Goodbye, West Loop

Dear West Loop,

Thank you so much for being my neighborhood for the past six years. First as my place of employment, and then as my home. I loved you from the very first time I met you, which was probably visiting my friend Lauren’s apartment and going to the Old St. Pat’s Block Party, then when I couldn’t figure out how to get to my first interview at Harpo (thanks, Lauren).

Since then, we’ve had so many good times. I’ve lived on Kinzie and Madison, spent lots of time after hours and at brunches on Randolph, worked on Racine and May, went to church on Adams and Desplaines, gone to the Target on Jackson too many times, and have had a love/hate relationship with the 20 bus down Madison and Washington on and off for the past six years.

You have been a part of so many wonderful memories in my life. Almost four years ago, Nate and I got engaged at a New Year’s Eve party we had at our Kinzie apartment. We moved to Madison right before we were married, and got George right after we moved to our second apartment in the building (yes, we’ve moved a lot). You were there for me in my best times, and more recently my worst, and I’ll never forget that.

And as much as I hate to, it’s time to leave you. Things have changed. And now, there are condo buildings and restaurants popping up everywhere. The intimate relationship we once had has become crowded, expensive, less familiar.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ve kept me, Nate, and now George safe and comfortable for these six years, and for that I say thank you (I’m sure my parents would, too). People recognize and say hi to George when he goes on long walks with Nate. I went out to dinner tonight and saw three different people at my favorite BBQ spot on Green. It’s so bittersweet to leave you, but it’s time to move on.

I won’t be far, and I’ll come back to visit you often, but our relationship will be a little different. You’re the only neighborhood I’ve lived and loved in the city, but it’s time to say goodbye. I wish you well as you continue to grow and thrive, and hopefully I will be doing the same in my new neighborhood.

Thank you, I love you, and I hope to see you very soon.

Xo. Stephanie

Photo by Erica Barraca Photography


Green City Market Cookbook Demonstration at The Chopping Block

These days, what can $40 get you? How about unlimited cocktails, the new Green City Market Cookbook, and a cooking demonstration at The Chopping Block Cooking School, featuring chefs and a farmer who contributed to the cookbook. Oh yeah, and you get to sample all of the recipes and chat with them, too. No kidding, this is how Nate and I recently spent our Monday night!

Walking into The Chopping Block, a recreational cooking school,  is like foodie heaven, complete with a boutique kitchen store to shop for items used in demonstrations and classes, and three classroom areas for classes and private parties.

We bumped into my friend Gina who works there, then our friends Britta and Dave who were also attending the class. Britta volunteers at The Green City Market, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a marketplace for purchasing sustainably grown food and to educate, promote and connect  farmers and local producers directly to chefs, restaurateurs and the greater Chicago community. I’ve been to the Lincoln Park market a handful of times and loved it, it’s just kind of difficult for me to get to. So you could imagine my excitement when they recently started The Green City Market Fulton on Saturday mornings!

Back to the story: The room was busy, so we got some wine and beer and sat down with our cookbooks, not quite sure what to expect. The presentation started with a few introductions, including Beth Eccles, owner and farmer of Green Acres Farm, who spoke about her involvement with the Green City Market, and how she collaborates with local chefs. Throughout the evening, the chefs had nothing but wonderful things to say about Beth and her produce, which was really wonderful to hear.

Shelley Young, owner of The Chopping Block, started the demos by sharing her strata recipe (all of the recipes from the evening are featured in the cookbook). What was cool was that Shelley adapted her recipe for the summer, using yellow corn and squash. Sometimes I get to caught up in a recipe that I can’t even think about changing an ingredient, but the chefs that evening were really playful with their recipes, which was inspiring for this wannabe foodie. This strata was so decadent, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Very creamy and delicious but packed with veggies, too.

Next were Joshua Kulp and Christine Cikowski, chefs and owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, who made mini versions of their Sunday Dinner Club market burger. The burger, which they freshly ground, was simple but outstanding. The quality of the meat was so great, the burger didn’t require much seasoning before cooking. (I always add egg and breadcrumbs and sometimes veggies–not necessary!) Luckily they let us sample some right after the demo because these were too good to wait.

Lastly, Jason Hammel, co-owner of Lula Cafe, put together a lovely summer bean salad with smoked trout. Jason walked us through the steps of blanching the veggies, and properly assembling the dish. He made his own dressings, which is something I really need to start doing. This salad was so crisp and crunchy, it made me excited to visit Lula. After our move this month, I swear!

After the demonstrations were finished, the audience was allowed to sample the strata and salad, have the chefs sign their cookbooks, and chat and ask questions. It was nice to be able to get to know the chefs a little better, and hear about their involvement with the market.

Needless to say, we went home very full and truly inspired. We even picked up a cooking oil and spatula used in class. I look forward to making many of these recipes for years to come.

Green City Market
Lincoln Park (Wednesdays and Saturdays) & now Fulton Market (Saturdays only)

Green City Market Cookbook

The Chopping Block Cooking School
222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza
River North

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When our friends Scott and Katherine asked us to go to brunch, I gave them the difficult task of choosing our meeting place. All of their options were great, but Gather‘s menu looked too good to pass up.

So we recently headed north to Lincoln Square, which we haven’t explored all too much, but my God, is that area cute.

We checked in and waited for our friends at the bar, which is located across from a quaint kitchen counter where you can eat and watch the chefs create. Love this element of intimacy and the ability to chat with the chefs.

Soon after we sit down we met Scott, the bartender, who quickly talks us into a mimosa and a Bloody Mary. Scott was great, making us laugh and telling us his favorite dishes on the brunch menu (the Skillet, Chicken Fried Biscuit, and the Corn Griddle Cake). When Scott and Katherine arrived, we sat down and were pleasantly surprised that Scott was also our waiter.

We started with the donut and sticky bun (hello! yum!) that are perfect for sharing, followed by the Benedict for me, the Sunday Omelete for Katherine, the Skillet for Nate, and the Cured Salmon for Scott.

Let me tell you, the presentation of these dishes were so good, I was inspired. It really makes such a difference when your dish is just as pleasing to the eye as it is to taste. Since then, I’ve really tried to work on my presentation with the meals I make at home (check Twitter @secondcitygal for photos).

Can I also mention that they do something to their home fries that should be illegal. I don’t know what it is but they are whole potatoes that are perfectly crispy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside (I probably don’t want to know how they’re made!). The rest of my Benedict was good, too–fresh and thoughtfully prepared. Everyone was pretty pleased with their dishes.

As if these potatoes could keep me away, Gather also has a Sunday Dinner that I just need to try. Served family style, you enjoy a meal of three entrees for the table with sides and sticky buns for dessert. This traditional dinner concept is a must for me (want to come with?).

Lastly, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that I didn’t sit outside, but their outdoor space looked amazing. I need to go back to sit out there, too.

Whether you’re looking for a tasty brunch or family style dinner, you’ll find excellent service and delicious comfort food at Gather.

4539 North Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Square