Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sand beneath my toes beats snow in my hair any day

Winter in Chicago is often unpredictable. One week it’s snowing and a balmy 30 degrees (this is where I would like to be able to infer sarcasm with my tone), and the next it’s below zero and even the snow is afraid to show its face. The overbearing grey of Chicago’s sky finally got to me. I had to get out, if only for the long weekend. Lucky for me I know a couple snow birds that spend a couple months escaping the cold in Orange Beach, AL. Mam and Pap graciously hosted me for the long weekend I managed over President’s day. For those of you scratching your heads about this random holiday, President’s day is a holiday that only a few organizations still honor by giving its employees the day off. The government, banks, some schools, and the organization I work for are probably the only ones. Lucky me. But, just so you don't think I have it too good, I had to be in the office on MLK day.

So, I brushed a light dusting of snow off my car and headed to the airport on Friday. I got to Alabama via Atlanta and Pensacola. Mam picked me up and we headed to the first “southern” spot to grab a bite to eat: Waffle House. I’m sure I’ve been to a Waffle House before, but, in case you haven’t, I’ll do my best to describe it. The sign is yellow and the letters are blocky and black. Inside it booths but up against a galley style “kitchen” consisting of the flat top grill and fridge. The servers never have to roam about the restaurant because all the tables are in a line. In a foolish attempt to be “healthy” I order the pecan cranberry salad without the chicken, but then the grill top called my name and I had to order a side of hash browns, and, since I was on vacation Mam “insisted” we order a piece of chocolate pie. It's rumored that sometimes they serve this pie covered with melted butter. I did not even try to debunk the myth, the chocolate pie was good on its own.

The drive from Pensacola to Orange Beach is about an hour, and is driven with a view of the water for a majority of the trip. We passed Ono Island, which I learned was once part of Florida, but in the 70s it broke off and became an island. After a "no, it's ours!" "O no it's ours," kindergarten-type fight, Alabama won the land. It’s a gated community, but from the bridge the houses looked gorgeous and humongous. The condo Mam and Pap call home for the time that they are down south is right on the beach. There is nothing between their complex and the Gulf of Mexico but the white sandy beach. I immediately took advantage and headed down for a walk before dinner. It was a little windy, but my long cardigan sufficed for warmth. I took my shoes off, felt the grains of wet sand beneath my toes and listened to the small, but frequent, crashing waves. There is something about the sea air that helps clear my mind like nothing else. It has a way of making me feel small, yet reminds me that I am part of something larger even if I don’t know exactly what that is at the moment. 

My first Alabama sunset
While I was walking, Mam was cooking a nice dinner of soup and grilled cheese with Velvetta. The kind of restorative meal I love. Pap got home from golf, a tournament had started that day and him and his biddies would be on the course daily for the next week. After dinner and catching up, we called it an early night. I set an alarm to catch the sun rise.

I was jolted awake by the ringing of my alarm, opened my eyes, and debated if I should get out of bed. Usually my weekend love of slothiness prevails, but I was pumped to see the sun rise out of the gulf. It was probably setting that alarm that solidified that it would be a cloudy start to the day. When I got to the beach, a three minute walk, tops, the clouds hadn’t cleared. I walked east with hopes of seeing the sun. It was about an hour before the sun poked out from behind the clouds. It wasn’t the sun rise I was imagining, but seeing the sun was still something that had been eluding me in Chicago. 

The sun finally peaking through the clouds
Later that morning we went to Café Beignet, famous for New Orleans style powered sugar-covered light, airy doughnuts and chicory coffee. Chicory root has been known to be used as a coffee substitute/additive in parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. To me, since we ordered them au lait, it tasted like regular coffee to me. Next time I’ll order it black. The floor here was covered so covered with powdered sugar that we could see the server’s footprints from the kitchen. This restaurant serves beignets and coffee, that’s it. Just like Café Du Monde. Well, at least that is what I was told. I have never been to Café Du Monde, but these tasty warm doughy delights reignited my desire to visit New Orleans in the not so distant future. I’m thinking next Mardi Gras. Who’s with me?

As delicious as they look

Sugary evidence
That afternoon Mam took me on a scenic drive through Gulf Shores to Mobile Bay and onto Fort Morgan. The woman guarding the pay-to-cross entry way led us to believe that she gave us both the senior rate out of the kindness of her heart, but when she came back with our tickets admitted with a laugh that she didn’t have change so taking the ten was easier. This former military base, from all the reading materials onsite, is where “full speed ahead” was first uttered by anyone, ever, during the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. I had to do some digging to figure out that the South actually lost that battle. The base, completed after the war of 1812, just wasn’t up to the task of protecting against the latest Civil War technology. The last time it was occupied by soldiers was during World War II. Since 1946, the state of Alabama has been the caretaker of the pentagon-shaped base including its concrete batteries and hotshot furnace.  The entrance way, a tunnel with an arched roof, had the beginnings of stalactites hanging from the warn red bricks. From the fort I could see out into the bay, where about a handful of oil rigs were in full view. I had never seen anything like that before, a reminder of where this fuel I use daily comes from and the kind of impact it can have on a place and its waterfront views.

For dinner, after I walked along the beach for sunset, Tom met us back at the condo and we went to a seafood/steak house called Cottons. Inside the décor was upscale rustic. The artwork was mostly renditions of cotton trees and crooked driftwood type branches, and the lighting made it an intimate setting. They had a Cajun Chicken Alfredo that I was able to adapt to be chicken-less and still enjoy the Cajun flavors. The appetizer, cheese-stuffed mushrooms, had a great spicy kick to them. The mushrooms weren’t the only things stuffed after this meal. On the way home we stopped in at Florabama. This bar straddles the state lines of Alabama and Florida. It used to be just tarps, but after the latest hurricane, they rebuilt to actual wooden structures with ceiling beams that must have been begging to be covered with bras because that is what happened. It’s a music venue too, so I’m assuming that’s where the underwear came from. They also smoke inside Florabama. I don’t think I’ve been to a bar where people were smoking since I was 21. It was gross and reminded me why I’m thankful they finally passed that law.

Sunday, my last full day in Alabama was gloriously relaxing. I slept in, then went for a walk on the beach before lunch. Mam and I checked out Lulu’s, Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant. The chips, guac, and  veggie burrito would have been great on their own, but they upped the ante with their Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Lulu has apparently been in an on again off again relationship with the Krispy Kreme CEO. It led to an awesome dessert. The atmosphere there is what vacation should be. It has a laid back feel, but it is clear that no detail has been overlooked. Outside there is a stage for live music and huge mounds of sand for kids to play in. Inside the walls open to the water and the tables are set with paper towels giving it a carefree feel. After lunch we made a quick stop to the wharf, which had a few cute shops, but is unfortunately in need of some revitalization.  I hope if I come back that it will have found its groove and become the popular place it is obviously trying to become.

After the quick shopping trip we went back to the condo and I found myself in the indoor pool while Mam took a nap. The water was almost as warm as bathwater, and it felt great. I can’t remember the last time I went swimming. Maybe this past summer. Maybe. Either way, I had the pool to myself for most of the time took advantage by doing handstands and summersaults underwater like I used to do as a kid. From the pool, I went back out by the beach for my last chance to soak in the sound of the waves and the feel of the sand in between my toes. After my sunset walk we had a left over dinner from the great restaurants we had gone to and watched terribly fabulous tv. It was the perfect way to end a relaxing weekend.

Monday morning I was back on a plane headed toward reality, and the day after President’s day it was back to work. It was nice though, on Tuesday to put my hand in my coat pocket and realize I had forgotten to take out some sea shells I found on my escape to Orange Beach. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What I did this summer

If this blog is the only way you keep up with me, you may think I've been stationary all summer. Nope, quite the opposite. I've been making my way across the great states of the Midwest, mainly Southern Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and the great flat open road of Indiana. I have been to all these places before, and so if you are looking for a take on a new locale, you'll have to wait. But if you're interested in how I spent my summer weekends traveling in my scion to visit old friends, read on. Take this as a post to satisfy the part of me that is nostalgic for the days where this time of year signified a new school year. This is an homage to the days of writing "what I did this summer" essays on crisp pages of new notebooks. 

So, let's travel back to the beginning of the summer. June. And an amazing friend's birthday celebration in Madison. A quick three hour drive north, this party was of epic proportions, as any event with a scavenger hunt is prone to be. Andrew and I caught up with the group at the second stop and became members of the blue team. Matching bandanas unified us, and we got right to work photographing completed hunt tasks. The next stop was a chance to sip a fabulous martini and make a word using our bodies. On our way, we were in search for a fortune cookie and stopped at every place that sold egg rolls we passed by, but none had the illusive cookie. Also, we watched as a group of locals passed by Erbert and Gerberts screaming a version of the sandwich shoppe's name that sounded a lot like this meme reads.

Then came the boot. Summer shandy, German style. We put down our deposit, yes, they make you pay a few bucks to be certain you'll return the novelty glass (plastic), and got to work. And I helped myself to the complementary popcorn. Free popcorn is always a good idea. On our walk around state street, we ogled the candy store and took pictures with the colorful candy wall. One stop was a bar with a tree in the center. The jukebox was ours and we promptly played classic 90s party jams. If you're looking for a theme for your bar, tree in the middle works pretty well. As is bound to happen on State Street, we ran into a bachelorette party that had a sort of preppy tennis theme, or it might have been golf. Either way, it was a sport where it is customary for women to wear skirts and polo shirts. I guess this is good a theme as any for a bachelorette, but maybe not as good as from classy to trashy (which is what some may classify the party you'll read about later in this post). The night wound down at another German beer-hall style locale. It's nights like these that make me glad Madison is only a car trip away these days. 

Mid-July brought Andrew and I down to Southern Illinois (that drive never gets more exciting, though the windmills help) for his cousin's wedding tux fittings, and wedding party bonding in Evansville. The youngest groomsman, who I think may be in the fourth or fifth grade, was hoping for camouflage, but had to settle for trying on a vest. The bride and groom knew their style (a little more traditional than the camo, and hunter orange), which made the tuxedo shopping super quick. Then it was time for pub pizza and jalepeno poppers. I know this food is not the most interesting or unique, but it's delicious and makes any pub meal better. It actually reminds me a lot of going to The Pizza Joynt in middle school after basketball or volleyball games. The rest of the group went on to watch the Dark Knight, but as some of you know, I'm not a huge fan of Batman. I know, this is sacrilegious to some, but I just can't get into it. (If you want the full explanation, just ask. I have a great argument considering how offensive this opinion is to many, and am happy to share it). I used the few hours to work on my book. It's getting there, really. 

The next weekend the we were on our way in the opposite direction to Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin. First though, was a visit to friends in Pewaukee. We got there in time to check out Taste of Pewaukee by the lake. There were even surprise guests, our Ohio friends. We grabbed tasty treats and hankered down around a table in the sand to catch up. The reggae music, while a little out of place in this area, was a welcome soundtrack to the evening. And the often slimy lake even looked nice lit by the moonlight. 

The next day was a great day to celebrate our friends' marriage. A few months earlier they eloped to to Red Wood forest. Just them, an officiant, photographer, and the trees. I can't think of anything more them. The celebration was at Old World Wisconsin. Old World Wisconsin is a quaint little place about 20 minutes outside Whitewater. It's the kind of place that makes me miss living in the country. This is where we ate, drank, danced a little, reminisced about college days and made new memories captures by a digital photo booth.  

The people that were there are the people that make me miss having all my friends in one place, like college. But, really, it's great to know that after all these years we can all get together and have a great time, no matter where our lives have taken us. I don't have a good segue to introduce these pictures, but I just have to share it to give a little hint to how much fun it is to be with my friends. 

That night we traveled back to Pewaukee and enjoyed the fabulous hospitality of old friends. The last few hours in town we helped them shop for their European adventure. We split boys and girls. Girls in search of a perfect traveling purse, complete with a zipper and the ability to hold everything one would need while walking down the streets of Rome. I have no idea what the guys were hunting, but we were successful. And I didn't buy a thing. Another success. 

A couple weekends later we were back in Wisconsin for another wedding celebration. Anna and her new hubby were back in town from Taiwan. By the time they had their U.S. party, they had been husband and wife for more than half a year. They got married around Chinese new year. She wore her wedding dress in her parents' front lawn for this gathering of friends and family who only get to see her a couple times a year. She looked like a princess ballerina. If I were her I'd find every occasion to wear it again and again. Wouldn't you?

The other fabulous part aside from seeing the happy couple was the cake. They had four different cakes and a hamburger cookie made from vanilla wafers, a thin mint, and lettuce and ketchup colored icing. And if the cake wasn't enough, they brought Taiwan candies. The best was the fish "candy." It's wrapper was shiny and gave the impression that a mint-type candy was inside. In fact, it was more like a fish bouillon cube. I still have some. If you're reading this and thinking, "man, I can't live without trying this weird thing," text me and I'll get you some. My favorite was the coffee candy, but that is no surprise considering my growing addiction to coffee. In addition to the wedding celebration, their was also excitement in the sky. We all kept our eyes peeled that night for the The Perseid meteor shower. Andrew and Lei Ti discussed why it was happening with the help of Google translate and a hat to describe the universe. The rest of us sat around the fire and looked up a seconds too late after the two guys made and excited "wow" sounds. The sky show was after after the BB gun target practice that completed the total Wisconsin/US wedding. That and the cans of MGD. This is how to celebrate! 

The next week, after work on Friday, Andrew and I drove for six hours through the empty open roads of Indiana to visit our Ohio friends in their new house outside of Columbus. Arriving at nearly 2 in the morning left little to do but watch terrible MTV shows, we chatted for a while and then we all hit the hay with plans for brunch and zoo in the morning. The zoo in Columbus has a water park attached! With full bellies we drove to the zoo. We opted for the water park first and never actually made it to see the animals (which is ok, I've been to far more zoos than water parks in my life). The water park and the unusually hot weather made me feel like I was somewhere a little more exotic than Columbus, and the fact that everyone else there was from the Midwest I felt more comfortable in my swimsuit than if I were on the beaches of southern California. Why haven't I been on more lazy rivers in my life? And wave pools. Both are a ton of fun and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. That night we had big plans to hit the town, but all the fresh air limited us to a delicious late dinner (we didn't get back from the water park until like 9 pm). Sunday was a perfect Farmers Market day before heading home. The market in Columbus reminded me so much of the Milwaukee Public Market. The whole city of Columbus really reminds me of Milwaukee. There are local restaurants inside, a small grocer (where I picked up some fruits and veggies for the road), bakeries, and crafts. We found seats for lunch on picnic tables by a guitarist outside and before we left I found a couple pendants to add to my chunky jewelry collection. Oh, and before I end my Ohio summary, I can't forget that our pups got to play together. Pips is such a trooper in the car, and it was fun to see her and Tuck together (after he got used 
to her again that is...).

This brings us to two weekends before labor day. Bachelorette shenanigans. That's about all I can tell here in good conscious. Good times were had by all in the Dells.

And then, Labor Day. The last official holiday of the summer. Pools will close after today and school will be in full swing (until the strike at least). For me, Labor Day was spent celebrating one more happy couple. Andrew's cousin and his bride. This time we were in Southern Illinois for a fall-themed wedding. It was a nice church ceremony followed by party/bash at the American Legion. And this was another celebration enhanced by a photo booth and delicious desserts. This time my favorite was pumpkin cake pops and red velvet cake. In my book red velvet cake is always a winner. I love that weddings give me an excuse to dance. And, it was a nearly a miracle because even though I wore new shoes to this wedding I kept them on all night.  

And that brings us to September. The leaves are changing and pumpkin season, the best season, is upon us. Thank you for indulging my nostalgia for back-to-school essays about summer's past. Happy Fall!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Savor Seattle (part 2 of 2)

Since I've spent the day nursing my back (yes I've thrown it out again), it's given me this chance to finish my Seattle review. On day two it was time to celebrate Queen Elizabeth. For regular people like you and me, celebrating a diamond anniversary marks 75 years. For the queen of England, it marks 60 years of her coronation. To ring in the 60th year, the royal family threw a Diamond Jubilee, and since we would be in Seattle visiting Andrew’s English sister-in-law she suggested we throw a party that would make them proud. I think we succeeded. To get us in the mood, she sent us a few BBC links. For example, here are a few notes on the event, but you can click herehere, or here for more complete BBC jubilee coverage: 
  • The celebration was a series of events running from June 2nd to the 5th. 
  • On Sunday, June 3, a flotilla of 1,000 vessels traveled on the Thames River from Battlesea to Tower Bridge (the largest since 1662 for Charles II). The banks were packed with approximately 1.2 million people despite the gray weather. 
  • A star-studded concert was put on for the Queen, the Royal family, and  12,000 ticket holders outside Buckingham Palace with performances by Robbie Williams, Kylie Monogue, Elton John, Paul McCartney, The Black Eyed Peas, Gary Barlow, Cheryl Crow, Grace Jones,  Chinese pianist Lang Lang, US soprano Renee Fleming, English tenor Alfie Boe,  Annie Lennox, Ed Sheeran and Sir Tom Jones.
  • The Queen marked the final day of the Diamond Jubilee weekend by attending a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral, followed by a reception, lunch, and carriage procession.
  • 10,000 people packed the palace for a jubilee picnic
There is no way to mention all the official events, but here is a calendar of all Royal jubilee events for the year in case you want to study up on royal whereabouts. 

Back in Seattle, a week after official celebrations, we spent the afternoon making tea sandwiches, including cucumber sandwiches and coronation chicken, with flavors from many of the British colonies. For sweets we made a cake, well, salvaged the cake after some of the batter leaked from the pan creating a sinking look to the cake. With homemade whipped cream and fruit on top, we saved the cake and made it the perfect mini union jack. It felt like finally all my Food Network watching paid off. 
After all the prep work, we went back to the hotel to put on our jubilee best. Donned in diamonds, dresses and tuxedo t-shirts, we posed in front of the union jack on the balcony lined with bunting that overlooks the space needle. It was nice to sit with good company, sip tea and eat all the delicious food we worked hard to make earlier in the day. As the jubilee party was winding down, and since we were all dressed up us ladies decided to hit the town for a bit.

Since we were all dressed up, the ladies decided to go out for a drink while the brothers bonded. The first place was a little too crowded, which I think was partly due to graduations, so we went to a newer place close by. It was another charming Seattle bar that will keep me coming back to this city to see what else is around. After having time with the girls, we went back to the apartment for an impromptu dance party. Andrew's mom had brought glow sticks, and we hadn't brought them out during the jubilee celebrations, so we put them to good use. Old school techno beats, lights off and my camera set to a slow shutter speed to capture the sober rave-like dance party made for a good, old-fashioned family fun. 
As the night came to an end, we planned to meet up the next morning to go to the Olympic Sculpture Park and our last brunch in Seattle. This new green space was once an is a refurbished industrial area near the waterfront. The park is packed with a variety of sculptures, including an Alexander Calder who in Chicago is known for the "flamingo" in federal plaza. Wandering Rocks is one of my favorite sculptures there, as is the artist's comment. 

This park manages to do something that I love, which is to bring together natural and man-made beauty. It's like seeing a flower growing from a crack in a city sidewalk. It has a way of making you smile noting the hope and strength it represents. 

And with that, I'll say goodbye to Seattle, for now...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Savor Seattle (Part 1 of 2)

For regular readers of my blog, I have to warn you, this is going to be another instance in which I gush about Seattle. So, if you’ve had enough flowery descriptions of the market and mountains, take this opportunity to catch up the news about the world around you. For example, this story about dairy farmers

This trip was my mini-vacation before starting my new job. We flew out Thursday night, and got in too late to do much except collapse on a hotel room bed. We stayed at the Red Lion Hotel, which, to be honest, has the potential to be a much better hotel. The décor was grand and the location ideal, but even with the leather wallpaper the rooms left lots to be desired. The bedding was beyond its prime and food that was left outside the room wasn’t picked up for two days. The hotel was hosting an economics conference Andrew’s dad was attending, so that is what brought us in, and for a place to rest our heads, it worked. And that is all the negative Nellie you’ll be getting here.
Friday morning we woke up and met for a group dinner in the Terrace. I opted for a small meal as to keep my appetite for the Pike’s Market Savor Seattle Tour we were scheduled to take at 10:30. If the weather were a little nicer we could have sat on the patio, but instead we left it for the birds. The Savor Seattle tour started at the Starbucks across from the Green Tortoise Hostel and the market. The tour promised market food and Seattle fun facts. It definitely delivered. From the starting Starbucks we “sampled” chai apple cider. I have sampled in parenthesis because I have tried nearly everything on Starbucks menu, and have on more than one occasion ordered this delicious drink on a cozy fall day. We introduced ourselves to the group and met a few other folks from the Midwest. And, in addition to names and cities we call home, we also shared our favorite food. I went with cheese. A family of four independently said a different type of meat for his or her favorite food, including the daughter who must have been about 5 or 6 years old who said lamb. 

After Starbucks, we crossed the cobblestone road to the Economy Market, originally a hotel that realized the value of it's land early and transformed its space into additional stalls for farmers to handle the large crowds of shoppers. The destination in the Economy Market was Daily Dozen Doughnut Company. We sampled cinnamon sugar doughnuts fried in the hottest oil to create a crispy outside with a light, doughy inside. The cinnamon made it easy to compare to a churro, the way churros are supposed to be.  From there we went to Market Spice Tea. For some in our group, this was their favorite place. The big secret? One of the previous owners didn't even like tea, but they were able to make the best blend of orange and cinnamon tea around. 

From sweet breakfast staples we transitioned to the savory Seattle staple: salmon. The Pike Place Fish Company has been in Seattle since 1930. In 1965 it was purchased by an employee whose goal was to make enough on an owner's salary to make the payments on his new Buick. Twenty years later, nearing bankruptcy, the company harnessed the power of the flying fish to become a worldwide sensation. This was the only place without a veggie option, so Andrew got double fish portions before we headed outside for some fruit.
Yes, it's not a salmon. But they weren't trowing him, so it was easier to snap a shot quick. 
Only a few stalls just that are a part of the old Sanitary market (originally this was the only space animals were not allowed to enter)  allowed to sell foods not grown locally. The one we visited was Frank's Quality Produce Company. This multi-generation family business sells exotic fruit like pineapple and kiwi alongside strawberries, blueberries, pears, and eggplants. They were the juicy, full-flavored fruits that Midwesterners crave in the winter. As we ate the perfectly pieced pears and bold blueberries, we learned a fun fact about eggplants: some are male and some are female. Male eggplants are deeper in color, less bitter, and have a roundish "bellybutton" on the bottom. Female eggplants have more a a "slit bellybutton" and have more seeds, which are bitter. So, we'll give this one to the guys, they simply taste better (mostly because they aren't responsible for the seeds that ensure the proliferation of their species). 

These last couple may be a little out of order, but no matter what came first, they were all delicious. I'm going to start with Beecher's cheese. THE. BEST. MAC & CHEESE. It's rich, creamy, a bit sharp, and delivers the kind of comfort adults missing their mom's cooking can savor. I lucked out and got a double helping of one of the cubes of Beecher's famous Flagship cheese. They have crafted the words to describe this cheese almost as carefully as the cheese itself, so I'll let it speak for itself:

"The first wheel of Flagship, Beecher’s signature cheese, was handcrafted just as Beecher’s Handmade Cheese opened its doors in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market in November of 2003. Flagship is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese with a uniquely robust, nutty flavor. It is carefully aged for 15 months under the watchful eye of the cheesemaker to fully develop its complex flavor and ever-so-slight crumble. " - Beecher's website
 Chukar Cherries will make you remember why cherries are the staple of any good summer picnic, and help you realize they can be so much more. The people at Chukar used to grow the cherries themselves on an orchard in Yakima Valley, which is the region the cherries still come from today.  What is a Chukar? Here's one from their logo.
The samples were Cabernet cherries, truffle cherries, chocolate honey pecans, raspberry truffles, and cherry bings. All better than the last, don't ask me to choose a favorite.

We also visited the award winning Pikes Place Chowder. I didn't get their awarding winning clam chowder, but their vegan corn chowder was a great veggie option. The clam chowder and seafood bisque folks will probably diasagree, but I was happy with my sample. And the difference between bisque and chowder, as we learned from someone's smart phone in the group: bisque is usually smooth and chowder is usually chunky.  What do you prefer?

Then there was the Piroshkys from Piroshky, Piroshky. This bakery got its name from street vendors in Russia. Like New Yorkers know the Hot Dog call, Russians heard the Piroshky call. The piroshky is a stuffed pie. There are savory fillings like like cheese, chives, potatoes, salmon or beef, and sweet pies like cinnamon and apple. The best traditional foods come in the form of a dumplings and the piroshky is just another example of great family cooking. Take a look at this deliciousness before it went into the oven.
Our last stop, just before the skies opened up for a few drops to fall, was the famous Etta's, one of Tom Douglas's many Seattle restaurants. For the meat eaters, crab cakes. For me corn bread. The perfect end to a wonderful tour.

We walked back trough the market, stopping at most of the places we visited to buy take-home treats and then stumbled on a cute Italian shop that had a wine tasting and something that made the mac and cheese a little better: truffle oil. Though we brought some home, something tells me it won't taste the same on Roundy's brand macaroni and cheese in the shape of Spongebob.

To make myself feel a little less guilty about all the food I just indulged in, I went for a run a little after returning to the hotel and left Andrew to nap before hanging out with his dad's economists for a little while that evening. There is something about Seattle air that just makes me feel happy when I running (even as I'm struggling up the hills, and admittedly walking one or two of them). I ran to the sculpture garden, which I'll talk more about in part two of this Seattle post. So, stay tuned for part two, where I'll talk about the Diamond Jubilee, a living room rave, the sculpture garden, and more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talk Derby to Me

Note: This blog was started nearly a month ago. A crazy, exciting, unpredictable month. My job hunt is finally over, and I have a new place in Edgewater (still close to Lake Michigan, and closer to some great friends). Moving and starting a new job have left little time for writing. Today is the first day in an effort to get back on track not only on this blog, but on that novel I've been telling myself I'll finish by the end of the year. Below is a quick recap of the Derby trip. Next up: Weekend in Seattle.


In 1970, Hunter S. Thompson wrote “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” It was the result of deadline driven madness that led to the publication of his first person account of the spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby and the beginning of gonzo journalism. Though I was never for want of a Julep, I can say with certainty that my experiences at the Derby have been watered-down in comparison, but they have never failed to deliver lively tales of pomp and circumstance (and indulgence). This year was no different.

This was the first time have ever had a ticket to the “grand stand” and made it to the Oaks, which takes place the Friday before “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” Right after Andrew and I met up with his brother and sister-in-law, the Churchill Downs staff members were herding everyone inside. We thought we could wait it out in our ponchos, but just as we picked up a couple abandoned lily glasses, we were told to join the others under the stands. There was no way we were fitting in, people were packed in like the back of a clown car, so we stood on the outside letting the rain pound our poncho hoods. It was the kind of rain that seems as though someone is pouring a bucket of water directly onto you, but not a big bucket because it didn’t last for too long. 

We were back in the stands within a few minutes and waiting for the next race, eyes peeled for the Julep seller. The Oaks is known as Ladies Day at Churchill Downs, to raise awareness for Women’s Health Issues everyone wears pink and there is a cancer survivor parade. I took the opportunity to wear my favorite pink shirt with a sequined flower appliqué from my travels to Australia half a decade ago. It’s one of those shirts I just can’t give away, even though it might be beyond its prime. Who knew there were so many shades of pink? Nearly everyone in the crowd was sporting a pink hat, shirt or skirt.

The day of the oaks also marked Andrew’s brother’s birthday, so we sang and after the races made our way to a steak house for a late dinner. They had fried pickles, so really, I was set. I also got a loaded baked potato (substituting broccoli for bacon). For a steak house, my options were pretty good, and the servers brought out a birthday dessert. It was a tasty, filling end to a good first day in Louisville.

The Derby day was hot. Not "you'll be fine if you wear light colors, linen shorts, and sunscreen" hot, but "even the devil would hate it outside" hot. But, the juleps were flowing, sunscreen was being reapplied, people were wearing hats, and horses were racing. The bets I placed for friends came through, and I didn't loose more than a couple bucks betting. You don't loose what you don't bet, but that also means no "big money" wins were going to come through for me. 

As for the hat, Andrew's mom let me borrow a colorful hat that fit well with the Cinco de Mayo at the Derby theme more than a few people were following. Sombreros were not uncommon. 

This year we didn't make it to the infield or the paddock. And honestly, we didn't hear about the murder at the paddock until a couple days later. It's still under investigation. The stands are so crowded and there is so much going on, that there is a lot that I didn't get to see (like the fabulous hats of the celebrities who didn't make it to the jumbo screen). But, it's always better to be there than watch it on TV. Like most sporting events, I'm in it for the time I get to spend with my friends not who wins or looses. But, in case you'd like a reminder about the Derby winner, it was I'll Have Another. He was on his way to the triple crown, but was scratched from the Belmont due to an ankle injury. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

This is the second year in a row I spent my birthday away from home, in places with temperatures higher than 80 degrees. Last year Tuxtla Gutierrez with new friends and my dad, this year with some of my oldest (in terms of how long I've known them, not how old they are) on the Delmarva shore. I could get used to this. Feel free to send suggestions for warm locations for my 30th birthday.

The sun lit the farms on either side of the highways and penetrated the glass to give me a slight sunburn on my right arm as we made our way to the Delmarva shore Sunday morning. For those of you unfamiliar with the word Delmarva, it is a charming combining of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia that locals use to call this part of the country.
The cast of the Delmarva Shore - much less dramatic than Jersey
We spent the day at Rehoboth beach. I'd never been to Delaware before, so I was excited to be getting closer to meeting my goal of visiting all 50 states. I'm only at 23, so I have a ways to go. Anyway, about Rehoboth. It's a touristy beach, but it wasn't crowded even though it was a beautiful day. The water felt like someone poured a glass of ice water on my feet every time a wave came up to greet me. Nick and Corrine were braver than I and brought Elaina in the water. She loved it!
Once the water got too much we went back up to our spot on the sand. Nick dug a hole to bury himself in. Lane was so cute because after he patted all the sand down around him, she tried to get him out.

I made a sand salamander and afterward soaked in the sun until the kite was brought out. Lane got one for her birthday, it was from the Cars movie. I think it was her first time flying a kite. The wind wasn't blowing incredibly fast or furious, but when it was my turn I kept it in the air with minimal jogging. I'm not sure how long it has been since I've flown a kite, but I can safely say years. And that is way to long to go between kite flying outings.

It was a few hours of beach time, and after the kite flying it we were ready for some food. Lucky for us, Dogfish Head brewery has a pub on Rehoboth Beach, their brewery is just a few miles from there I guess. The best part of micro brew pubs is the sampler. It made for a great birthday treat. I tried the Raison D'Etre, Chicory Stout, Black & Blue, World Wide Stout,  Palo Santo Marron. I couldn't choose a favorite, so rather than get a full glass of one that I tried, I gave the Red & White a try too. We also had their Parmesan Rosemary fries and fried pickles. They weren't messing around with the parm on those fries and the dipping sauce was a cheesy mustard goodness that went fabulously with the pickles. While the people next to us who got seated after us got their food and left before we got our meals we were beginning to think the waitress forgot to put in our meals. Which was true. But, it gave us more time to chat and sample beer and lick the basket of fried goodness clean. My main entree, Mushroom Mac & Cheese, was all I was hoping for in a birthday dinner. Something to remind me that even though I'm pushing 30, I can still eat like a 12 year old without guilt at least once in a while (like on my birthday).

After our bellies were full and our hearts happy, we strolled the boardwalk. We found an instant photo booth in an arcade and had to cram in for a strip of black and white prints. And then it was time for ice cream. Soft serve with sprinkles. My shirt was a little less messy than Lane's. Happy birthday to me!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Lane!

In my first Maryland post I forgot to mention the adorable routine Lane has before bed time. She turns out the lights in her room, excitedly asks for purple stars (which appear on the ceiling at the push of a button), hugs and kisses everyone, and says goodnight when she's put in her crib. I don't know if it is this easy every night, but it seemed that easy both nights I was there. I also don't have much experience with other two-year-olds, so I'm not sure if she is the norm or if my friends are lucky or phenomenal parents, but I hope for the sake of all parents of two-year-olds that it is the norm. 

The next morning I woke up to the smell of marinated pork simmering on the stove. It smelled delicious. It reminded me of tamale making day with my dad. The ladies, including the little lady, left Nick to the cooking and party prep and headed to the Amish Market. This was the second Amish Market I visited in as many weeks. This Amish Market is known for its pretzels, and it's well warranted. The cinnamon raisin pretzels sticks were just the right softness and sweetness for breakfast and went perfectly with my latte. The guy behind the espresso machine was super nice and shared his booth with a fudge shoppe where I bought maple and chocolate fudge, it couldn't have been a better start to the Saturday.

When we got back to the house it was time to finish making the Mickey Mouse cake. Well, Corrine did. I mostly watched and then used the scraps to make myself a cake to celebrate my 29th birthday. While Corinne finished up the cake and Nick mowed the lawn, I went for jog. Easton is a great place to run. People stop even when they have the right to turn to let you cross the street and there are tree-lined main streets. Though the pollen is so intense it coats the cars, it didn't seem to bother my allergies, though I have to admit I did take an allergy pill in the morning that I may have to give some credit. And on this particular Saturday, they were having a farmers market in the city square that I took a stroll through. It was a small farmers' market, but it seemed to have everything you could ask for from a local market. I can't wait to visit some of the markets here in Chicago. After the run it was time to party. Elaina's friends came over with their parents and we had a fun afternoon in the sun. She got an old school radio flyer wagon that all the kids loved. And then it was time for the cake, funfetti and strawberry.

Elaina dove right in!

Later we jokingly brought out my ridiculous looking cake and everyone sang to me. They even had a glittery 2 and a glittery 9. 

After the sugar rush wore off and the party trickled down, we took a 30 minute drive to St. Michael's. It kind of reminded me of Lake Geneva. A cute town with lots of shops with a double e. It was a little late, so there wasn't much open. Though we did get to look at some nick knacks, fun signs, and cute sea side decor. We walked to the bay and tried our hand at making appropriate faces in the wooden paintings with the faces cut out for tourists like me to take silly photos like this one. Does anyone know the appropriate name of these things?

As the sun went down we made our way back to Easton, and since it was still Lane's birthday day we went for ice cream. So. Much. Sugar! I tried red velvet and a pretzel caramel. I had never had either before, and they are as delicious as they sound. The red velvet had pieces of cake mixed in with the brilliant red ice cream. We ate our cones on a bench across from yesterday's lunch pub. The street light made for some dramatic photos. Elaina has my sweater on because when the sun went down, it cooled off quick.

After the birthday girl got sufficiently covered with drips from her ice cream, we called it a night. The little one was so tired she went right straight to bed. Corinne and I stayed up to watch awfully awesome TLC television, and Nick finished his movie which I didn't have time to screen during this trip. I guess I'll have to wait for the Chicago screening.