Summer of tomatoes

The truth is I haven't been cooking much these last few months. At least, I haven't been cooking anything new and interesting. When I've taken the time to make my own food, I've stuck to my tried and true recipes (lots of roasted broccoli, lemony chickpea pasta, pickles.) And I've been inhaling tomatoes left and right. Gorgeous slow roasted grape tomatoes, burst-in-your-mouth teeny heirloom tomatoes, and lots of salt & pepper seasoned, olive oil drizzled heirlooms.

For most of my formative years my dad kept a massive garden in our backyard. He grew all sorts of veggies; peppers, green beans, snap peas, and, of course, tons of tomatoes. But I rarely ate the tomatoes. I was an oddly picky eater, I devoured bowls of garlic and wine soaked mussels, adored spicy hot & sour soup, and ate my way through thousands of steamed asparagus spears. But any food involving onions, cabbage, or chunky  tomatoes would be met with a grimace and a resounding no.

So while I loved certain parts of those gorgeous gardens, I didn't really appreciate the tomato bounty. My parents have since moved and majorly downsized their garden. A small selection of cherry and heirloom tomatoes grow out of planters on the deck, but its not quite the same. It's only been in the past year or so that I've grown to enjoy tomatoes, raw and cooked. I still prefer a smooth tomato sauce to chunky and mealy raw tomatoes kind of gross me out. But it's progress. I'm still working on the cilantro. And the onions.

The main reason I haven't done much cooking (other than my profound laziness) is a new project I'm working on. It's an article on burgers in Bloomington for a local magazine. So far I've tried burgers at over twenty restaurants around town. Tons of fun but also rather overwhelming. Between the burgers and the heat, when I get home all that sounds good is quick, meatless, and, frequently, a mostly vegetal food.

It's been a good summer, a crazy summer. But I'm ready for fall. I had my first honeycrisp apple of the season today. It was wonderful. I should have a few recipes coming up soon. A lovely corn and chickpea salad and some pickles serrano peppers. In the meantime, here's some tomato porn and a few of my favorites photos from this summer.


Chicago - Dumplings and things

This year's Pitchfork Music Festival made me feel old. This was my fifth Pitchfork fest (years 2, 3, 4) perhaps my last. Maybe next year I'll feel differently. It seems that every year the crowds get larger, the lines longer, the weather hotter. I love live music, I love how songs change in a live setting, and I love when the musicians have a bit of personality, bantering and engaging with the crowd. By necessity some of this is lost in a festival setting, when crowds are bigger and set lists are shorter. And it's so hard to get a good sight line. I'm short as it is, so unless I get super close to the stage my visibility is basically nil. One of my most anticipated bands performing at this year's festival, The Radio Dept, was at the smaller stage. It was so crowded, I couldn't get close. I could barely see or hear, I was so disappointed.

But there were a few bright spots at the festival. Cut Copy was amazing. We got to the stage early and staked out a spot along the side rail. The view was great, the music was better and I was able to get some nice photos. Sweat was flying everywhere, at one point I brushed up against another person's sweaty arm and for the rest of the set I could feel that second layer of foreign sweat drying in an itchy swath across my forearm. Thank goodness event staff were nice enough to pass around bottles of cold water.

The other bright spot was pot stickers. Besides loads of brunch, I also ate loads of dumplings in Chicago. In general, food at the festival is pretty darn good, though, of course, a bit over priced. But not the pot stickers, you get a giant paper boat piled high with gingery chicken (and pork?) dumplings. Way more than you'd get at an actual restaurant for a $6 pot sticker appetizer. Star of Siam runs the Thai booth, which also serves up tons of pad thai and curry, and has a physical restaurant on the near North side.

Maybe the pot stickers would be disappointing at the actual restaurant. Maybe it's just the crowds and the heat and the craziness that make the dumplings such good festival food. I ate them two days in a row, sprawled on the lumpy, dusty ground between sets. A little respite from the stifling heat and ever-expanding crowds. Despite the mass production, the filling is moist and gingery, many of the dumplings develop a bit of crispy brown chew on the exterior. A ladle of red chili flecked soy-vinegar sauce is poured on top of the pot stickers. It's already a little spicy but an extra squirt or two of watered down sriracha is still welcome. The pina colada smoothies were perfect with the spicy dumplings, more icy than creamy, super refreshing in +90°F weather.

Sunday, after the festival, we had a quick dinner at Flattop Grill, one of those design your own stir fry restaurants. I was pretty happy with my food. I loved that they had noodle options alongside the usual white rice. I loaded my bowl up with egg noodles, tons of veggies (broccoli, snap peas, cabbage, etc) and a combo of chicken and pork. I spooned on all sorts of sauces (kung pao, sesame ginger, black bean garlic, hot red chili) and the mysterious garlic and ginger waters. Add a bit of stretchy, crisp roti bread and I ended up with a pretty tasty meal. The edamame was pretty great, tossed in salt, pepper and something citrusy then served with two dipping sauces. It certainly wasn't ground-breakingly amazing, but it was just right after a sweaty, exhausting day at the festival.

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