, I would LOVE try a sample of your delicious Amish Goat Cheese!! Pickled Beets!! Chai and Masala Seasoned Popcorn!! Tomato Jam!! Portobello Tamales!! Grass-Fed Summer Sausage!!!  etc, etc.)  In addition there were informative talks and workshops on assorted topics like beekeeping, composting, dehydrating, home cheesemaking, and climate-change-in-your-backyard to name a few.  Lots of urban-granola-hipster types there if I were to stereotype (which I’m not.)  Many of these workshop things don’t really apply to me as I live in an apartment with no backyard.  No composting or raising chickens for me.  There was no way to see it all anyways.

wheat grass, some very tender pork, and a butchering demonstration

wheat grass, some very tender pork, and a butchering demonstration

Also there were some pretty sweet options for lunch.  Obviously all of the vendors support local farms.  Jen and I opted for the “Mac and Cheese- Cedar Grove Cheddar, Kilgus Farm Cream” from Local Root (AMAZING after we added a little salt and pepper,) and the “Maple & Brown Sugar Bacon Sausage paired with a creamy bourbon bbq sauce on a pretzel roll” from Big Fork Bacon Sausage.  Twas quite tasty.  Kelly had the “Burger (sans bun) and Side (salad)” from B’Gabs Goodies Raw Vegan Deli.  It was a beautiful salad and a weird looking burger thing.  They are gluten and soy free.  I had a bite and it was pretty good.

a little lunch

a little lunch

So then we moved on to the “Brew Your Own Kombucha” workshop.  I have absolutely no experience with kombucha, other than the vague idea of it being moldy tea that people drink for health reasons.  Jen and Kelly have both tried it, and in the spirit of learning something entirely new, I agreed to forgo the home cheese making class that was going on at the same time.

So it turns out that kombucha is pretty funky stuff.  In a very general terms, you start with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and you grow it in a big glass jar of sweetened tea (it eats sugar,) where it ferments for a few days or a week and gets kinda fizzy.  Then you bottle the tea part (the kombucha) and reserve the SCOBY to start the process all over again.  And then you drink it.  It’s supposed to be a liver detoxifier or something.  It looks like a science experiment, or evidence the FBI would find in a serial killer’s storage locker (think Silence of the Lambs).

NessAlla Kombucha, the monster SCOBY, and Kelly and the monster SCOBY

NessAlla Kombucha, let’s pass around the open jar of SCOBY!!, Kelly was excited.

I tried it.  A few different kinds.  It tastes like weird fizzy watered down tea that’s a bit tart.  There are different flavors from infusing different herbs and whatnot in the teas.  Apparently people go ape shit for this stuff.  Not my bag, but the ladies of NessAlla Kombucha who put on the workshop were highly entertaining, and I learned many new weird things.  Did you know that fruit flies are born pregnant??  Me neither.

Well, this concludes my adventures at the Good Food Festival and Conference 2013.  What did you learn this weekend?

second post, first fail.

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I am a liar.  I know I said my next post was going to be about the Week of Indulgence, but I can throw those up at any time.  Tonight I have a story about dinner.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Sage Brown Butter.

This is NOT what my dinner looked like (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Otherhalf is out for the evening, so I was left to my own devices for dinner.  (Since he always gets home before me, there’s usually something in the works when I get home.  I am spoiled.)  Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Sage Sauce would foot the bill for easy-peasy dinner situation.  You just pull it out of the freezer and throw it in a pan to cook for 8 minutes.  The little frozen pellets of butter melt into an intoxicating sauce while the gnocchi heats through.  The only thing was, when I cut the package open and poured it into my pan, I heard NOT a delightful hailstorm of frozen gnocchi and butter nuggets, but the loud thud of a solid brick.  So at some point, the frozen gnocchi had thawed enough that the butter melted to the bottom of the package and refroze to turn the whole thing into said brick.  On further inspection, it looked like the package had been dropped or something, because there was an open crack in the plastic.  This gnocchi has been exposed.  Freezer burn is a possibility at this point.

So you would think I would maybe chuck this one into the trash and just eat the carrot and apple slices and humus that I took to work today but didn’t end up eating because someone brought us chocolate croissants (!!!). . . think again.  I cooked it anyways.  The brick was so hard that in an attempt to separate the stuck-together gnocchi by getting all stabby,  I broke one of my favorite Pampered Chef bamboo spoons.  (My neighbors probably thought there was gunfire coming from my apartment with all the banging on the metal stove top.)

RIP spoonie

RIP Spoonie

The gnocchi ended up looking really sad.  Like little globules of starchy mush.  I should have probably called it a loss and thrown it away at that point.  The sauce probably had colonies of who knows what growing in it.  But the smell of the butter made my eyes cross and my judgement poor.  I Love The Smell Of Butter.  And it didn’t look freezer burned . . . I’m going to go with the ol’, “I killed it in the fryin’ pan,” rationalization.

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Because I ate it.

**I feel that I should also mention that I have nothing against Trader Joe’s.  I really like most of what they offer as far as easy to prepare, somewhat healthy, quick, frozen dinners, and in no way do I hold them responsible for my impending diarrhea.

Well hello there.

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Hi!  So this is my blog.  I have had this web address for a week now, and hadn’t a clue what the first post should be, so I’m just going to start writing.  Because if I don’t just start, it will never get done.  Hopefully this will evolve into something really cool.  It will mostly be about food, and food related adventures, and some non-food related adventures as well.  Perhaps I should begin at the beginning about how this whole blog thing got started.  Embarrassingly, it was almost a year ago.  Otherhalf and I were unable to travel, and so I took my vacation during his spring break and we decided to eat our way through Chicago.  (There’s some pretty wicked food here, FYI.)  We visited a bunch of restaurants that we had been meaning to try, and went to some of our old favorites.  I posted our culinary adventures on Facebook, and people was all like “Hey, you should start a blog!”  But I being the big procrastinating chicken perfectionist that I am, was all like, “Yeah, maybe I will someday, I have to plan it out first.”

So here we are.  Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?  Stay tuned as I will share the adventure of what I and Otherhalf refer to as “The Week of Indulgence 2012.”   And there will be pictures!