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I Met Travis Schaffner

This weekend has been so incredibly excellent – I caught up with old friends, had a proper beach day, and enjoyed a wonderful 4th of July, during which I watched one of my best guy friends propose to his girlfriend. But the part that actually relates to this blog is that I FINALLY MET TRAVIS SCHAFFNER AND TOLD HIM HOW COOL I THOUGHT HE WAS.

Eff yeah. I wanted to write about him a while ago and now I will.

Anyway, if you don’t know, Travis owns The Wormhole Coffee in Wicker Park, which is a cafe/shrine to the 80s-early 90s. It’s got a Back to the Future replica Delorean, a Nintendo system in the back (complete with Duck Hunt) and Gremlins toys and Goonies posters and is constantly overrun with hipsters. At some point when I first moved to Bucktown, I think I stopped in for the throwback vibe and discovered that, in addition to soy lattes, they also peddle vegan doughnuts (really superior ones at that)! Bam, go-to cafe. I holed up on the couch by the window dozens of times to study during the MPH years.

At some point when I was there, I remember asking the barista to make sure the steamer for my latte was wiped off due to the milk allergy. “Oh don’t worry, we have a dedicated steamer for non-dairy drinks.” Oh? That’s nice! “Yeah, our owner, Travis, is really allergic to milk too.”

orly

I mean when I think coffee shop, I think copious amounts of milk frothing everywhere. Not the first business I’d consider for someone with a dairy allergy.

But, how awesome. And yeah, why not take that dairy allergy and open up a cafe where people with similar restrictions can enjoy some good coffee and a doughnut? After I found that out, The Wormhole kinda reached beloved status for me, as did Fritz Pastry, where the vegan doughnuts and other offerings (pop-tarts!) are made (Fritz had different owners at one point, but Travis bought the place in 2011 – more on that in this RedEye article). I’d actually never been to Fritz, but I told myself I would go there someday and see where these magical doughnuts came from and maybe even meet the man himself. Maybe I’d even interview him for a blog post or something.

But I never really had the time or motivation to hike over there when I was in Bucktown and Wormhole was so much closer. Cut to now, when I live in Roscoe Village and Fritz is a very easy bike ride from my apartment. And last Saturday morning, I was craving something sweet after my bootcamp workout, and figured I’d go to Fritz on my way home.

So I go in and stroll up to the counter all, “I need something that’s vegan and nut-free.” Barista’s all like, “Okay, well there’s these doughnuts over here, and these muffins are all okay for you, and then there’s these cupcakes… oh and these scones here are vegan and nut-free too.” Ahhhhh! I was so overwhelmed I just went with a doughnut (cranberry-orange variety. for vitamins).

Anyway, while I was fishing out some money to pay for it, the barista goes “Hi, Travis,” so I’m all like “Wait, where’s Travis?!” and she points to the guy who has suddenly appeared next to me. So I turned to him and started babbling about my allergies and how much I loved The Wormhole and how awesome I thought it was that he owned a coffee shop even with a dairy allergy and how great it was that I could get a soy latte and a tasty doughnut, etc etc, all intents of any sort of “interview” forgotten (I’m sure he was busy anyway). But he let me shake his hand and introduce myself and he thanked me for my kind words.

No Travis, thank you! Because places like The Wormhole and Fritz exist, I can have a soy latte from somewhere other than Starbucks and not worry about any contamination, and I can have probably the best vegan doughnut in the city to boot… Oh, and Fritz also has a brunch menu with several vegan options (see post bemoaning the general lack of these) which I will come back to try in the near future. Again, you are awesome and inspiring, and I wish you the utmost success with all of your endeavors.

***

Oh and side note, another reason why I think Travis is cool is that he also seems to have a thing for classic RPGs, thus this Zelda-inspired Wormhole shirt that I have.

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Fudgy Peace Offering Cookies

So I forgot about this blog for a little while I’ve tried settling into the new apt. The dog didn’t immediately adapt well either, and had one particularly bad weekend of whining/yelping/attacking the coat rack. I was actually pretty petrified that the neighbors would complain to the landlord and I would get evicted or something nightmarish. But one of my friends suggested making all the neighbors cookies and just being upfront about the situation. So that’s what I did! I didn’t take pictures, but this recipe is pulled from the Food Allergy News Cookbook, from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. My mom used to make these for me, but we found the original formula a little oily. So these are her modifications:

7 T cocoa powder

7 T margarine

1 1/2 T non-dairy milk, 1 1/2 T oil, 1 t baking powder, mixed together

1 cup sugar

1 t vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups flour

1 t baking soda

1/4 t salt

sugar for sprinkling

Combine cocoa and margarine, stir. Add water/oil/baking powder mixture and sugar. Add vanilla extract and stir until mixed. Add flour, baking soda and salt, and mixed until combined. Then refrigerate 30 mins. A note here, I felt like the dough wasn’t coming together enough, so I added some splashes of soymilk and ice water as needed. Of course, when I baked ’em, the cookies all flattened out into each other and I had to cut them apart. Like brownie-cookies (browkies? crownies?)

Preheat oven to 375. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, and place on cookie sheet (doesn’t need to be greased). Sprinkled extra sugar over cookies as desired and bake 8-10 minutes or until set. Remove and cool on wire racks.

We always flattened these with forks after rolling them into balls, but that might not be a good idea depending on how much extra liquid you added.

Anyway, they were definitely fudgy and delicious. Neighbors were appreciative and dog is settling down. So it’s all looking up! It definitely felt good to bake again. That’s something that’s always made me feel productive and useful, so it was like a defining THIS IS MY KITCHEN BITCHES moment.

Although I’m still getting used to the fact that the sink is like 10 feet away from the prep area and behind the fridge…

This picture has nothing t do with the recipe. It came up on a google image search for "peace offering cookies."

This picture has nothing to do with the recipe. It came up on a google image search for “peace offering cookies.”

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Chef is makin’ jam

For serious! Here’s where he got the recipe.

Ingredients

    • 1 oranges
    • 2 lbs figs, washed and quartered
    • 3 cups brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon grated ginger root
    • 1/2 vanilla pod, split
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice, bottled
    • 2 cups cranberries, fresh or 2 cups frozen cranberries, divided

Directions

  1. Zest orange and rough chop meat discard pith, place it and all the ingredients except one cup of cranberries in a heavy bottom pot over low flame.
  2. Stir to release juices it will be thick. Stirring not to burn. Juices will come and when it does raise heat to high stirring most of the time. At this time remove the vanilla bean.
  3. Using the immersion blender to puree some of the fruit leaving some chucks. Then add the other cup of cranberries.
  4. When it hits a rolling boil for 15 minutes all the time stirring.
  5. Pour into sterile jars leaving 1/2 inch head space and process 10 minutes.
  6. turn flame off and remove lid. Time 5 more minutes. Remove jars holding upright. Cool in draft free spot overnight. Label and use with in 1 year if unopened. Opened store in refrigerator.

 

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Things I will write about

I haven’t posted since the end of August because the semester started and that means if I write a blog post I will feel guilty that I’m not doing homework or workwork. So, yes, I feel guilty right now. BUT here’s the things I plan to write about when I get some spare time:

-Pickles and Preservation in general- We made our own pickles (by “we,” I mean Chef) but we haven’t really been eating them. He keeps talking about how he wants to make jam but that hasn’t happened either.
-Fall=baking things that make the house smell nice.
-Thanksgiving yum.
-Possible holiday treats to make for classmates/work
-Travis Schaffner is kinda my idol right now. In fact I want to make this first post I will get around to because I think he is that cool.

But it is midterm weeks… at UIC SPH, the midterm kind of extends over the period between mid-October to early November. So that plus work makes me very busy right now. I hope to have a new, worthwhile post up around Thanksgiving.

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Coleslaw…

Does not need mayonnaise. In fact, for a long time while I was growing up, I didn’t even know the standard American version of coleslaw (“COLD SLOB!” as I called it) was creamy. My mom always made us coleslaw with a vinaigrette and it was delicious.

Last week, we picked up a cabbage on the way back from our Beloit, WI road trip (more on that coming). It’s been sitting in our fridge unused, so today I decided to ask my mom for the vinaigrette recipe:

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil, not olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar, which you can adjust to taste
Pepper to taste

Once you add everything in initially, you can just keep adding what you want to taste. Yum! I mixed it with chopped cabbage and carrot and cucumber slices, and now I’m letting the whole thing chill in the fridge to soak up the flavor and pickle a little. Full on flavor, no mayo necessary.

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Why I Love Asian Food

When I was 7 or 8 or 9, I had one of my first gigantic allergic reactions after eating with my parents and extended family at an Italian resto downtown. After that I hardly had any restaurant food except for from Cross-Rhodes and The Wiener and Still Champion in Evanston, both trusted by my parents. If we did eat out at a restaurant, it was something American. Burger, no bun. Steak. Big hunks of USDA-approved beef were safe. McDonald’s was okay for a while (now their fries have dairy). And when I went on my college roadtrip, I found out I could eat Subway, wooo! But anything else – Asian, Mexican, French, and ESPECIALLY Italian – was suspicious, and thus avoided.

This changed when I went to college. Middletown, CT is not really a mecca of culture by any means, but there were solid Thai and Japanese restaurants that many students frequented. I went to Typhoon Thai and Mikado Sushi a couple of times with my group of friends during my first year, but I only ordered edamame or plain steamed rice out of caution. I was that girl that just ate rice. Whatevs.

I think I actually tried sushi my first year too, but it was the prepackaged kind they sold at the campus grocery store and the ingredients were all there. The first time I went to a sushi-proper restaurant I only had edamame. But I looked at the menu and asked some questions, discovering that sushi is essentially pretty simple: raw fish, rice, seaweed. Wasabi and ginger if you like. What could be easier to eat than that?

I’ve been a fan for life forever after.  I know to avoid anything “spicy” and anything with a tempura batter. Only once have I been to a sushi bar (Hama Matsu in Andersonville) that added random things to their rolls not disclosed on the menu, and I spotted it immediately.

Early in my Junior or Senior year of college I took another risk. I tried some Thai food from Typhoon. I worked for the student health office at the time and we were always ordering thai food for our events in order to entice people to come. There was a stir fry that we ordered – it looked fine, and according to the menu it had nothing I was allergic to. The only thing I was worried about was peanut contamination.

Don’t get me wrong, peanut contamination is a big issue. Peanuts are used in several Thai and Chinese dishes. See my previous post on this poor girl.

But when I was young, my parents and I developed a plan for new foods. Take a bite and wait 15 minutes. So that’s what I did.

And I was fine. And pretty much have been with Thai ever since, except for the time I tried curry (I have an oral allergy to coconut – it won’t cause anaphylaxis but makes my tongue itch like mad).

A few years ago I found I could also have the wide rice noodles in pad khee mao, drunken/crazy noodles and that has since become my absolute favorite Thai dish. The best that I’ve had in Chicago so far is at Thai Classic in Wrigleyville.

I eat from Asian restaurants frequently now, and not just Thai and sushi places. Bon Bon is a Vietnamese sandwich and noodle joint down the street that has delicious vegan tofu banh mi and vegan pho. We also live by Bill Kim’s uhh-mazing Belly Shack, which has a number of plates that I’m not allergic to. At this point, Asian cuisine is almost a go-to when we’re looking for a place to eat.

Except for Chinese food.

I will never eat Chinese food.

Part of my reliance on Asian food comes from the fact that it’s so traditional – 90% of the time a dish you see on one menu will be exactly the same on another. Even so, I always alert any restaurant about my allergies.

The culmination in my experience with Asian cuisine was on my most recent birthday, when I went to Union Sushi & BBQ Bar and sat at the chef’s table.

So how horrified would my mom be if she knew I went to a restaurant without a clue as to what I’d be eating? Extremely horrified, so let’s hope she never reads this. Given my allergies, I’ve understandably never experienced any sort of chef’s tasting or omakase before. But after looking at the chef’s table form on Union’s website (there’s an allergy section), I thought, “well maybe I could be accommodated.”
And accommodated I was, to my delight and everlasting gratitude. I went over my allergies with a couple of hostesses before we came in, and then again with Chef Chao. I think he may have been a little annoyed at how paranoid I was, but everything that he placed in front of me was perfectly fine for me to eat, even the fried stuff (they used tempura breading without the eggs). He also made some dishes separately and without alterations for Jeremy, so he could enjoy his oyster shooter with a quail egg.

We felt like royalty, dining on quail, kangaroo, fatty and super white tuna, and all sorts of fried crustacean delights, even fried oyster, which I have never had before and never thought I could have.
I literally left my life in Chao’s hands, and boy was I ever rewarded. I could not thank him enough for taking care of us, and I think at some point during the meal I almost cried.

I think it’s the characteristics of Asian cuisine that make it more easily adaptable to my dietary restrictions – except for Chinese, the fast food nature of which I’ve never trusted. Italian? Cheese and eggs abound. Mexican? Cheese or sour cream in many dishes, unless you go out of your way to find a less “gringo” joint. French? Butter butter butter. And  American? Cheese, sour cream, ranch, eggs, butter, mayo…etc. Asian? Rice, chilies, lime, soy, and some form of fish are the hallmarks  of most dishes. Peanuts and eggs are usually more of a topping or a part of a sauce rather than a main element. It’s spicy, salty, sour, simple and delicious.

And that’s why I love Asian food.

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