Poppin tags in Pilsen for food

Photo Credit: Natalie Maynor

I live on a food island. Not surrounded by water, but surrounded by neighborhoods that appear to have more to offer in edible pursuits. As a Pilsenite who works in the West Loop and who goes to Roosevelt, just pass University Village for various errands, I could easily be enraptured by what Marino’s on Halsted has to offer or what Whole Food has on Roosevelt, but I am not.

Nutritional foods can be found in Pilsen and Little Village without the glossy letters and rubbing elbows with the customer who can afford a dog walker.

I live on an island that has La Casa Del Pueblo, off 18th Street on South Blue Island Avenue and Metzisoy at Wood and 18th Streets. If I venture a few blocks west over to Cermak Road, I have the choices of Aldi, Fairplay, or Pete’s Fresh Market to name a few.

Other opportunities include local market Belli’s, which provides, “weekly share of local farmers’ market produce.” Pilsen Summer Market starts May 26th and held every Sunday until early October at Citizens Community Bank.

These stores compete with the prepared and mass-produced foods of fast food giants: Burger King or McDonald’s, sometimes Church’s Chicken, and the many delicious Mexican taquerias that provides home cooked delicious meals at a price to their patrons.

As a self-professed wanderer with a 30-Day CTA pass, I would trek to these different places to find the best deal, when it’s 55 degrees or higher. Time and weather can lead me to only one of the choices mentioned above.

This is coupled with food allergies of corn, soy, peanut and sesame and oral allergies to raw fruits and vegetables. Shopping amongst the packaged world is daunting with a list of ingredients that an etymologist can’t pronounce and they could definitely not know the origins of such ingredients.

This article is not (all) about me; it’s about community and the food it has to offer.

Food has become complicated. With food allergies, BPA scares, gluten-free needs and occasional see-saw advice on how great dairy is and the next hour on how bad dairy is, I want to yell at the top of my lungs in the aisle, “What the hell am I buying?” while running around in animated fashion.

But, I breathe deeply and accept what’s right in front of me and remember some things I’ve learned.

Organic-only shopping is not always necessary. I learned this as a current student in the online course, Women Health Intensive, taught by wellness practitioner, Melanie St. Ours. In an article, she wrote for MindBodyGreen, she refers to avoiding “the Dirty Dozen,” which includes apples and celery. The list is provided by Environmental Working Group, an organization that highly suggests buying these items organic only, because of their likelihood of pesticides and in some cases, GMOs.

Not all fruits and vegetables have to be bought this way. There is the Clean 15, which are less likely to be chemically laced. It includes asparagus, sweet potatoes and cabbage. By the way, cabbage is super cheap and filling, both with vitamins and for your belly!

Choices abound in our culture from cable TV stations to cell phone plans. The world has become very individualized and shopping for food can be overwhelming with five types of conventional apples over here and one bag of Gala organic apples over there within the same store.

One thing I learned at a self-care workshop is to shop outside the aisles. The battle of box versus leafy greens is always on. A box of cereal brags about how fortified it is when fruits and vegetables are naturally fortified.

Again, breathe and pick the apple best for you.

Recently, I was stuck in a bit of a conundrum: food with no time to cook.

Bags of lentils and organic jasmine rice with thyme sitting behind them in the cabinet and garlic on top of the fridge, I had no time to cook before the next Damen bus arrived to get to work on time. I text my co-worker: Do we have a Crockpot there? Yes, he answers.

I packed my bag with these four staples, and when I arrived to work, I pulled out the cutting board and chopped three cloves of garlic in large pieces. No time to mince. Then, I poured some water in the Crockpot, added some salt and thyme, dropped in the garlic, added a cup of lentils and a cup of rice. Last step: I plugged in the Crockpot and hit the high button. About two hours later, co-workers floated to the kitchen like ghosts and complimented me on how good it smelled.

I grabbed a bowl of my, lentils in the Crockpot (recently named I might add) and offered a bowl to a co-worker. Less than five minutes later, he asked for the recipe.*

This delicious meal was super cheap and found near Wood St. and 18th Streets. The Family Dollar provided the lentils and thyme, which costs $2 and $1, respectively. Metzisoy provided a bag of jasmine organic rice at $6 a bag. Salt—I use Himalayan Pink Salt. It’s $6 a bag but lasts for a really long time and provides more than eighty minerals, including magnesium, calcium and iron. Salt, rice and lentils are simple, cheap staples that provide nutritional, flavorful and filling meals.

Cooking doesn’t have to be hard or have little nutritional value. Aside for maybe chopping the garlic, the meal I made was the equivalent of opening a bag of ramen noodles and its seasoning packet to water in a pot and placing it on the stove. Which, by the way, dried herbs are your friends! I could have skipped the salt and the fresh garlic and replaced it with garlic salt! Voila! Or should I say, Bon appétit!

With the popularity of Iron Chef on Food Network and Rick Bayless in Chicago’s culinary backyard, being able to do acrobats with two machetes in your hand doesn’t seem like enough. Leave Cirque du Soleil with the plates spinning on top of a stick while doing a backbend to the people who have been trained to do those things.

Just go to your local supermarket, pick up some spices, vegetables, and meat or beans and act like a caveman:  fire it up and see what happens.

Lentils in a Crockpot

  • 1cup lentils (not red)
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 6 cups of water
  • ¼ to ¾ teaspoon salt
  • pinches of dried thyme
  • 3 cloves of garlic (chopped)

Put all ingredients into a Crockpot/Slow Cooker. Cook for at least two hours and serve with a sprinkle of salt (if more is needed).

Variations include adding carrots, potatoes, celery and/or onion. Add another half-hour of cook time.



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