Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

New York Meals: Prospect Park Greenmarket

The second in a series of posts about the exceptional food I ate in 2.5 days in New York.

My trip to New York was a dream. Actually getting to New York, however, was a giant pain in the ass. Someone explain to me exactly how air travel has gotten LESS convenient and MORE miserable over time? Oh right, computers. Instead of leaving Detroit at 5:20 and arriving in Brooklyn in time for dinner, I subsisted on a Chicago dog and a terrible beer at the airport, finally getting out at 10pm and arriving on Carrie’s doorstep in a sorry state sometime around 1am. She had to teach in the morning, so we simultaneously said hello and goodnight, and I passed right on out.

I woke up completely and miraculously recharged, however, and headed out in search of cash, breakfast, and coffee in that order. And so I found myself at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket on a perfect June morning.

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Photo by benderbending

These photos are from other seasons, but let me tell you: this smelled like a summertime market: berries, herbs, and tomatoes all warm from the sun. Myriad options for baked goods and other treats. A long line for fresh fish. Summer produce is only just now starting to appear at the markets in Michigan, so I was delighted to see cucumbers, as was Mr. Pickle:

Cucumber Kin

My breakfast? A vegan spelt pocket containing mustard tofu and some sort of slaw – delicious fillings, but just an adequate wrapper – and a handful of fresh cherries that I ate on my walk to the subway, spitting the pits into the street. I headed into the city with sticky fingers, a happy belly, and the sense that summer had finally arrived.

Market Breakfast


If you go:
Greenmarket at Prospect Park
Grand Army Plaza
Saturdays year round, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ferry Plaza and the Most Perfect Sandwich

When I dream of San Francisco, it is more often than not about the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.  While Michigan ranks highly in agricultural diversity despite our relatively abbreviated growing season, California’s a whole other animal.  If you’re eating strawberries in January, there’s a good chance they’re from California.  Same thing if you’re eating asparagus in the October.  The climate is moderate and  the growing seasons long, and the farmer’s market evinces this bounty.

"Take a picture of me with this giant carrot!"

We haven’t seen strawberries in the market since late June, but they were at Ferry Plaza, as were avocados and intensely wonderful plums (flavor grenade!) and giant carrots and lavender salt and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses and so many other things that we just couldn’t buy, not with a week to go until returning home and no source of refrigeration.

But first things first: coffee and breakfast. If you walk around the right side of the Ferry Plaza Market on a Saturday morning, you’ll be hit by a wave of delicious smells: roasting vegetables, frying eggs, and coffee. Coffee worth pretentious descriptions and standing in a long line. Blue Bottle actually has three locations at the Saturday market – the permanent stand in the Ferry Plaza building, plus two outside kiosks at opposite ends of the market. Shane queued up and perused the coffee descriptions while I scoped out the other locations, where the lines were just as long.

IMG_4813

Used to the pour-over options at Comet, we were a little confused when we got to the front of the line and couldn’t choose our beans. We walked away with two damned fine cups of coffee and some good advice on beans to try next time. Because oh, there will be a next time.

Blue Bottle

Coffee in hand, we followed our noses to the Roli/Roti food cart, where we encountered a beautiful sight:

PORCHETTA

Have you had porchetta? I thought I had, but my memories had nothing on this. Using the rotisserie technique that most of us have encountered in grocery store chickens, the pork roasts slowly and evenly, and the skin turns into crisp flavorful candy. The owner, son of a Swiss Master Butcher, handed us scraps of meat as we waited in line, and we were sold. Sold sold sold.

Most Perfect Sandwich

Oh my god, you guys. I know I can wax hyperbolic about food on occasion, but this sandwich! It really might’ve been the best sandwich either of us have ever had – and remember we live in the land of Zingerman’s. The pork was moist, herb-infused and intensely flavored, with a fair portion of crispy skin. On top of the pork, crunchy greens and some sort of jammy onions, all of which is piled onto an ACME roll. We dug in, giving a sticky thumbs up to the owner when he called out to see how we liked it.


If you go:
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 291-3276

The farmer’s market is best experienced Saturday morning (8am-2pm), though it also runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-2pm.  In addition the Ferry Building has many permanent vendors and restaurants, including Cowgirl Creamery, ACME Bread Co., Boccalone, Sur La Table, and Slanted Door.

Roli/Roti
Variety of locations, but appearing at the Ferry Plaza Market on Thursdays and Saturdays

RoliRoti is in the running for The Great Food Truck Race – they’re not on the show currently, but might be on a subsequent season? I’ll admit to making a huge mess of my phone trying to vote mid-sandwich.

0529 Summer is here!

I made my inaugural trip to the market on my moped this morning.  Let me tell you – the ‘ped is the way to go.  Parking at the market is nightmareish.  Kerrytown parking is bad in general, but finding a parking spot on Saturday morning is almost as bad as trying to find a spot in Dupont on market day.  Seriously.

But let’s get back to the happy, shall we?  The market was bumpin’ at 7:30, Karl was taking pictures for Real Time Farms, and I filled my Trucker all the way up to the top with good stuff: donuts and Roos Roast, tiny pickling cucumbers, pattypan squash, strawberries, and 2nds tomatoes.  2nds tomatoes!  Totally beautiful, sweet, and with only small blemishes.  This gives me hope for our garden, and for a summer’s worth of good eating.

First impressions

We arrived in Ann Arbor Thursday night after a minimally stressful 10 hours in the car. Everyone seems to be settling in well, though Mina is still pretty skittish and frequently takes refuge in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. We’ve spent the last two days getting acclimated to our new digs (sans furniture, which will arrive mid next week) and figuring out how to get around. Some first impressions while Shane puts a second coat of paint on the NAVY BLUE CEILING in one of the bedrooms:

  1. It’s very dark here at night! We’re used to well-lit – or at least kind of lit – city streets, so driving around at night in what is arguably a suburban neighborhood can be tricky, especially if it’s raining.
  2. The farmers’ market is great, cheaper than any of the ones in DC (even when I was getting a sweet discount), and full of life on a Saturday morning.  It reminded me of going to the market in Urbana and seeing at least a handful of friends every weekend – except without the friends part.  I kept wanting to buy things and then realizing that I had nothing with which to prepare them.
  3. I’ve realized over the last two days the extent to which I take my kitchen for granted.  I went to make pasta for lunch yesterday, except that I had nothing in which to boil the pasta, and no can opener with which to open the tuna.  I made the former work, but not the latter.
  4. Running in a suburban neighborhood is different than running in a city that is on a grid and/or that has excellent rails-to-trails trails available.  My 3.5K run today included a park “trail”, a stop by a “tomato free-for-all” garden, and a bout of thankfulness for noticing street names.  Tomorrow I’ll stick to clearer routes and will not think about running by the river.
  5. Hard wood floors are much noisier than carpet. Prior to our apt in Alex, we were die-hard hard wood fans, but both the comfort and sound insulation of that apt spoiled us. Shane is downstairs rinsing out the paint tray, which I know because I saw him go down there, but also because I can hear him clanging around right below me.  We will be investing in rugs soon.
  6. On a similar note, I didn’t notice how quiet our apt complex in Alex was – even though we were right off the GW Parkway – until we moved into an apt on a semi-busy residential street.  I think it’s partially that we haven’t been able to sleep with our windows open in a looong time.  Did I mention it’s been in the 70s with lows in the 50s?
  7. Oh hello, Midwest seasonal allergies.  I’d forgotten about you guys.  It’s always seemed like a cruel joke to me that my favorite season – fall – also gives me the worst sneezes.

Can it!

Shane shared this article on Google Reader tonight and it had what I imagine was the intended effect – getting me thinking about the small canning empire I started last summer.  The author argues that canning – in its current urban incarnation – is less about frugality and more about a bourgeois sense of connection to what we eat.  (Is bourgeois the right word?  I’m never sure if I’m using it correctly.  Anyway.)

There are a couple of things I take issue with in this article.  First, the opening paragraph references the author’s ” $15 per pint, straight-from-the-Greenmarket, homemade and canned in Brooklyn, N.Y., macerated and simmered in unprocessed sugar, spiked with organic chiles and small-batch Kentucky bourbon strawberry jam” in her calculation of a $17 PB&J sandwich.  $15 per pint is a ridiculous figure for jam – I think we can all agree on that – but unless she ate the entire pint, her sandwich probably works out to more like $3 at most.  She makes an important point, though – you’re not saving money by canning when you’re paying more for the raw ingredients than you would the finished product in the quantities produced.

I started canning last year in the midst of an eating-local mania.  Over the course of the summer and fall, I canned around 2 dozen pints of tomatoes, 8-10 pints of peaches, and a lot of applesauce.  In addition, I froze zucchini, asparagus, roasted tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, green beans, and roasted red peppers.  We’re still working our way through all the frozen stuff, though we exhausted the peaches earlier in the summer, and are on our last (I can’t believe it!) jar of canned tomatoes.

Has it been worthwhile?  Taste-wise, mostly.  The frozen vegetables didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped, but the fruit was all great.  Always having tomatoes on hand is excellent, and the peaches were a treat long before they’d returned to the market.  Has it been financially worthwhile?  Not sure.

We buy most of our produce from the assorted DC FreshFarm markets.  It’s always a toss-up as to whether the market produce is cheaper than what’s at the grocery store.  Much of the time it’s comparable, and the primary gains from shopping at market are being able to select the specific quantity you need from higher quality products – in addition to the warm fuzzies that come from dealing with people who have first-hand experience with the produce, rather than a stockboy who doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

When I started thinking about canning, I realized right away that it was only going to be financially worthwhile if we could get the stuff to be canned very cheaply.  The author refers to putting up the bounty from a home garden – which is what my grandma did for years.  With no home garden to plunder, the only financially feasible option was buying 2nds produce – or going the you-pick route.  Whenever possible, we buy 2nds produce – things like tomatoes, apples, peaches, and pears that are still edible when less than perfect.  2nds produce is generally at least $1 cheaper per pound than the unblemished stuff, so by my calculations, it works out something like this:

10 pounds of tomatoes at $2 per pound produced 8 pints of tomatoes plus 3 pints tomato sauce.
Total expenditure on raw materials: $20

Cost of comparable store-bought items:
8 14 oz cans Giant-brand whole tomatoes @ $1.39 each: $11.12
3 14 oz jars Giant-brand Thick & Rich spaghetti sauce @ 1.25 each: $3.75
Total expenditure: $14.87

Does it work out to be financially worthwhile?  No.  Or at least not really.  This also doesn’t calculate in the cost of the jars and lids – a one-time investment in infrastructure – or the electricity used in the process.  At the same time, the oft-extolled “satisfaction of a job well done” is worth $5 to me.  I felt immensely proud to have done the dirty, sweaty work of canning.  I have continued to feel proud every time I open the cabinet to grab a jar of tomatoes at the last minute.  In the last 12 months, I can count on one hand the number of jars of tomatoes we’ve purchased – 3 at most, and those were because we were cooking in bulk for Obama volunteers.

Canning is not financially worthwhile at $16 for two quarts of strawberries, which is what the author paid – but then I guess if you can afford to pay $16 for two quarts of strawberries, the financials don’t really matter all that much.  Taking a $5 loss on something you enjoy doing is much more reasonable.  $5 would get you (maybe) two games of bowling or a skein of yarn or a single ticket in the bleachers at a baseball game.  Depending on where you live, $5 covers a beer or a Value Meal.

Last weekend I made 9 pints of Lodi applesauce – $16 for a peck of apples + $.07 for 1/4 C sugar = $1.78 per pint.  A 25 oz jar of Giant-brand Apple Sauce (Natural) is $1.69.  The price difference is about $.05 per ounce – except that Lodi apples aren’t usually available in the store.  They’re early apples, with a very short production season and a limited shelf-life.  They’re also the apples my grandparents grew in their backyard, so I grew up with Lodi applesauce, rather than the overly sweet or cinnamony stuff most kids had.  The extra $.05 per ounce is worth it for taste and – for me – nostalgia.

Will I be canning this year?  It depends on what’s available, and how much it will cost.  I’m volunteering at the  market this year, and as a result I get half-price produce.  Half price might be worthwhile.

Today

– farmer’s market bounty: zucchini, broccoli, radishes, strawberries, cherries, some other stuff I can’t remember, and SOFT SHELL CRABS that looked like giant bugs but tasted delicious
– made amazing strawberry and toasted coconut ice cream, and then had kitchen disaster #3 of the weekend when the ice cream maker overflowed
– brunch with Mel and Ray and Jill and Kevin and Fred, wherein Fred was charmed by a strawberry, and Mel beat everyone at Carcassone
– feeding and playing with the cats at KSC
– crabs and grilled zukes for dinner with Mel and Ray
– Shane goes to Michigan tomorrow!

10 September 2008

If there’s one thing that scares me more than public speaking, it’s cold calling.  I generally don’t like talking on the phone to begin with, much less talking on the phone with people I don’t know when I’m asking them for something.  Regardless, that’s how I spent a chunk of my morning – cold-calling building managers in the area on behalf of the farmers’ market near my work.

I’ve started reading a new book – Real Food by Nina Planck, daughter of two farmers that sell at the Courthouse market – and I suspect that I’m going to become even more insufferable when it comes to local eating.  So far it’s all about how ‘real food’ – the sorts of things that we humans have been eating for millennia – is in basically every way superior to the processed stuff that we now eat every day.  This coupled with an article that I read elsewhere (flaking on the source) about how we’ve commoditized home cooking has me extra inspired to think more purposefully about my eating beyond just thinking purposefully about the ingredients.

EDIT to add: Blogging Gastronomica: Convenience Food and Eating on the Go

Good things: Saturday edition

So far this weekend:
– I took a two hour nap.
– SB and I met Keem for dinner at Farren’s, which has redeemed itself in my estimation after a few lackluster visits. I had tacos.
– SB and I went to Borders for a while. I bought a book and a magazine, and grudgingly decided to subscribe to Blueprint, the latest in the Martha Stewart suite of lifestyle magazines. It’s really fabulous, guys.
– Trip to the farmers’ market yields lodi apples (for grandma’s applesauce), rhubarb (for a crumble and/or jam), and tiny radishes. Add in a Mexican brioche and a little pastry snack from Mirabelle, and it makes for a lovely shopping trip.
– Yoga with SB. The class was slower than I really enjoy, but it was stretchy, tough in parts, and relaxing.
– Leftover spring rolls from the 4th = mmmmm.
– Right now, possibly as I type this, Sonya and Jason are gettin’ hitched!