First of all, I have some good news. I get lots of emails from readers asking me where they should eat when they visit Chicago. While I’m not in the business of restaurant reviews, I am always happy to suggest some of my favorite places. I have finally gotten around to creating a guide to Lottie + Doof approved sources for good food in Chicago. You can find it HERE  or through the menu on the left. I’ll add to the guide as I remember favorite places or find new ones. The page also links to a very useful Google map with the same information. Thanks to Bryan for his help getting this up. It is just the beginning of a bunch of exciting improvements around here. Next up- that recipe index which is woefully incomplete and out of date.
What do you do with your vanilla beans after using them? (how about that segue?!) Hopefully you don’t throw them out. I’d like to suggest you use them to make vanilla sugar. Simply rinse off the bean, dry it, and add it to a container of granulated sugar, or take Edna Lewis’ suggestion and add the bean to a jar of sugar cubes. Allow the bean to hang out with the sugar for a few days before using. You’ll have subtly perfumed vanilla sugar to use as you please. The genius of the sugar cubes is that you can then crush the cubes and use them as a crunchy topping on cookies, muffins or cakes. Anywhere that a coarse finishing sugar is called for. If you have extra vanilla beans I also recommend vanilla salt. Same procedure but using a coarse sea salt. My friend Ashley topped some fresh ricotta with a sprinkling of vanilla salt and blew our minds. It is lovely and I can imagine it being great on top of ice cream or even on something like the chocolate caramel tart .
Changing topics again: Haiti. In a nation where 80% of the population lives at or below the poverty level, life in Haiti can be difficult on the best of days. The suffering that Haitians are enduring as a result of this earthquake is unfathomable to most of us. If you haven’t already done so, please make a donation to one of the many organizations collecting aid relief. The simplest method may be to donate to the Red Cross by texting HAITI to 90999 and $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill. I’ve heard that the Red Cross has already received over 3 million dollars ($10 at a time) through this text method, which is unbelievably moving to me. Please, please continue to help in any way you can.
(And yes, I am aware it is ridiculous that I am writing about helping Haiti and making vanilla sugar in the same post.)