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

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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

Hmmm…What’s in the fridge?

This one’s for the fellas, although I must admit, anyone could make this at home. On my drive home from work I pondered what I would make for dinner, knowing that I would be eating alone. “We don’t have anything!” chimed the voice in my head. So on a whim I threw this together.

You really don’t need to have a plan, mine just sort of evolved as I started rummaging through the fridge finding things that looked tasty. Here’s what I found.

Ingredients: Tomato, cheddar cheese, salami, basil, egg, frozen corn, frozen butternut squash and 2 frozen bread rolls.

Step 1: Defrost bread rolls in toaster oven

Step 2: Boil water for poached eggs (we received 2 poach pods from our registry from Crate & Barrel –I highly recommend these!)

Step 3: Place frozen corn and squash in a bowl and mix in some paprika. Place in microwave for 3 minutes, stirring half way.

Step 4: Check on bread. Bread should be crusty but not frozen. Cut in half and add a thinly cut slice of cheese to each half.

Step 5: Slice tomato; cut salami and basil into pieces.

Step 6: Assemble. Once the poached eggs are ready (after water boils, eggs are placed in pods for 4 mins). A) Scoop corn and squash mix onto plate; B) Place halved rolls with cheese on or next to corn and squash mix; C) Add tomato to top of melted cheese; D) Add basil and salami; C) Add poached eggs.

End result should look something like this. Upon tasting the creation I would have to say that the tomato, basil, salami, cheese, corn and squash mix is an explosive mix of deliciousness combining flavors that are sweet, salty, smoky and earthy. I would even go so far to say that the egg was just gratuitous and excessive, but alas, it was indulgent, and I suppose that was the point, considering it was a mad dash into the fridge for whatever may lie inside.

I hope your next creation is as creative and tasty…remember, you don’t need to have a plan as long as it tastes good.

Enjoy!!

– Jesse

A loss of life but not forgotten…

This week was hard for both of us in that we lost a dear friend: he was a father and adventure enthusiast. Our friend was 67 years young and so full of life and energy. His energy and accomplishments have been such an inspiration for us and we hope we can live our lives like he had lived his.

In remembering our friend, we both recounted several stories that made us smile and bring pause to our daily routine. In telling these stories about his life we realized that this was our way of mourning his loss and bringing closure to his life.

Stories have such a powerful notion for us as they help to provide sustenance when it is needed most. They provide meaningful moments of clarity, laughter, self-discovery and so much more.

Before I was married, I joined a dating website so that I could experience chance encounters at love and when they didn’t pan out, I had a really good story to tell. That may sound shallow, but I found my wife on one of these sites and boy, do I have a good story (perhaps for another time though).

I love how stories are opportunities for bonding with others and sharing common experiences.  This is how I met Norman, through sharing our love for windsurfing, hiking, skiing, biking, you name it. And from our common likes, I have wonderful stories of us windsurfing on the Charles, skiing at Loon and losing our ski passes, and biking the wrong way down one-way streets. All of these experiences memorialize him, and they are stories that I now will share with others.

Rest in peace Norman. You will always be remembered.

– Jesse

ReUse: The Coffee Bag

So I know most of you are always curious about how not to waste things or how to find another use for them rather than shoving them into the recycling or garbage bin. Such items may consist of: beer cans, grocery bags, bag ties (including the metal twist or the plastic bag tie thingy), those thin green velcro vegetable ties, etc. This week, I’m focusing on one use for one item: The Coffee Bag.

I imagine that most of you keep your coffee bags lying around, collecting dust, hoping for that perfect something to put inside so you can use it again. Now you can. The brown paper coffee bag is perfect for sending gifts in…small gifts. I recently sent some baked goods (Lemon Coconut Cranberry Cake with Lemon Curd on the Bottom–See recipe below) and I was in a tight spot. I couldn’t find a brown bag to cover the box I had, then it appeared, like an aura in the sky –the lonely brown coffee bag. It was a match made in mail heaven.

   

Lemon Coconut Cranberry Cake with Lemon Curd on the Bottom — I tweaked the recipe to include the juices from two lemons, three tablespoons of coconut, and added a handful of cranberries.  I also added the zest from one lemon. I omitted the glaze.

BTW: The coffee bags are free at the grocery store should you also be in a tight spot.

Happy Shipping!

-Jesse

A Few Of My Favorite Things…Beer

This is officially my first post. What you should know about me: I’m into everything. I like cooking, baking, brewing beer, crafting, using my hands, playing music, romancing, dancing, writing songs, horticulture, mountain biking, skiing, etc…What can I say, I’m a curious human being.

At this time though, I’m sharing with you Jess and my most recent home-brew – Pliny The Elder Imperial IPA Clone by Russian River Brewing Company, California. We brewed it on Sunday and will bottle it in a few weeks.

In the meantime let me tell you about this special brew. We first learned about Pliny from our California friends, who after a recent visit, brought back an entire case of the good stuff. Pliny can only be found out west (as far as my sources tell me). Let me tell you. This stuff is delicious–crisp, clean, fruity, amazing. Beer Advocate gives it a score of 100 and is 8% ABV. Check out Beer Advocate for a full write up on Pliny.

This was an epic brew, with over 7 hop additions. The aromas in our house are still fresh like freshly cut grapefruits.

Step one: Brew

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Step two: Add Hops

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Step Three: Cool Down

Step Four: Pour into fermenting bucket, add water, yeast, and place in a dark place for 7-10 days.

For those of you interested in making this tasty beer, see below.

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Check back in a couple weeks for an update on Pliny.

-Jesse

Jess AND Jesse

Well, here is an exciting update to The Sound of Raspberries! I’m going to be a co-contributor to this blog (I’m Jessica’s husband Jesse). My posts will generally be focused on DIY’s, music and cooking. 

Check back soon…

Jesse