Chicago’s autumnal wallet harvest.

deep dish pizzaMy beloved camera has been sent away for repairs, forcing me to use my little backup. Blame it and my amateur skill for the blur in these photos. I’d like to blame the camera woes for failing to post lately, but instead I’ll blame a recent trip to Chicago and my two main activities there: gluttony and prodigality.

Oooh, how I ate. Oh, how I spent! Living in a smaller city, I can’t buy much “fancy food” without paying high shipping costs, so I used this trip to buy every affordable non-perishable item that I’d ever yearned for. When I wasn’t enjoying a deep-dish spinach pizza from Caffe Florian in Hyde Park, an arbol chili dark chocolate pyramid from Bon Bon in Andersonville, or a raspberry petit four from Swedish Bakery, I was buying three pounds of fat chestnuts at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park, dried scallops in Chinatown, or exciting salts like earthy red Hawaiian, architectural Maldon, and sticky gray fleur de sel. You know you’re having a good time when you’re shopping at an organic farmer’s market, sample a sugar snap pea sprout (tastes just like sugar snap peas!), and trip over a pink fingerling potato. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever tripped over!

chestnutsThe fleur de sel was probably overkill, but because I couldn’t buy all the stinky cheese, delicate fruit, and pricey meat that I wanted for fear of spoilage, I comforted myself with foods that would last decades. Besides, I don’t drink. Think of the thousands of dollars that I’ve saved by not buying wine every week. Oh heck, think of the millions of dollars that I’ve saved by not buying cases of 18th century wine every day! Don’t I deserve a little hand-raked sea salt? The salt may still be around when I’m 80 because it’s too expensive to use. I’ll bring it out to show guests, but I’ll be sure to let them know that they’re not important enough to eat it. If anyone requests a taste I’ll say in a shocked tone, “You think I’m made of salt?” (Insert biblical spouse joke here.)

raspberry petit fourThe Amedi chocolate bar, salt caramels, and Trader Joe’s grade B maple syrup—I finally found grade B maple syrup—will disappear before the decade is out. I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do with dried white fungus, but I’m going to enjoy figuring it out. I know excactly what I’m going to do with the dried morels. (Hint: It involves the Italians and rice.) The Arbol chili pyramid is long gone, but the lingering heat kept me company for at least five minutes before it faded into a warm memory. Can you be addicted to a chocolate after one dose? And could the flavor be improved with a dip in fleur de sel? There’s only one way to find out.

chocolateI hope to go back soon clutching a new shopping list in my hands and wearing an extra-absorbent bib around my neck. After all, I still haven’t tried every deep-dish pizza in town, nor have I tried one of the famous hot dogs that you can’t order with ketchup or else an angry mob will drag you to the stocks to pelt you with lake effect snowballs. Also, the one store I found that stocked El Ray had run out of the white chocolate, I need to find a decent masala dabba in Indiatown, and I hear that Szichuan peppercorns packed in oil can knock a grown man into a stupor. Now that’s Chicago.

bullet Link du jour
Chicago-based Fancy Toast is a treasure of a food blog. It’s beautiful, hilarious, and a little—just a little—completely insane. I love it.

Jejune to jazzy: How jam jarred me.

This past summer I found myself standing on wet gravel in a ramshackle shelter housing fresh vegetables and a stack of Yoder’s preserves. I was in lush rural West Virginia for the first time visiting a transplanted friend. She picked up a jar of blackberry jam and asked me a question that I didn’t quite know how to answer.

“Do you like jam?”

“Uh…sure.” I guess I didn’t…not like jam. It’s jam. You smear it on bread to make peanut butter taste better. It makes toast go down without sticking. You know, jam. It always tastes like overcooked fruit goo, whether it’s expensive “gourmet” pomegranate ginger jam or grape jelly on sale at the drugstore. My friend bought me the blackberry jam and assured me that it was good. I accepted the gift with no inkling of the danger hidden in that innocuous purple goop.

[Pictured: Asian pear jelly with specks of Tahitian vanilla bean]

Asian Pear Jelly

Last month I finally tasted the jam, which was more of a cross between a jam and a jelly. The vibrant color, soft set, and rich flavor didn’t change me overnight. Even Rome wasn’t built in a day. But several days later, my toaster seemed exhausted and my syrup looked forlorn when I ignored it to spread the jam on waffles. Still, I didn’t suspect anything was wrong until I started topping blueberry muffins with the blackberry jam, which was not only excessive, but insulting to the blueberries. I’d become desperate—desperate for an excuse to eat this jam without spooning it into directly into my face, or worse, throwing back my head and letting the whole jar empty into my gullet. I’m so glad that I ran out of jam before I ran out of bread, otherwise I might have started putting it on corn tortillas. Good jam rules!

Grapes

I took a pile of ripe Concord grapes and made my own jam for the first time. It wouldn’t set up, so I cooked it for a loooong time, then added pectin “just in case.” It ended up too sweet, extremely overcooked, and far too firm. Yet that screwed up jam still blew away every grape jam or jelly that I’d ever tasted before. I learned an important fact: Even bad homemade jam tastes better than most store jam.

Was it psychological? Maybe the knowledge that the Amish or I and not Mrs. Smuck, Mr. Polaner, or Ms. Goober had made the jam made it taste better. To test this theory, I bought three different local and/or Amish jams from the farmer’s market, all labeled “homemade,” and opened all of them at the same time to taste straight. Not only did those jams not rule, they didn’t even quality for minor administrative posts in the culinary kingdom. Clearly something else was at work. My guess is superior fruit and love. Love makes everything taste better.

This has ruined me. Absolutely ruined me. Until I find a better source for jam, I either have to special order from Yoder’s or make it myself. Other jams won’t cut it anymore.

Grape Jam[Pictured: How much is that jam in the window? Annie’s eternal jamnation!]

My most recent effort, pictured above, is an Asian pear jelly with Tahitian vanilla bean, a variation of a pear preserve recipe. Asian pears give up a lot of liquid, more so than regular pears apparently, so I actually ended up with three jars of preserves and four jars of jelly. My instinct on the flavoring was dead on. The flowery Tahitian vanilla combined with the winey pear flavor to make something subtle yet overwhelmingly flavorful. (Do those little black vanilla specks turn anyone else on?) This is my favorite preserve so far. Please don’t tell anybody that I licked the plate after the photo shoot.

I would post a recipe, but so far the preserves haven’t set up quite yet, though the jelly has. I can’t post a recipe that may not turn out, especially when it requires peeling, coring, and dicing juicy pears that squirt you in the eye for half an hour. When I get it right, I’ll post it, and I will get it right, because I made only seven jars of the stuff.

Somebody please hide the corn tortillas.

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bullet Link du jour
The beautiful delicious:days hosted the September SHF: Can you can? Ironically, it came one month too early for me. Look at all those homemade jams! ::sob:: Just look at them!

Feed issues.

If you subscribe to the Bon Appegeek feed and received the last 10 posts all at once recently, that was not intentional. I always try to prevent repeat feeds of identical material. My apologies for the annoyance.

At the moment I’m attempting to isolate the source of the problem. I don’t know yet if it’s my feed server or blog software. Hopefully it won’t happen again, but if it does, please know that I didn’t do it on purpose. One post repeating, maybe, but certainly never 10.