What a weird winter! It is true that usually by the end of February I am done with the cold and the snow, but this year, I was still craving some real winter. We even went up to mid-central Wisconsin trying to find some snow and most of it had all but melted. The Northeast, which does not know how to handle getting dumped on, got most of our snow! I must admit, I was a bit jealous. But winter isn't over yet, and I am grateful for the snow storm we just had, for both the farmer's sake and my own little desire. What is it with Chicago newscasters always saying how happy they are that it is warm in February? I take issue!
We had a busy January catering open houses, business meetings, delayed holiday parties and sit-down dinners. It is usually our slowest month, so we are grateful. And Terry has been busy experimenting with soups and sauces. His carrot soup created from organic carrots, pickled jalapeņos, Aleppo pepper and ginger is my favorite so far. Today, after a trip to Caputos, he is making a pork neck pasta sauce. Can't wait to try it!!
With only one market this winter at the Evanston Ecology Center, Penny Pastry is taking the time to brainstorm for next summer. There is a new website, www.pennypastry.com, jams in the works from fruit frozen last summer at its peak (soon to be sold on Etsy), and big news to share soon.
Last weekend we had the pleasure of dining at Next, Grant Achatz' ground-breaking restaurant. He changes the menu every 90 days with a distinct theme, and one must buy a ticket in advance to attend. We experienced The Hunt, a melange of foraged and hunted food, elegantly and sublimely presented by a well-informed waitstaff. The journey began with Mushroom Consomme served in small wooden bowls, with a miniature "greenhouse" filled with maitake mushrooms which had been roasted with fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs. The aroma was intoxicating. Five different charcuterie tastes served on cross-sections of elk horn on a half tree log was another course, accompanied by individual flasks of Armangnac. There was duck tongue, cellar-aged carrots (about the only vegetable besides mushrooms), pressed squab, woodcock, bison and Marrow Brulee (my brother actually licked the bone cross-section in which it was served). Unusual and perfectly matched beverages were paired with each course.
A quote from the menu: "With this menu we want to explore facts of hunting beyond basic ideas of game meats and hunting as sport, broadening our outlook to include fishing, foraging, and preservation. And because hunting and the outdoors are inseparable, the menu embraces nature throughout."
Yes, it was an all-senses experience, very much an immersion with many elements of theater. At some points, I felt as if I were entering a past era, perhaps having lunch at Downton Abbey after the hunt in the field. Honestly, I am not fond of experiences that feel precious and overwrought. But this was not such an experience. And besides, the company was perfect!