Although Jennie left three times this week, today was definitely the hardest. I woke up early and worked really hard on finishing up my GWC work. I got all the girls’ programs “graded”: complete or incomplete, and added comments to them. Jen and I went to brunch at Pleasant House Bakery. I’ve been buying their bread since I found it at the Plant Farmers’ Market, and had been meaning to go to the restaurant, but never had a chance to until today.
As good as they are at bread, they are even better at pies. I’m not a big fan of dessert pies (sacrilege, I know [I just looked up the etymology of that word, primarily because of its odd spelling. The sacra- part I knew about (sacred), but the -lege I did not. It comes from the Latin root legere which means “to take or pick up”, and is the same root as lec- (to read) from lecture and election. Mind = blown.]), but savory pies? That’s a whole other ball of lard. I love me some pot pie. That is one of my go-to dishes if I’ve got leftover anything meatwise. Pleasant House did not disappoint.
The pies themselves are about the size of a coffee cup, golden brown, and beautiful to look at. They grow some of their own ingredients. When I first came to Chicago, I noticed an herb garden about a block away on South Morgan. There was a blown-over sign that read “Pleasant House Bakery”. The sign has since been righted and cleaned off with a muddy hand.
Jennie had the Chicken Balti, which is “all-natural chicken in fresh-ground curry spices with tomato and Nigella seeds”. I know – your thoughts immediately went to Nigella Lawson, author of How to Be a Domestic Goddess, who cooks a mean pie, and who I could watch (and listen to, because, that accent) on TV all day long, but actually nigella is a plant in the ranunculus family (no, I didn’t know that before tonight), which also has the common names devil-in-a-bush and love-in-a-mist. Wild stuff.
The word Balti itself has quite a story behind it. I can can do it no more justice than Wikipedia did. Check this out:
Balti, as a food, is named after the steel or iron pot in which it is cooked. The word is found in Urdu (Hey, Shanzeh, look! Urdu!), Hindi and Bengali, and means “bucket.” The word developed from the Portuguese ‘balde’, meaning bucket or pail, and traveled to South Asia via the Portuguese seafaring enterprises of the early sixteenth century. One can deduce that the word made its way into the English language during the British raj.
Before I (I am just going to apologize right now for all the lowercase is (that is the correct plural, but it looks so wrong) that I’ve been plopping around all summer. I really don’t type well on flat laptop keyboards, and I have difficulty pressing both the i and the shift keys at the same time. Now you can go back and reread that sentence, and the plural thing will make sense.) sat down to write this, I thought my pie was going to end up being the more interesting one. It certainly had more going for it before I found all that Nigella/Balti stuff out.
You see, Thursday is “Special Pie Day” at Pleasant House. We did not know this going in, and the sandwich board outside which said so was pointing in the opposite direction from which we arrived (our side said “Put it in your pie hole”), but boy did we get lucky. I feel like fate just keeps smiling on us, even when she takes airline flights away. The special pie today was chicken marinated in beer and some other stuff. It had vegetables, too. I don’t remember what else ( a drawback to the internet – you look on the restaurant’s facebook page, trying to find out what the special was, only to find out that you missed out on ordering the third best fries in Chicago. *sigh*). Anyway, you could get it “crowned” – topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and a pool of rich, brown gravy. “Year of Yes”, am I right? Of course you get it crowned. It also came with a tiny, tiny dish of fresh corn chutney. It was all really good. The crust was crispy on the outside, but soft and buttery layered on the inside, and did that slight stick-to-your-tooth thing that truly delicious food seems to do.
After brunch, Jennie and I took the bus for the five minute trip to the Orange Line station, where I said goodbye to her, and nearly forgot to swipe her in through the turnstile. My transit pass expires tomorrow at 4:44 pm, and I have just enough cash value on it to get me to yoga and the airport on Saturday, so we were saving swipes. (I can swipe up to six people in after me, my fare is covered by the pass, subsequent fares use the cash value on the card. If I’d known how long Jennie would be here, I’d have purchased a pass for her.)
We had such a great time while she was here. I got to show her my Chicago, but got to explore parts of it I hadn’t seen yet: the natural history museum, the aquarium, the skate park, the Orange Line south of Halsted, new parts of the zoo, a new church, new restaurants and new cuisines. So much fun!
As I walked out of the station, the Number 8 bus southbound was just pulling away. On a different day, I might have hustled across the street to catch it as it completed the station loop, but not today. I looked up, and the next bus wasn’t for 18 minutes – long enough that riding or walking was a wash, timewise. I waited for the bus to pass and crossed the street. I looked back up towards the train platform to wave to Jennie, but she was looking the other way. I knew from the heaviness in my heart that this time she was leaving Chicago for sure.
I turned away, walked around a large, hot, muddy puddle and headed home. All the way, I took as many streets as I could that I hadn’t walked down yet. Explore, explore, explore.