Chicago – Tacos

I find it so boring when reading inflight magazines when the same line is repeated over and over again: “Here I am flying at 35,000 feet and …..” Don’t you think the author could have thought of something more creative than this. I mean how many times can you remember reading this line inflight? Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if they wrote: ” here I am thinking about velociraptors, knowing full wellthat I should be thinking about how I’m about to tell you this story about the most amazing taco and bourbon bar in Chicago that I visited this past weekend. I like velociraptors because they hunt in three’s and use a sing-songy way of communicating. I should also disclose that I am not impartial to other dinosaurs either, less specifically, the swimming kind, the flying kinds, the Brontosaurus and the one that sneezes all over the girl in Jurassic Park (name is escaping me). There I said it. You’re thinking, get on with the taco part already!

BigStar outside

SO if you haven’t been to BigStar in Chicago then you must be a hermit. I haven’t had such an interesting experience with tacos since a trip to Napa Valley with my future wife Jess. We stumbled upon this hidden taco truck tucked between a community garden and a general store. Back to BigStar. Due to the Xmas season, BigStar’s front door is sort of hidden behind a slew of tightly wrapped nice looking Christmas trees. I don’t celebrate Xmas not because I’m not religious, but because I’m in with the blue and white crowd and I like my eight days of presents better. But what I do like about Xmas is the smell of freshly cut pine. SO walking through this aromatic corridor prepared my pallet and awakened my senses. As I stepped through the door I was greeted with two friendly hosts in casual attire. What caught my eye first were the two turntables atop aged oak wooden barrels.

Open air

The space is very open and airy, full of floor to ceiling windows and natural light pouring through several skylights, making the inside lighting virtually useless. The interior is poured concrete, with tan wooden tables and booths. The middle of the restaurant boasts a square wooden bar, with perfectly spaced  hooks for jackets or more importantly, your wife’s purse.

Bourbon Bar

In the center of the bar is an elevated rack. It is what’s on this rack that caught my attention for the better part of my time
there. The entire span of this 25 foot rack held over 30 bottles of bourbon. BigStar’s Menu is a short list of about 10 items, but don’t let their minimalism fool you. What they take away in choices they make up for in the most tantalizing concoctions of tacos you may have ever tasted. We started out with house made tortilla and salsas: red and green. Their chips are perfectly salted with a hint of lime. My first taco was served with 2 freshly made soft mini flour tacos (the size of soft corn tacos) with a small bowl of soup. It was called FRIJOLES CHARROS consisting of stewed pinto beans, bacon, poblano peppers, tomato, onion, cilantro, and queso fresco and was served as a soup.  You spoon what you can onto the taco, eat the tacos, then spoon feed yourself the rest of the soup. There’s no picture here because I was too busy eating. The flavors were exquisite. Think spicy, smoky and sweet. My second taco was served the way you would expect it to be, all the ingredients on the taco.

Taco goodness

It was called the TACO AL PASTOR with marinated, spit roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, grilled onion, cilantro and amazingness. What does amazingness taste like? If you haven’t experienced amazingness you’re not getting out enough.

Drinks: BigStar’s Cocktails are inspired by their bourbon and tequila collection, but they also serve beer, mezcal and the typical well-spirits. I tried the Carroll County Collins which consisted of birch infused Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Boylan’s cream soda, and a slice of orange peel. It was strong yet sweet, but not overpoweringly so and the orange peel blended well with the bourbon flavor. The cream soda drew out some of the softer vanilla notes in the bourbon and mixed easily with the orange.

Servers and bar

I know I mentioned two things that drew my attention away from everything else, but one last thing was easily as appeasing as the
first two. The delivery of the tacos. I think we have all experienced that expecting feeling when we see our dishes coming to us from across the room and we’re ready for the surprise, the wow factor of how our food will entice us. Let me describe what it looks like at BigStar. There’s a food server coming towards you with an white saucer full of 4 to 10 tacos perfectly placed on the dish. Think sushi platter. This is how it looks coming across the room. Like little sample hors devours, but instead of sharing with others, they’re all yours (insert cynical laugh).

Overall, you must go to Chicago and check out BigStar. Try one taco or try seven. They are open until 2/3am during the week/end and there are DJ’s at night.

All amenities aside, you must go and do one thing. Enjoy yourself!!

Cheers!
Jesse

PS: Check out our Etsy page for gifts for yourself, family, friends and significant others. Jess has posted her jewelry as well so take a look:  Double J Stand

The 20 Dollar Date

J&J in Providence, RI before getting on 93N back to Boston.

A music therapist and journalist: hmm, you can probably guess that we’re not rolling in the cash like the Sultan of Brunei! So we’ve been trying our hardest to cook up a storm and eat dinners at home. It’s often a lot of fun since we both love to cook. But sometimes we want to get out into the city! And thus, the $20 date.

We stumbled upon this idea inadvertently: after traveling on 93 the Sunday after Thanksgiving we were in no mood to cook, so we treated ourselves to some mighty tasty Mexican food in East Somerville. It was incredible! Tacos bursting with flavor, cheesy pupusas with vinegary fermented carrots and cabbage, plantains with just enough salt to balance out the sweetness, and rice and beans so simple, yet so perfect (and I should know since rice and beans are not only my go-to meal, but led me originally to Jesse). The price tag for the entire meal was $14 (until we ordered a fresh squeezed juice, which sadly was $5!). Anyway, the point of the story is that our little pit stop turned into a great new project. Jesse and I are each going to take the other on a $20 date each month. So two inexpensive, exciting dates!

They won’t all be food-related…in fact, I already have an idea for one that isn’t. We’ll post our adventures as we take them! And we hope that we can be an inspiration for everyone to get out of the house without spending the big bucks!

Have you been on any inexpensive dates lately? We’d love to know!

Oh, and if you’re local, check out Taco Loco

xox,

Jess

 

The Sound of: Sandy

Well folks, Hurricane Sandy has made an appearance in MA today. I decided to be a crazy lady and step outside with my recording equipment to get a little sound (though not as crazy as Jesse–he’s outside now with a shovel clearing out the leaves from the drains on the streets).

You can see the larger gusts of wind in the sound wave–beautiful! And that’s exactly when my house shakes the most…and my cat runs under the bed and I pull my headlamp a little bit closer!


Stay safe East Coasters!!

~Jessica

PS: My Halloween costume idea: almost a year ago I was literally a hurricane bride during Irene…so this year, it’s only appropriate that I’m the bride of Frankenstorm! Pictures to follow.

Flora Inspiration

Fingers crossed that you are reading this post right now. I’ve tried to post some iteration of this idea for the past two days, but each time I press publish…poof! Deleted! If this post actually made it to you through the intricate interwebs then you’re about to read about my household obsession: succulents!

Succulents are not a new passion of mine by any means, I have had a love affair with the plants since 2002 when I fell down a mountain and landed right into one—a prickly cactus nonetheless! But what’s new in my house is our method for displaying them, and the size of our collection. Our succulent assortment doubled after our wedding last year…and since then has been steadily growing—between Jesse replanting leaves and frequent trips to the garden center.

What is it about succulents? To me there is something magical about the way they look (right out of a Dr. Seuss book) and the way they survive (generally in severe conditions, with little water). Just looking at them gives me a list boost. There should be a thought bubble over them: “Hey, we’re making it work in this harsh world, and so can you!”

Under the boojum tree, 2002. Baja California, Mexico.

Taken in Baja California, Mexico on that same trip.

Succulents come in all sort of sizes and shapes. Check out this crazy-looking cactus called a Boojum Tree below. That’s a picture from a desert-plant course I took back in college. I’m in red, and my friend and awesome-blogger, Kate Kurtz, is there with hands on hips.

The Desert Botanical Garden in AZ describes it well:

Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) is a large succulent closely related to the ocotillo. A remarkable looking plant, often compared to an upside down parsnip, it naturally occurs only in Baja California and in a restricted area of Sonora, Mexico. Long-lived plants, some are thought to have achieved over 500 years of growth.

But, back to the subject: decorating with succulents.  Jesse and I are going for a Northeast meets Southwest look with our desert garden spreading out across the windowsills, and taking over as the centerpiece of our newly-redesigned living room. Check out our succulent planters: a terracotta strawberry pot and recycled espresso tins! Basically, my feeling with succulents is: plant them anywhere, especially peaking out from unexpected corners. Choose interesting vessels: old teapots, used rain-boots, antique medicine bottles to compliment the plant’s wacky nature.

In our living room.

Want some decorating inspiration? Check out these photo from around the web. Note: they’re not all succulents, but they have the feel that I’m going for in my house.

Photos clockwise from top left: one, two, three, four, five.

Now if only Boston’s weather could be a little more like Tucson’s my plants would love it! Ok, who are we kidding…I’d love it too! ;)

~Jess

Food Story + Recipe

I love food not just because it’s delicious, or nutritious, but because if you pay attention it tells a story. (Even this hard-boiled egg and avocado toast sitting next to me now…I’d love to learn the history of the hard-boiled egg…but that’s for another time.)

Think for a second about your last family event, was food involved? Or perhaps the last time you had a long chat with a close friend–food? At least for me, when I think back to important times in my life, there are narratives and memories connected to the food that I was eating. Like the time of year (butternut squash in fall), or type of occasion (pies at my wedding, or lox after my grandma’s funeral).

These personal memories fascinate me; but so too does the intersection of oral histories and food. This has actually led me to learn about a brilliant field of study, ethnobotany (the study of how people use plants). I’ve been enamored with this field for quite some time now (since college in 2000 to be exact). When I’m trying out new foods I try to think about the historical stories that may be intertwined with my dish. My newest discovery: Yellow Eye Beans.

Now, I haven’t found too many stories to go along with this heirloom variety from Northern New England, mostly Maine. But I have learned that Yellow Eye Beans were first used by American Indians in the region to make a traditional bean and corn soup, which eventually morphed into succotash (also had at my wedding, it all circles back). Some culinary historians also suggest the bean could’ve been used in the original Boston Baked Bean recipe. Something else I’ve learned…these beans are delicious! Creamy, but not mushy. Rich and savory, but not over-overpoweringly so.

I received these beans in a gift box (you know who you are, and thank you!) and decided to do something rash…follow a recipe! Now I love collecting cookbooks and reading recipes. I have an entire color-coded shelf of cookbooks. Organizing them by color: got it covered; but following recipes precisely: let’s just say it’s not my forte. I do look at the books often. I generally garner inspiration from them and then go about my improvising (note: baking is a different story all together, because improvised baking soda to baking powder ratios never turns out well).

This time was going to be different (or so I hoped). I did a little web search and found this recipe over at the NY Times. I got my ingredients ready and got excited to cook up a stew. I tried, I did…but ultimately I ended up with less time to soak the beans, I eliminated the first few steps, and added a few spices…but it was close, and it was yummy!

Here is the recipe from the NY Times:

3 cups yellow eye beans, soaked 4 to 6 hours

1 carrot, peeled

2 ribs celery, halved

1 onion, quartered

1 head garlic, halved across the equator

Stems from 1 bunch Italian parsley, tied in a cheesecloth sachet

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

3 large carrots, peeled and diced

5 ribs celery, diced

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, diced

1 head garlic, cloves peeled and finely grated

1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

Rustic bread, sliced

1 clove garlic, halved.

1. Prepare the beans: Drain the beans and place them in a large pot. Add 3 quarts cold water, the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley stem sachet. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are soft and creamy, but not falling apart. (Start checking after 25 minutes; the fresher the beans, the shorter the cooking time.) Add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Discard the sachet and vegetables. Let the beans cool in the liquid.

2. Prepare the soup: Pour the olive oil into a large pot set over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, chili and rosemary. Cook until the rawness of the vegetables is just gone, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes more. Add the beans and their cooking liquid, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the parsley. Toast the bread slices. While still hot, rub them with the garlic halves, then tear into large pieces. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a few toasts, then drizzle with olive oil. Serves 6 to 8.

My recipe was slightly different. I didn’t use the spice sachet, but instead added celery greens. Instead of soaking the beans, I boiled water, poured it over and let them sit for about an hour before beginning step 1. I added cumin, cinnamon and paprika to the soup. And I made rosemary, garlic toasts to go with it. See: small modifications. I’d say that I basically followed this one! Check out my photos below and click here to buy Yellow Eye Beans.

Beans from Rancho Gordo

Dry Yellow Eye Beans

Chopping up the leeks.

Sautéing on the stove.

Making the garlic toasts–Yes, that’s a hunk of butter!

The finished version. Warm, super-satisfying and healthy!

Do you follow recipes?

xoxo,

Jessica

The Sound of Home

Well, sadly I don’t have my recording equipment with me on this West Coast trek. Bad radio producer, bad! But let’s see if I can give you a taste of what I’m experiencing right now:

I’m sitting on the roof of the San Francisco MOMA. It’s an unusually hot day for S.F. and everyone seems a bit out of sorts about it. Looking around at this beautiful sculpture garden you’d expect it to be really quiet and peaceful. But actually the wind is whipping around the concrete walls and the hum of the city is more of a roar–I can actually feel the bass, which is speckled with piercing sounds of construction and sirens.

What I want to be hearing now is my cat purring, my husband playing ukulele and onions sautéing on the stove. I’m seriously craving HOME! It’s been 2 weeks of travel, which really isn’t that long (I’ve been away way longer than this in the past); but right now I feel ready to be back!

Here are some photos from the last leg of my trip in San Francisco.

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Looking up at the restoration of an old building from the roof of the MOMA.

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Critical Mass.

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A S.F. street scene.

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Ornate details.

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Golden Gate.

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This is actually in Portland, OR, but it captures the feeling that I’m taking with me from my travels.

xoxo,
Jess

P.S. What does your home sound like?

And…We’re Back!

Wow, it’s been a posting drought. Unbelievable really.
How do I explain the past few months? Well, let’s just say that we let life get the best of us–in the way that only a complete household job search can. It sucked me dry of creativity and I fell into a posting rut. But then a sweet coworker said that he read this blog and liked where we were going, and encouraged me to post again. AND, my hubs landed a great job. He starts Monday! He’ll be a music therapist at a school for students with development disabilities. I couldn’t be prouder.

Things are looking up!

And where am I, you ask? Well I’m on a two-week jaunt in the Pacific Northwest! I’m currently in Portland, and it’s a romantic scene: I’m sitting at a cozy coffee shop in the Upper Hawthorn neighborhood. They have free wifi, and a $1 mug of strong coffee. Someone just ordered a vanilla, caramel, soy, double shot latte to go–in her stainless steal mug no less. No judgement. I love this town!

The point of this post is to tell all of you that posting with frequency begins today. We’ll start with a doable goal: mine is once a week at first. Jesse and I have dusted off the right side of our brains that got buried along the way, and we are back at it. In fact, I’d like to introduce our new store: The Double J Stand. Think lemonade stand for all of your decorative needs. So far Jesse has posted his exquisite paper cuts. His laptop bags are next. When I’m back in Boston expect jewelry too!

I’ll leave you with this photo from my plane ride into Portland last night. Glorious Mt. Hood. It snuck up on me. Just out my window; quiet and still; standing strong as the sun set over the West Coast.

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xox,
Jessica

The Sound Of: The Subway

The other day I hit a sweet spot. For me that’s having my recording equipment with me at just the right moment. I was in the subway station, in a haze of work stress, until the sounds of beautiful music down the platform lifted me out of my funk. Sometimes it just takes one thing–a sound, a picture, a taste–to pull me out of my head and make me appreciate the moment.

I walked to the opposite end of the platform–moving away from the place that would line me up perfectly with the stairs at my destination, which for any frequent subway-commuter is a no-no. (Do you do this too?)

The man playing the music looked so calm, so confident in his abilities. He was definitely sound inspiration for my day!

Take a listen to his music…notice the part where the subway enters the station, barreling through the tunnel. The music just keeps going.

It’s not subway musicians that inspire me…it’s the whole package. Over the near-decade that I spent in NYC, I practically lived on the train (for one year I even endured an hour and 45 minute commute each way–let’s just say that I got comfortable moving through space with lot’s of others). I love hearing different languages, reading over people’s shoulders, imagining what riders could be thinking and where they’re going…

While we’re on the subway subject, here are some subways from around the world. What’s your favorite subway system?

(Photos clockwise from top: Man playing music in NYC subway/Jessica Ilyse Kurn; Mexico City subway 2; Munich Subway 3; Paris Metro 4 & 5; London 6)

And of course my beloved Boston T

Please share some of your favorite subway experiences in the comments!

xoxo,

Jess

PS: Check out these earrings…on my “I want asap!” list.

DIY: Music Enthusiasts – Ektara

How to Make: An Ektara

What is an ektara? Ektara literally means “one-string” (also called iktar or ektar) and is a one-stringed instrument most often used in traditional music from Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Pakistan. In its origin, the ektara was a regular string instrument of wandering bards and minstrels from India and is plucked with one finger. The ektara usually has a stretched single string, an animal skin over a head (made of dried pumpkin/gourd, wood or coconut) and pole neck or split bamboo cane neck. Since dried pumpkin/gourd is out of season and coconuts don’t grow well in the North East, here’s another way of making one from found objects.

It’s a relatively easy instrument to play and is held like a guitar. The sides of the instrument are flexible and by squeezing the sides of the instrument you can change the tension of the string, thus changing the note of the string. In its neutral position, the Ektara plays one note; when squeezed all the way in, it can drop as far as a third, fifth or an octave. The ektara is commonly used in Kirtan and Sufi chanting.

What you will need:

Drill

1 empty can of X

Two pieces of wood – I used thin wood typically used for moldings

Fishing line (the thinner the line the better)

4 screws with 4 nuts

1 paper clip

1 2” eye screw with nut

1 wine cork

1. Cut each length of wood to 23”.

2. Drill a hole in the middle at the bottom of the tin can (see picture).

3. Measure 2 holes on can – first hole should be 2’’ from bottom of can. Bottom of can should be bottom up (aka where you just drilled the hole in the middle) – measure from top of can down 2’’ – mark first hole. Then half inch up, mark second hole. Repeat for the other side of can and drill. Then align wood to each side and make necessary markings and drill. Secure with screws. Check image for reference on how much room to leave on wood near screwed ends.

4. After securing wood, measure out fishing wire and thread through bottom of tin – secure a paper clip around fishing line on inside of tin can.

5. At other end of wood, drill one hole 1” from top of both pieces of wood. Insert 2” eye screw with locking nut.

6. With other end of fishing line, tie around eye screw and secure tightly. Now start winding tuning peg (eye Screw).

7. Place wine cork at top – cut to size (you can glue this piece in or tape it).

8. Tune string to desired tension and play!

If you like these DIY instruments, leave a comment – there will be more to come…

Here’s one way of playing the ektara that I really like, but there are many more…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWEJv5iq7UQ&feature=related

Enjoy!

– Jesse