Most days I feel comfortable saying that I’ve seen pretty much everything my home city has to offer. I’ve been to the tourist traps and the holes-in-the-walls. I’ve ventured to all corners of the city, and after 15 years in Chicago I thought I’d pretty much nailed down what to do and what not to do here.
It was a stupid cold and sleeting winter day in spring (read: late March in Chicago) and the weather threw a monkey-wrench in a scheduled pre-wedding “Meeting of the Moms.” In searching for indoor, get to know you activities, the conservatory seemed like a great alternative to window shopping in Andersonville, because moms like flowers, right?
When I was first invited to the grand opening of Plum Market, I pictured a small cafe / grocer much like Panozzo’s or the once lovely City Provisions, which closed earlier this year. I got dressed up to meet new blogger friends from the Chicago Blogger Network under the assumption that I’d be spending a leisurely hour or two perusing, schmoozing, and sipping on free coffee.
Boy, was I wrong.
In spite of massive thunderstorms that moved through overnight I arrived at Plum Market’s inaugural Chicago branch to find a line hanging out the door of a relatively massive grocery store. More akin to Whole Foods than City Provisions, all of Plum Market’s 27,000 square feet of organic goodness were packed to the gills. I never found any of the bloggers, I never got a free coffee (for fear of running out of my free hour of parking waiting for it), and wondered the store in somewhat of a culture shocked daze after spending three weeks in unpopulated Wyoming.
After securing my bag of “blogger income” (i.e. free samples) and navigating the store, a few key points came to mind:
Grocery stores can be very beautiful. Aside from my obsession with piles of fresh food, Plum Market goes a step beyond in it’s stunning design elements, bountiful hot and cold bars, and specialty areas.
People other than hipsters enjoy organic food. I love Whole Foods as much as the next person, but sometimes being waited on by a disinterested dirty hipster is a turnoff. The staff at Plum Market are clean cut, friendly, and very helpful. If they can keep it that way I’m totally sold.
What’s good for Old Town is good for me. Just north of Division and Wells, Plum Market is in an ideal location bordering hoity-toity-ville, gross bar-ville, and homeless-man-hanging-out-by-the-red-line-ville. This market will easily satisfy the residents of Old Town, is walking distance to the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts, and hopefully will give the miserable Jewel at Clark and Division a run for it’s money. Though grocery stores don’t necessarily make for great tourist attractions, Plum Market extends Old Town’s charm a little further to the South then the average visitor would be apt to walk, and provides a lovely stop to grab a cup of coffee and a break before turning around and heading back.
Experience Plum Market for yourself at 1233 N. Wells St. Store hours are 8am-10pm; free parking for 1 hour with validation. For more information, visit www.plummarket.com or @PlumMarket on twitter (#PlumMarketCHI). Plum Market is also on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
The cashier appeared nervous. Perhaps he somehow knew that I’m a famous travel writer visiting Starbucks-es around the world (she says sarcastically). Actually, he had cut his hand and I think felt nervous about serving customers. He was wearing a glove (good move), explained to me why he was wearing it…
…to which another barista replied that he was actually imitating Michael Jackson today…
…to which I replied that he would do a better imitation if he studded his plastic glove in rhinestones.
Once you leave the St. Louis area on the way to Chicago, there are no Starbucks-es until you reach our Illinois state capital: Springfield. Not an easy distance, I traversed 60 miles on zero caffeine convinced that I’d see a siren along the way, to no avail. So this Grande Misto was one of the tastiest I’ve had in a long time – if for no other reason – because it happened to be my first cup of the day…..
In fairness, this Starbucks was clean, fast, and friendly. They didn’t overfill my personal cup, which has happened a lot lately. Right next door to the Starbucks is the adorable Sgt. Pepper’s Cafe, where they make good and crispy hashbrowns and use little yellow submarines all over the place for decoration, but don’t have very good coffee.
So, if ever you find yourself in Springfield, IL and highly under-caffineated, go eat some hashbrowns, and then cross the flower bed for a great cup of coffee.
I found myself in Wheaton last weekend to attend a shared bill concert of Hubbard Street 2 and the Wheaton College Orchestra.. Downtown Wheaton is cute as a button, and so is its Starbucks. Besides its good looks, this Starbucks was about the friendliest I’ve been to, well, ever. It kind of felt like an alternate universe out there in the West suburbs. The cafe is small, and a girl sitting alone was willing to share a table… for THREE hours…
Friendly baristas, fast service, fresh coffee, and a comfortable place to sit and grade papers. Just another day in paradise.
We’re on the heels of my favorite season. The mornings now have a bite in the air, fashion scarves and sweaters are becoming imperative, and everything around me is turning into orange-y and amber hues. Though I’m a California girl at heart, I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost 25 years. The one thing about living here that has kept me from continually accosting my parents for moving us across the country is the leaves. Well, they have leaves in California, but they don’t turn orange and gold and burgundy.
Some people live life with rose-colored glasses; my glasses are burgundy.
Plus, the idea of not sweating profusely every time I go somewhere is highly appealing to me.
The farmer’s market is becoming particularly bountiful, and though it’s sad to see summer squash and tomatoes go out of my life, the beginning of fall means it’s “squirrel time”. What I mean is, I’m trying to make time to take everything that still just barely at it’s peak of freshness and dry it, freeze it or can it for the winter.
I’ve always wanted to make an attempt to preserve enough produce to make it through the winter without buying a shriveled up zucchini that was grown in the middle of Mexico and shipped to my local store on a refrigerator truck.
I know that this isn’t the year for me to make this happen full stop, but nonetheless I’ve managed to buy and can or freeze 25 pounds of tomatoes, pickle a bunch of beets, blanch and freeze broccoli, eggplant, and green beans, and there is a batch of crispy squash chips in the oven as I type. I got a really big squash in my CSA box last week, was told it would be the last one, and, having eaten one squash too many, this is what I chose to do with it:
Zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced and dried on a paper towel
Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (spraying it with cooking spray works fine too). Arrange the squash slices in a single layer and coat with olive oil using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with a modest amount of salt and bake at 275-F for a LONG time (several hours). When they are firm and crispy, they’re done.
A great substitute for potato chips, use these chips up in about three days, stored in a plastic bag or wrapped in a tea towel
The Belvidere Oasis was the VERY last pit stop on our 1,000 mile journey from Sturis, SD back to Chicago. Having travelled the high plains in severe cross-winds the first day and persistent rain the second, these tired bikers deserved nothing better the a high-priced premium coffee, and their amazing accomplishment (and fast baristas cranking out, like, 12 caramel macchiatos) earns a BIG thumbs up.