Just Where I Want To Be

Today feels like a summer’s day! 81 degrees and sunny, the birds are singing joyfully and everything is as green as ever after recent thunderstorms. Thus, for the first time since the weather was fine last summer, I can be found in one of my favorite nooks…

IMG_3162

My little writing table on the front porch, mostly private from the sidewalk, where I can look up to the trees and the sunny skies and feel happy, refreshed and inspired. I’ve just made a healthy salad for lunch. Delicious!

IMG_3165

For the rest of the afternoon, I’ll be typing away on my stories and there’s no better place for it. Spending time out-of-doors is said to have a lovely impact on your health!

IMG_3168

My front porch chipmunk is keeping me company. I’ve bribed him with some strawberries and blueberries, hoping they will keep him distracted so that he doesn’t get curious about my bare toes. I think they think toes are peanuts. Don’t nibble my toes Chippy!

IMG_3167

I can definitely say, on a beautiful day like today, I’m just where I want to be…

Here’s wishing you a great many such beautiful days, and that you’ll find the time for yourself to enjoy them! 

I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

With a recent flight to New York, we flew into Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Now, I’ve seen quite a few airports throughout the world. Some are comfortable, some are not so comfortable. Mostly they are simple, functional, designed to get you where you need to go. Perhaps you’ll do a bit of duty-free shopping, and get a decent bite to eat along the way…

IMG_4347

Well I just want to say…Newark, you’re one happening airport! I love your style! As you walk through the terminal, there are colorful, internet accessible, chic places to grab a seat. Ambient music plays, which I’m certain keeps travelers calm and relaxed…

IMG_4342

There were a variety of places to take your ease, and plenty of t.v. monitors for folks who need their daily dose of sports. The airport was clean and well, hip

IMG_4343

At the newsstand, there were no lines, for there were plenty of monitors for self-checkout. I tend not to like self-checkout because it never goes smoothly for me and an attendant has to come running to help. But here, things seemed to be running well…

IMG_4340

Further, their selection of products in the quick-grab area were so interesting! Lots of fun foods, healthy items, unique snacks. Plenty of fresh choices, whatever your tastes…

IMG_4341

I enjoyed the colors and the lights, and the unique flow…

IMG_4348

Instead of looking travel-worn and agitated, folks were catching up on work, studying, chatting, relaxing. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like people were enjoying being at the airport. That’s a new one!

IMG_4338

There were interesting paintings, cool chairs, patterned tiles, thoughtful lighting…

IMG_4346

And I would have been content to sit at any of the restaurants we passed. As we walked past Riviera, it appeared as a peaceful oasis serving gourmet food. In…the…airport.

IMG_4345

In any case, I got a real kick out of this airport’s modern design. It made for a fun entry into our New York outing. The designers clearly had the comfort and amusement of travelers in mind when they made such updates. Pretty cool!

Insomnia Cookies

I want you to pretend that it’s two o’clock in the morning and you are wide awake…

cookies-1387797_1280

Unless you’re 21 years old on a Saturday night, or work the night shift, or have trouble sleeping, I don’t know why you’d still be up, but just pretend that you are. Not only are you awake, but you’re having a craving that you just can’t beat…for cookies! Only, you have no cookies in your house. This is very bad. No cookies to eat at 2 a.m. What to do?!

IMG_4857

Just call Insomnia Cookies! They deliver fresh made cookies (I’m guessing still warm), pizza-box style…until 3 a.m. in the morning. How do I know? Was I up ordering cookies after midnight like a crazed cookie monster? Heck no!

On Friday evening, we decided to skip dessert at dinner and walk over to a new business. I saw it buzzing earlier as we drove past toward our reservation. The canopy over the window read Insomnia Cookies. So of course, I had to know what that was all about…

IMG_4858

My date tried vanilla ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookies. I’m nutty for anything mint, and so had mint ice cream smashed between two mint chocolate cookies. We should have grabbed spoons, because they were tricky to eat as we walked with them back toward the car. The cookies were very soft and warm, so the sandwiches didn’t stay in tact. I ended up licking ice cream off of the paper plate in a very unladylike manner, another one of my pretty looks…

cookie-1381147_1280

So what did we think? The cookies and ice cream were a fun treat and we enjoyed trying it! Our returns will be on a whim rather than as regulars however, as the place itself offers no seating and it’s awkward to eat ice cream cookies on the run (though I enjoyed a good laugh at myself). I would use their delivery service to send cookies to cheer a friend if the occasion arose. Nothing makes people smile like a cookie!

cookies-1372607_1280

About that insomnia part, I’m curious how popular their after-midnight deliveries will prove; we do live in a university town! However, even if the kiddos are up late studying, students often don’t have extra dough (pun intended) for such novelties. Nonetheless, I wish this cute little business success! If I’m up at 2 a.m. and in need of a cookie, we all know who I’m calling. Never say never!

Here’s wishing your days filled with smiles, and sprinkled with sweet moments!

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

I’ve just finished reading another masterpiece by one of my favorite authors, Mary Roach. She’s a science writer and a New York Times bestseller, and one amazing researcher! Myself a writer, and as someone who geeks out on research and fascinating fun facts, I really admire her books and the enormous amount of time she must put into her works. You rock, Ms. Roach!

IMG_3159

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal takes the reader on a journey through their own bodies. You put something in your mouth, you chew it up and swallow, and then it follows a path until it reaches the far side. It seems pretty simple, we do this everyday. What makes this book so fascinating however, is the breakdown of that journey…

cat-1843241_1280

Did you know that the pet food you buy might be manufactured to please you, more than be what your pet needs? Did you know about the antibacterial and antiviral properties in your saliva?

fish-881161_1280.jpg

Do you know whether or not a goldfish could survive in your stomach if you swallowed one? Do you know what would happen to you if you were swallowed by a whale, like Jonah in the Bible?

human-digestive-system-163714_1280

Do you know what terrible things happen to people who swallow drugs to smuggle them? Do you know what lengths prison inmates will go to, to smuggle items in their bodies?

abstract-1238246_1280

Do you know what would happen if you overate in gross quantity at one sitting? Do you know how life-threatening it is to walk past a manure pit? Do you know what a fecal transplant is and why it’s a miracle?

I didn’t either, until I read this book.

smiley-1271125_1280

Now, I must preface, Mary Roach’s books are not for the weak of stomach (ha-ha). The face above is the look I perpetually have as I read them. First, you’ve got to have your thinking cap on. Her books are science books, though she does an excellent job of breaking things down so that the topics are digestible (tee-hee). Her wit also makes the difficult concepts easy to swallow (giggle)…

But further, her books have a visceral affect. When I read her Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, I was jumpy and nervous whenever I picked up the book, like a ghost was lurking near. And when I read her Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, I perpetually had vertigo and became terrified of space. While reading Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, my gag reflex was constantly on high alert and I had difficulty eating my lunch.

This isn’t to dissuade you from reading her works, it’s more of a “Put your seatbelt on, you’re going for a wild science reading ride. Weeee!”

IMG_3160

Next up, Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and…

IMG_3161

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Because it seems I like getting my brain scrambled by science, and learning about things that freak me out! Read one of Mary Roach’s books and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Here’s to the great wonders to be found in a book, and to learning something new, each and every day!

Caprese, Caprese!

Caprese, Caprese! One for me, one for you! Make in spring or in summer, anytime! Just do! 

IMG_3138

Caprese, Caprese! One for you, one for me! So fresh and delicious! Makes life better, you’ll see!

IMG_3139

Caprese, Caprese, I adore you, you’re mine! I’ve loved many a’ salad, but must say, you’re divine!

Here’s to the small pleasures in life, and to your good health and happiness!

Hollandaise…Proceed With Caution!

Last Friday evening, handsome and I were too exhausted to go out for our usual date night, but still wanted to order something that would be really satisfying after a long week. We decided on Pete Miller’s in Evanston, a steak and seafood restaurant with a Chicago feel that always offers a great meal…

IMG_4757

I was going to order something simple; I enjoy their fish tacos. But as my eyes perused the menu, I saw the words crab legs and there was no going back. I wanted crab legs, I needed crab legs, but that isn’t an easy order for takeout. To truly enjoy it, we needed to get a seat! Thankfully I’ve got a fella who is flexible with plans; we hopped in the car and were on our way, grabbing a table just in time as the Friday dinner rush was beginning.

Changing up plans can prove surprising, exciting fun! We’d started out too tired to move from home, and then were suddenly having lively conversation to the tunes of a fabulous live jazz band! Of course, the excellent food also had an effect on our perking up! I started with the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail served with cocktail sauce and lemon. The dollop of horseradish in the cocktail sauce burned my brain and caused me to make really unattractive expressions, but was too delicious paired with the shrimp to stop eating…

IMG_4755

My date had the Roasted Bone Marrow served with a side salad and crostini. Bone marrow is like eating a rich, fatty, flavorful butter when spread on a crispy bite of bread. Though considered a delicacy, it is said that eating bone marrow has many fortifying health benefits. As a vegetarian, I’m not suggesting you go gnaw on a bone. However, I’ve tried it several times and there’s a reason folks love it…

IMG_4759

With our main course, we ordered the steamed Asparagus & Hollandaise as our side to share. Ever dipped your asparagus in hollandaise sauce (same rich sauce poured over Eggs Benedict)? It’s sinfully delicious, but according to this article, terrible for your heart. Indulge with caution…

IMG_4760

My dinner companion enjoyed the 14oz Delmonico Rib-Eye served with truffle fries. I may have eaten the greater portion of his truffle fries (dipped with abandon in the hollandaise there on his plate…yikes, my heart!). Truffle fries…in hollandaise…dreamy…dangerous!

IMG_4758

For my supper, I did a face-plant into a full plate of delectable Alaskan King Crab Legs served with drawn butter, lemon and garlic mashed potatoes. There are no words.

After this meal fit for royalty, I should have committed myself to eating only a carrot for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the month to follow. However, at least in my world, good living is about good food and great fellowship! And hey, I know a little about moderation…I didn’t eat the leftover truffle fries for breakfast the next morning like I wanted to!

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

IMG_3069

By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

IMG_3071

This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

IMG_3077

Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

IMG_3085

Hey little dude! Hunting for some juicy bugs? Carry on!

IMG_3057

Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

IMG_3090

Tropical flowers grew abundantly, their colors so vivid! They invited an army of hummingbirds to drink of their nectar…

IMG_3088

And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

IMG_3089

This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

Akee

[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

IMG_4605

I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

IMG_4606

Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

IMG_3117

How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

IMG_3108

Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

IMG_3107

But the point is, look don’t touch! Remember Eve of the Garden of Eden who grabbed out for that fruit? Nope, not every fruit is as sweet as it looks. Unless perhaps, you boil it twice!

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Date Night in NYC!

On our way to Jamaica for our recent vacation, we took the roundabout way of flying first to New Jersey from Chicago, spending one night and then heading on down to the Caribbean. We could have flown straight to Montego Bay instead, but handsome was shopping his preferred airlines (which required a layover). This stopover proved very exciting, and I won’t forget our adventurous evening for all of my days…

IMG_4355

Though this photo is blurry, I love it. It is of my old haunt…

Once we arrived at our hotel in Newark, we inquired how long it would take an Uber to deliver us to Manhattan. The desk attendant did not sound optimistic. Disappointment was written all over my face. We could see the city, but hours of traffic would make waste of an evening. I remained upbeat however, for handsome had booked dinner at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey!

IMG_4361

However, after hopping in an Uber on our way to dinner, I couldn’t help looking longingly toward NYC. See, I lived there a decade ago, and I love New York City. So I asked the driver how long he felt it would take. Only an extra 20 minutes. Handsome canceled our dinner reservation and we were on our way to the Big Apple…

IMG_4352

We directed the driver to Washington Square Park (amidst the campus of NYU where I am an alumna). He proceeded to drop us on Washington Street some distance away. However, the Uber driver’s mistake proved a zesty, exhilarating NYC walk for us! Block after city block built my anticipation to see my old neighborhood (and grew our appetite for dinner). Once there, we traversed my old memories while stamping a new NYC memory into my heart with our fun evening together…

IMG_4386

Now, if you know anything about Manhattan, you know that it offers a bazillion restaurants (and shops, and cool things in abundance) in its 13.4 by 2.3 miles. Every other doorstep offers something you want to explore, something good to buy or to eat or to see. As we power walked approximately one mile from drop-off point, I blurted “I could eat my way around this city.” It might take me a little time, but I think I’d be up for the job…

IMG_4369

After our explorations (and in spite of all the enticing eateries we noticed along the way), handsome expressed a hankering to visit Little Italy. And so, we hopped in a cab and headed on over to that delicious neighborhood! As you walk through Little Italy, gentlemen from various restaurants roll out, singing for you to come and take a seat at their tables. All of the menus looked so good, it was hard to walk away from many of them as we passed through. Finally, we settled upon Da Gennaro Ristorante

IMG_4374

We had a pleasant view of Mulberry Street from our table, glasses of Chianti to warm us up after our evening walk, and a meal that blew us away!

IMG_4376

To start, tender calamari fritti with a fresh sauce and a cool squeeze of lemon…

IMG_4378

I must say, I’ve been blessed to try a great many amazing dishes during my life, and amongst my many unique travels. I can say without hesitation, Da Gennaro’s fettuccine (meaning ‘little ribbons’ in Italian) with shrimp, salmon and a creamy tomato sauce was absolutely one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten…

IMG_4383

What made this evening so special was the fact that it hadn’t been planned, yet turned out so surprisingly delightful in every way! It was random, refreshing, and reminded me how very much I love adventure!

Here’s wishing you many such wonderful adventures, whether they be within your own neighborhood or far from home…

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” ~Anonymous

Cruciferous Crunch, Compostable Containers!

Some of my favorite local restaurants that serve healthy food options also provide earth friendly containers to take your food away in. Who wouldn’t be pleased to take their food to go, and eat out of, a container that is both compostable, but also serves up less chemicals to the body like plastics and styrofoam items?

IMG_2994

In an effort to cut back on a run of unhealthy lunches (and an insatiable daily craving for potato chips) after the holidays, I revisited thoughtful lunch prep. I also purchased a bulk of earth friendly bowls and lids from World Centric. These bowls are fantastic, for they are roomy, stackable and convenient…

IMG_2986

For lunch, I like to toast up some healthy wild rice or grains and let cool. Next comes a plentiful handful of greens, covered in whatever chopped veggies I have on hand…

IMG_2957

I also plop on a good spoonful of hummus or guacamole (or both), and maybe some pine nuts or almond slivers for crunch. I also love to put sriracha sauce on my hummus to jazz things up! Some fresh cracked pepper, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and I’m ready to eat my veggies!

IMG_2962

I find that when I prep ahead in the evening when I’m cooking in the kitchen anyway, it frees up precious time in the morning and I don’t feel so rushed and grouchy at the start of a new day. And though I love eating out for dinner when I’m not cooking (evidenced by dozens of my posts), I prefer to make my own lunch. I make my lunch almost every day of the year…

IMG_2988

Now, I’m no expert on healthy eating (or on chemical-laden tableware and environmental practices for that matter), but I thought I’d share one small way I tried to do better for myself. More veggies for lunch, in a plant-based, less toxic, compostable container that I don’t feel guilty tossing…

Now who’s ready for some delicious, good-for-you greens?! ME!

IMG_2989

Here’s wishing you good health today, and everyday! And here’s a pat on the back for making even little changes that lead to a happier, healthier you!

A Glowing Seat At Firefly Kitchen

With a recent itch to try out some new restaurants and add a few more favorites to our list, we made a reservation at Firefly Kitchen. Located on a busy road that I often traverse, I’d spied this ‘Brooklyn Style Bistro’ many times in the last few years since its opening. Finally, after catching my hundredth glimpse of its warm glimmering lights from the road at night, we secured a table…

img_4239

Our reservation was at 7:30 on a Saturday evening. When we first walked in, the bistro was buzzing with every table filled and plenty of folks taking their ease around the bar. The warm lighting, pleasant babble and soft clinking of plates made for a pleasing entry…

img_4240

From the street, Firefly is a bit of a mystery. Set on a busy road with tricky curbside parking, the restaurant first appears just a classy, cozy bar that might present few tables and a trim menu. Though certainly classy and cozy, Firefly is much roomier than first meets the eye, even supporting an event space on its upper level. The menu itself is well-rounded and plentiful; a delectable list of small bites, entrees and extras. We were delighted!

img_4228

We started the evening swirling and sniffing one deliciously aromatic glass of red, while also sharing one of their signature cocktails. The Firefly Rye with High West Rye, Abricot De Roussillon, Lemon and Cedar was exceptional. Warm yet bright with citrus, honeyed and fruity with apricot while not overly sweet. Each sip was a treat!

img_4229

We then appeased our palates with the Portabella Carpaccio with Pine Nuts, Balsamic Marinated Portabella, Arugula, Smoked Tomato Sauce, Bleu Cheese and Port Vinaigrette and also the Kale and Baby Beet Salad with Quinoa, Goat Cheese, Dried Cranberries and Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette. While handsome preferred the smoky plate of marinated mushrooms, I couldn’t stop devouring the beets, soft goat cheese and crisp kale…

img_4237

My date ordered the Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Nueske’s Bacon, Sweet Potato, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Orange-Balsamic Gastrique. The presentation alone looks carnivorously impressive, accompanied by a sauce appropriately rich for a winter’s night meal. I cannot say exactly how it tasted, only that my fella appeared pleased as he dined upon his choice. I should have inquired, but I was too busy filling his ears with chatty-random-nonsense. I’m quite the gabby grackle when I’m relaxed and enjoying date night. To hear how I sound at the dinner table, click here!

img_4232

I ordered the earthy and flavorful Roasted Root Vegetables

img_4236

And the crunchy, satisfying House French Fries

And the Truffle Mushroom Risotto. Three full orders of carb-o-liciousness. I couldn’t help it. After all, Firefly was new to us. I had to taste more than one thing on the menu. Also, I love leftovers!

img_4234

While initially reviewing the menu, the woman seated at the table next to ours received her entree of risotto. I was immediately struck by the enticing smell of truffles and knew that I had to have a plate myself. The distinct smell of that fungus is heavenly! The Truffle Mushroom Risotto with Mushroom, Asparagus and Red Pepper Vinaigrette proved toothsome, fragrant and very satisfying…

img_4227

All the while, Firefly’s ambiance was dreamy and comfortable and the service excellent. As we enjoyed the soft glow of the bulbs, reminiscent of fireflies in the night sky, we were pleased to agree that we’d found another new favorite!

Firefly has much more than a dinner table to offer. They also serve brunch, provide catering, offer take out during select hours, host an outside back patio for warmer weather, and hold events in their loft. If you live along Chicago’s North Shore, add this bistro to your list to visit. We’ll certainly be back, and soon! I’m already perusing the brunch menu…

Prepackaged Lettuce? Let us not!

I haven’t eaten a single bite for nearly 42 hours. Right now, I’m gingerly sipping on veggie broth, hoping to work my way up to food. On Sunday evening, I started feeling not quite right and didn’t really want to eat my dinner. When I woke up Monday morning, I felt like my feet were heavy and I was very fatigued. By 10:00 a.m., I knew something was working on taking me down…

bed-linen-1149842_1280

The flu was my first thought, for it is highly contagious and is working its way around these parts like wildfire. For all my hand-washing precautions, the flu can get you airborne style. No one is safe. I spent last night in agony. I went to Hades and back in my feverish dreams, praying for deliverance. I was quite sick. This morning, I knew that it wasn’t the flu. Food poisoning had come to pay me a visit…

salad-926809_1280

And though I don’t have a lab working on it right now, I can pretty much say with certainty where I got it from. Prepackaged lettuce. As a vegetarian, I eat A LOT of lettuce. I throw the greens over everything…sandwiches, soups, as a garnish. The prepackaged, prewashed stuff is obviously convenient…

appetite-1239154_1280

However, I have lately felt very dissatisfied with my prepackaged salad purchases. I buy the plastic tubs, and even though there is always plenty of time before they expire (as per the date on the packaging), when I open them, I frequently find unsavory lettuce. Slimy lettuce…eww. Black, rotten bits…gross. Some healthy, while much is wilted and distressed…not for me!

appetite-1239156_1280

Just this Saturday, I’d made a sandwich and had to pick the best pieces from a package that ought to have been entirely fresh but wasn’t looking all that great. I even thought, I hope I don’t get sick. Handsome came home with a fresh package from the grocery, and I promptly told him how annoyed I was getting with the packaged kind (as I threw away the bad lettuce from the fridge). We were wasting money on convenience…

salad-82913_1280

It only takes a few minutes of online research to learn of the risks of prepackaged lettuce. Recalls are rampant, and pre-washed on the label holds no certain safety value. As I lay fitful and feverish all night, unable to even sip water without nausea and sharp pains, I thought to myself, I’m pretty strong and healthy, but what if an elderly person or child got this? They would be at serious risk…

rabbit-32527_1280

I won’t be purchasing ready-made salad mixes anymore. Apart from the bacterial risks, I was losing money anyway with as quickly as they were going bad. Henceforth, this lettuce lover will be buying a fresh bunch/head every few days, and taking the extra time to prepare it myself. But as for just this moment, another cup of warm broth and a long nap is calling my name. Be safe, all you gobblers of greens!

Blogger Recognition Award!

I am absolutely delighted to be nominated by the very talented food blogger, Pooja Tameshwar of Smart Veg Recipes, for a Blogger Recognition Award! Thank you!

guacamole2

As someone who tries to cook a mostly plant-based diet for my own good health, I enjoy perusing recipes that focus on the good things of the earth…

cimg2518

I’m also ever fascinated by different cultures and cuisines from around the globe. That’s how I got hooked on reading Pooja’s posts! Not only are her veggie-based dishes from around India unique, pleasing to the eye, and mouthwatering, but she also writes insightful descriptions about what makes each dish culturally special. Be sure to visit her site!

cimg2360

Blogger Recognition Rules:

  1. Write a post to show your award.
  2. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share the link to their blog.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog got started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choice for the award.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to your post.

photo-13

How did Inspired By Venice come about? With the publication of my book Venice, a choose your own adventure that takes the reader on a journey through that enchanting Italian city! At the end of each chapter, you decide where you will go next! Enjoy the adventure!

cimg1486

But books aside, I also wanted to share my passion for good food, culture, travel, history, nature and costuming…

cimg2117

And of course…

cimg2119

Tiddo the cat…

cimg0840

What I share is meant to be eclectic, uplifting, inspirational, silly, informative. Most importantly, it’s written to brighten your day! Thank you for reading!

img_2498

My advice for new bloggers? If you have a passion you want to share and you start a blog, don’t give up if readers don’t show up overnight! Yes, writing posts is a time investment, and you may sometimes wonder if it’s worth it if there aren’t a lot of visitors to your site. Just remember that blogging shouldn’t focus on how many likes, comments, and followers you have. It’s about your sharing something unique with the world, just because it’s a joy to do so. Just keep writing, and you’re bound to inspire others, and gain readers, in time…

img_0201

My second bit of advice to new bloggers comes from me as a reader of blogs. I find it hard to stay focused when reading super long posts that look like one eternal paragraph without any pictures. I prefer posts that share a story that flows, keeps on track, and has a little eye candy! One of the hardest things for a writer, is to keep words succinct while still fully communicating your story. Those who do this best, are artists with the pen!

img_6285

And my nominations for the Blogger Recognition Award are (in no particular order)…

  1. The Third Planet
  2. La Venessiana
  3. Agreeable Things
  4. Fashion Through History
  5. A Cupcake For Love
  6. JessDidWhat
  7. SawaWorld
  8. Meandering With Misha
  9. Michael Philip Atkins Travels
  10. Japan etc.
  11. Melinda Little Blogs
  12. Lisa’s Project: Vegan
  13. The Wifey’s Corner
  14. Fed’s Life
  15. Getting The Picture

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

Miramar Bistro: A Helping Of Cuban Music With My Pommes Frites!

For New Year’s Eve, handsome booked a reservation at a restaurant we hadn’t visited before, in Highwood IL, along Chicago’s North Shore. I think we’ve both had the itch to explore for some new favorite dinner spots, so it was a fun surprise. Especially as we understood this Miramar Bistro to be a French restaurant, much like our beloved Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston…

champagne-glasses-1940497_1280

The first thing that caught us by surprise as we entered Miramar, was the Cuban music that was playing. We were enjoying it of course, Cuban music is delicious and has a wonderful energy. But I was a little confused, “That doesn’t sound French.” My date suggested there might be a theme night going for New Year’s…

img_4165

We began by sharing the Chilled Artichoke with Mustard Vinaigrette and were very pleased. I never ate artichokes before handsome walked into my life (or kitchen rather). I thought they were intimidating. He buys them at the grocer from time to time, throws them in a pot, whips up a vinaigrette and then cuts out their tender hearts like a pro. We’ll have to try chilling ours the way Miramar does. Absolutely delightful and refreshing…

img_4168

My date then moved on to the Salad Lyonnaise with Poached Egg. Frisee, soft egg and salty lardons make for one rich salad…

What we discovered is that Miramar is in fact a French bistro with Cuban highlights. I would not describe it as a fusion restaurant. French food and Cuban cuisine don’t combine, but they can both be found on the menu, along with a few American classics sprinkled in. Whether you’re in the mood for a Cuban sandwich, a Croque Monsieur, or a cheeseburger, they’ve got it…

img_4169

I can say without reservation that the Soup Du Jour was the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted. I could easily have been satisfied with the fresh, crispy, chewy bread delivered to the table along with a double portion of this soup for my New Year’s dinner, but who am I kidding. Of course there was more…

img_4170

For his main dish, my partner selected Steak Frites with Black Peppercorn Sauce. We were intrigued by how very thin the pomme frites were, like long matchsticks. And though we are accustomed to this thin style of French fries, we both prefer our pomme frites to be just a wee bit thicker, to enjoy more of the potato flavor and for soaking up sauce. This steak was definitely well received!

avignon-1603334_1280.jpg

My date specifically ordered his steak with the black peppercorn sauce because of a quaint memory from his childhood. Growing up in the south of France, home cooked meals were his family’s norm and dining out was an exception. On those rare special outings, he came to believe that steak served with a peppercorn sauce was a luxury, fancy. So as a wink to this childhood notion, he ordered this during our New Year’s supper, tying in his old memory to make the meal feel particularly special. We chuckled about this on the way home. But I suppose if I think about it, peppercorn sauce is fancy; I certainly don’t whip it up at home!

img_4172

I selected the Gnocchi with Tomato Basil Sauce (which just made me realize that Italian is on Miramar’s menu as well!). The gnocchi was certainly handmade, and was tender yet had a comforting chew. The sauce was simple, fresh and just right! After two bites, I didn’t think it would be possible to really make a dent in the dish. I was certainly going to have leftovers. That was not what happened. I ate it all…

img_4176

Another childhood memory was shared the moment my date laid eyes on this metal sign decorating one bit of wall. Byrrh sounds like it might be describing a beer, but it is actually a wine aperitif (to be enjoyed before eating). It was quite popular in France in days gone by, first produced in 1866…

burgundy-1122165_1280

As the story goes, when just a little boy, he lived near the medieval village of Thuir at the feet of the Pyrenees, where Byrrh was produced. He had a cousin who lived in Thuir and loved to go around boasting that his village owned the largest barrel of Byrrh in the world!

cellar-97512_1280

It is hilarious what kids will traipse around boasting about. I inquired whether he’d ever tasted Byrrh, since he lived so close to such an enormous barrel of it? Nope. In his words, “We were just kids.” And here I thought French children came forth from the womb suckling wine from their baby bottles? Non?

img_4174

For dessert, the Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel was ordered up with a shot of espresso for the gentleman. I love to sniff espresso (smells like heaven), but I don’t dare even taste it. I’d be up all night having a solo dance party…

img_4175

I’m actually surprised I wasn’t up all night after gobbling down one sizable Creme Brulee, with it’s sugary hard topping and rich buttery custard. Oh la la!

oldtimer-1756680_1280

On the way out, we had a moment’s chat with the proprietor and chef, Gabriel Viti. He’s an avid traveler to Cuba, and was a chef in France, and around Europe. It was neat to hear from his point of view, what he was aiming for when he opened Miramar (after the name of a district in Havana). Basically, I gathered that his goal was to bring things he loved, together. Good food, charming culture, and people. It’s clearly working, for the restaurant was packed with a jovial crowd while playing great music and providing an excellent menu. This restaurant doesn’t need the largest barrel of anything in its cellar, it has reason enough to boast already!

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

Last week, handsome asked if I’d be up for seeing Hamilton (the insanely popular musical showing in NYC and Chicago at present). Since its debut in 2015, Hamilton has had incredible success, winning many fine awards. Thus, tickets are difficult to get, and pricey too. My immediate reply was, “But won’t that be expensive?” Let’s just say there are some experiences worth the price of inflation!

img_2974

We started out the evening with a scenic ride on Lake Shore Drive. The lights heading into the city are beautiful at night. I love sitting cozily in the passenger seat. My partner said something quite true, “Chicago is a happening place. We’re lucky!” And we are, so many great cultural experiences to be had, and so much great food…

img_4134

We had a reservation at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. Guests find it a unique experience because this style of restaurant delivers cut after cut of tender, grilled meats, right to your tableside. As I don’t regularly consume meat, I did not partake. Fortunately, they have a spectacular salad bar!

img_4141

Papaya, fried yuca, marinated mushrooms, plantains, marinated vegetables, pear salad, potato salad, deliciously dressed greens…this was not your average salad bar!

img_4144

After such a filling, decadent meal, I found it incredulous that anyone would ever order dessert at Fogo. When my honey asked to see the menu (just to take a peek), I gasped. We then promptly ordered the caramelized pineapple and ate it all…

img_4163

We then hopped back in the car and zipped on over to the Private Bank Theatre (known as Broadway in Chicago). The energy outside of the theater was awesome! Ticket holders were excited, the camera lights were flashing, the Hamilton sign aglow. We joked about keeping our eyes peeled for celebrities with everything so abuzz. As we entered inside, I was as giddy as I always am upon entering the theater…

img_4152

…and then the show proceeded to knock our socks off from our front row seats upon the balcony. Being such a revered musical, I walked in with no idea of what to expect. I wondered how they would take the dry bit out of telling a complicated life story in America’s history. How would they make it as wonderfully entertaining as Broadway musicals tend to be? Yes, history is fascinating (I’m nuts about it). However, it can also be complicated and dry, hardly whimsical…

usa-1779925_1280

Hamilton however, accomplished something very difficult. This musical took the complicated, and using perfectly timed movement & dance, unpretentious yet excellent costumes, a bare yet full-of-life stage, powerfully driven voices, extensive wit, a script beyond compare, and hip-hop…turned Alexander Hamilton’s life (1755-1804), this American statesman’s incredible story, into a palpable experience for us today…

american-flag-802037_1280

There is much more to be said about Hamilton, but I’ll leave that to those better versed in history, politics and musical theater. What I can say is, it’s a wonderful musical. If you get the chance, don’t throw away your shot at seeing this brilliant work!

Here’s to being thankful for the peace and freedoms I enjoy today. Here’s to thankfulness for my freedom of speech. Here’s praying for the same peace and freedoms for all…

A Winter’s Night By The Fire At Roka

I love inhaling the scent of a wood fire when I’m walking outside on a winter’s day. That smell is amazing! And on a snowy winter’s night, there is nothing more alluring than the scent and sizzle of a Japanese robata grill. As the white flakes fell outside, date night last week was never so cozy, or delicious! Roka Akor isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience…

img_4079

Accompanying two rosy glasses of champagne to celebrate Christmas, was the Prime Beef Tataki with Truffle Onion Vinaigrette and Rock Chive. These amuse-bouches were smooth and light, with a hint of fresh herb. With the clink of our glasses and a cheery toast, the meal began…

img_4081

My tolerance for heat in any dish is limited, so a plate of Japanese Shishito Peppers with Ponzu and Bonito Flakes seemed risky. Ooohhh! Take the risk! TAKE THE RISK! How fresh and flavorful these peppers were right from the grill. Brian (our knowledgeable culinary guide for the evening) explained that only one bite in the bunch might hold that blazing seed of heat.

My date got the infernal seed in his last bite, while I was pleasantly spared. I didn’t chuckle at all when his eyes got watery and he grappled for his glass of water. Well, maybe there was a little chuckle…

img_4083

My absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Grilled Cauliflower with Wafu Butter. What is wafu butter? It’s the nectar of the gods, that’s what. Actually, it’s a Japanese vinaigrette dressing married with butter, but I’m pretty sure magic is involved in its making. How else could plain and tasteless cauliflower turn into one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever eaten?

img_4082

For our main dish, we both ordered the chef’s featured catch. The Sea Bass with Peppercorn Broth, Cauliflower and Roasted Beets was absolutely divine. I’m a great fan of a serving of fish that is fresh, soft and flakey on the inside with a flavorful crunch from the grill on the outside. Roka gets it right every time. And, I’m pretty sure some of that wafu butter made it into the broth with the cauliflower because I was mourning not having a baguette handy to sop up every last drop. I was even tempted to slurp the broth right out of the bowl. Who cares about keeping things classy when there’s wafu butter?!

img_4089

Of course dinner wouldn’t end quite right at Roka without the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile, which my date ordered. I however, opted for scoops of house-made ice cream…

One scoop of molasses, one scoop of coffee…wow! Following blissful bites, I was scraping my spoon around in the little bowls looking for more. With such rich dessert and a pour of the exceptional Yamazaki 18 yr Single Malt (nuts, spice, vanilla, cinnamon), along with the beauty of the snow falling outside and my companion sitting across the table, I was truly enjoying a respite of peace and warmth during this holiday season!

img_4085

Once again, Roka Akor was outstanding. With such excellent fare, top-notch hospitality, thoughtful and attentive staff, and warm ambiance, this restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore keeps luring us back to their grill side!

Rainy Night Dining in The Cellar

A few weeks ago while traipsing through wet and cold on over to a restaurant we had considered dining at one evening, we passed the door of The Cellar. We paused to peek at the menu posted outside and handsome proposed that we try it out! How glad I am that we did, and how surprising and pleasant an impromptu change of plans can be…

glass-318497_1280

We started with an appetizer called Cauliflower Popcorn (curried rice-flour battered cauliflower served with blue cheese dipping sauce) and let us just say I have never been more willing to eat my vegetables! It was devoured before the thought of a photo could even enter my mind…

img_3979

My date ordered the Grilled Lamb Chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, apple mustard and lamb jus. I took a nibble and must say that the rich red sauce was out of a culinary dream! A winter dish to warm the bones and fortify the spirit…

img_3978

I indulged in the New England Lobster Roll served with lobster meat, mayo, green onions and truffled fries. Oh heavens, oh heavens! Amen! Hallelujah! The lobster appears to have more mayo than necessary, but it was actually perfect, balancing out the crispy bun and large, fresh chunks of lobster. This sort of dish isn’t common in these parts, so I was very happy!

rain-72087_1280

Our bellies full, we ambled back out into the chilly drizzle and on to the movies, arm in arm. It was the perfect date night. Especially thanks to The Cellar, which is absolutely one of the best kept secrets in town. The peaceful yet stylish atmosphere, the excellent service and delectable menu has just made it our new favorite!

The Golden Egg Part II.

Just a little over a year ago whilst making breakfast, I discovered that one of my hard-boiled eggs had a double yolk (which I shared in the post The Golden Egg). I was pretty excited to cut open that egg and discover two yolks, for in all of my years of egg eating, I’ve never seen one. My grandparents raised chickens and ducks when I was a youngling (and still do), but I don’t recall seeing any double yolks amongst those fresh eggs. Perhaps grandma called my attention to one in the skillet at some point, and I forgot about it…

IMG_1478

According to Fresh Eggs Daily, only about 1 in every thousand eggs will have a double yolk. But because most egg producers discard eggs that are outside of an established commercial norm, it is even rarer to get one when buying a carton at the market. However, I’m guessing that my purchasing both ‘organic/cage free’ (farmers who are less likely to away with a perfectly good egg in spite of shape or weight) might have something to do with my good fortune…

img_3960-2

This is my second golden egg! I went to fry some eggs for supper two nights ago and was tickled to find another double yolk when I cracked my eggs into my pan! On researching this phenomenon again, I discovered that some farms breed chickens that are more likely to produce these eggs, and sell double yolks by the dozen!

IMG_2212

There are also plenty of superstitions around cracking open a double yolk. But as for me, there is only one of these omens that I am willing to believe, and that is that I’ll receive some good luck. But I guess I already did, for that egg supper was delicious and I received the blessing of a full stomach!

egg-1272803_1280

Here’s to interesting curiosities that delight and always learning something new; and also wishing you much good fortune, a double yolk or two!

Robata Japanese Cuisine!

My honey and I are just crazy about Roka Akor in Skokie. Dining there is always a special occasion. The food is truly incredible and the staff, always attentive. You can check out my other Roka Akor reviews here, here and here. Here’s what we enjoyed on our most recent visit!

img_3876

A little ‘amuse-bouche’ on thinly sliced cucumbers. I couldn’t tell you exactly what they were comprised of, but my mouth was certainly amused!

img_3880

The Kale Caesar Salad with Bubu Arare and Roasted Charred Tomato tasted like a song! So delicious! What are Bubu Arare you ask? They are those little tan balls that you see on the salad. Traditional to Japanese cuisine, they are tiny seasoned cracker-like nibbles! Crunch-crunch

img_3882-3

Next, some Prince Edward Island Mussels with Wild Mushrooms and Citrus Sake Broth. These little seafood delights with toasties would take the chill out of any autumn night!

img_3878

You couldn’t pay my date to pass up the Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi on a visit to Roka Akor, and I don’t blame him. That meat is delivered right from robatayaki heaven! (If you’re curious like me, robatayaki means ‘fireside-cooking’ in Japanese)…

img_3889

Next we ordered up some Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter (…mmmm) and some Sweet Potato with Ginger Teriyaki (…mmmm-hmmm) to accompany our main dishes.

img_3887

I certainly wasn’t crabby after diving into my sea of Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter (all puns intended)…

img_3886

But the real star of this evening’s dinner was handsome’s choice. This dish is very, very special and something he’d considered ordering each time we’ve dined at Roka, but had yet to. He finally decided upon this Miyazaki Wagyu served with Artisan Salts. Wagyu is a breed of cattle in Japan, and Miyazaki the place this particular cow was raised…

img_3885

This steak is considered some of the best out there, and we concur. Even though I don’t generally eat meat, I had to try something this luxurious. It was a delectable experience. The meat literally melts in your mouth (likely because Wagyu has a high level of unsaturated fat)…

img_3891

And for our dessert, the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile. Ube is a purple yam! I love the thought that a root vegetable curbed our post-dinner sweet tooth! Yet again, another memorable meal at one of our favorites, Roka Akor!

The Mad Hatter Of Toasties: A Poem

I am the Mad Hatter of toasties, smothering my bread in everything that’s good…

img_2936

Even covering them in melty cheese and eggs, though my conscience isn’t sure I should…

img_2718

Especially best are those with eggs in a hole, how I swoon with each bite and crunch…

img_2894

Mad Hatter I am, getting crazy with my toast…I make one wild bunch!

img_2787

No, no, there’s nothing better, than such hot and toasty delights…

img_2938

Made right quick for any meal, they’re indubitably the best on chilly autumn nights!

img_2949

Of course there is salad; greens so fresh, bright and pure…

img_2910

And roasted squash of every kind, from which I don’t demure!

img_2323

Always loving am I of a tender fish, potato and asparagus feast…

img_2190

And my ardor for shrimp, shallots and beans…well that won’t ever cease!

img_2369

Wondrous goddess you are, divine caprese! So very high on my list…

img_2911

But toasties, oh toasties, you’re this Mad Hatter’s pleasure, for always and ever. On this I must insist!

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll

I’ve just finished reading Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll and found it to be a fantastic text filled with historic food facts!

img_2908

Three Squares treats us to a food timeline in US history. Carroll begins with what mealtime likely usually looked like for settlers in the 17th century (when European colonists began planting roots and observing the foods Native Americans consumed)…

vegetables-752153_1280

I was absolutely fascinated to learn what and why settlers were eating/growing/harvesting what they were and how they prepared these items. It was also interesting to learn how settlers viewed their native neighbors (rampant with cultural clashing and ugly stereotyping when it came to the meal)…

barley-1117282_1280

In the 18th century, patterns began to change. Where many crops, food items and ways of preparation had been originally rejected in the 17th century, new generations of Americans began to do the opposite, rejecting their European food pasts and clinging to what made their crops and tables uniquely American…

vegetables-1695831_1280

As Carroll’s timeline progresses, we learn how the hours at which meals were taken, what was being consumed, and how food was being prepared and presented, changed and why. I found it really awesome to learn how consumption has changed so dramatically over the years, due to changes in American culture, wartime, industrialization and technology…

ornamental-corn-1651971_1280

Three Squares spans a great many topics…

  • What foods were uniquely native to North America vs. crops that were introduced.
  • The strong cultural bonds we make with our food.
  • How food associates with our notion of social status.
  • The way structured family meals affects our social skills and intelligence.
  • Nutrition, school lunches, government reforms.
  • The powers of packaging, advertising, and the impact of television.
  • Snacking and American leisure time.
  • And much, much more…

fried-eggs-456351_1280

Though folks who love food will find interest in this book, I think it is especially for anyone who enjoys history, and particularly American history. It is a highly digestible (tee-hee) historic timeline that will have you learning something new and interesting at the turn of every page! I cannot recommend it enough, it was truly a gastronomic pleasure!

What’s cooking good looking?

I made a special skillet this week, salmon cakes! My grandma used to make these, and my mom too, and this week I made them for my honey and I, and we quite enjoyed them…

img_2888

I’m not very good with following recipes and like to use what is on hand (always hoping what I’m making will turn out). I threw together a can of salmon, an egg, half a cup of bread crumbs (actually smashed pita chips), half a cup of mayo, a few tablespoons of mustard, half a cup of minced chives, and then formed the patties and let them cook slowly over medium heat…

img_2890

Crispy on the outside, flavorful hot salmon on the inside, served with some zesty sauce (a little mayo mixed with a little sriracha), and a salad. Next time I’m going to try baking them and see how they turn out!

img_2887

I’m always making a sandwich, because I’m nuts for them. For the last few weeks, cucumber sandwiches have been my favorite. This sandwich included toasted sourdough, a  spread of mayo, sliced red onion, arugula, cucumber, salt and pepper. I also really like making an open-faced sandwich with a little chive cream cheese and a layer of sliced cucumber. Delicious!

img_2831

I also whipped up a frittata (though frittata means ‘fried’ and mine was baked). Some eggs, some cheese, some veggies, voila!

img_2832

Fresh and simple meals are always a delight, especially when they are colorful!

img_2834

I also roasted some fingerling potatoes and steamed up some pea pods and had a little feast. There’s lots of veggie love in my kitchen!

img_2808

As the season is starting to change, I’m already leaning toward cool weather fare. I roasted a very large acorn squash last week (and ate the entire thing myself) and also baked up a zucchini casserole. Nothing like roasted veggies and hot casseroles to ward off a chill!

What’s cooking in your kitchen? Have you whipped up anything that is traditional to your family lately (like my salmon cakes)?

My Chili Pot Runneth Over…

For many years, friends of my family have hosted a wonderful event called Chili Fest! On a most anticipated September Saturday evening, a great many folks come bearing huge pots of delicious chili and a feast is born…

img_2846

There are crock-pots, stove pots and cast iron pots to fill an entire kitchen, all brimming with slow cooked meats, chilis and gumbos! There’s always vegetarian chili too (heartily made with raisins, beans and cashews…so good)!

img_2845

But that’s not all. As the evening begins and folks start to trickle in, much love is set out upon the dining room table. Dips, veggies, cornbreads, desserts!

img_2851

This wonderful family hosts a great many people, all bringing and helping themselves to the delicious spread. Children run through the yard playing games, dogs trot about hoping for a nibble from the table, and the company gathered create a cacophony of words and laughter…

img_2857

While just outside, Bullfrog plays on into the night. Bullfrog is a popular local band that has been around for years (though recently retired from public performance). They are very talented musicians. I’ve sat in on a great many of their gigs, for my stepdad Charlie is the drummer!

img_2849

Folks are in and out, grabbing another helping of chili, delighting in another piece of pie, taking in the cool night air and music from lawn chairs in the driveway…

img_2844

Generous friends bring the bounty of their gardens to share with the visitors…

img_2850

And one remembers once more how meaningful good food and fellowship are…

img_2852

Here’s a thank you to the hosts of Chili Fest! This gathering ever brings such warm memories!

And here’s wishing all, friends by your side, smiles and laughter in abundance, and always what share of earth’s bounty you need…

Birthday Blessings!

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was just filled with blessings. So many people were so kind in wishing me well, and offering little surprises that filled my heart with thankfulness and gladness. There was also a special birthday meal, which handsome treated me to at Boltwood in Evanston. This is the second birthday dinner in a row that I’ve spent there, for we quite enjoy this restaurant (which I’ve also reviewed here , here and here)…

img_3807

To start, we shared the sourdough pizza with summer squash, goat’s milk ricotta and oven roasted tomatoes and the grilled octopus with greens, orange and cucumber

img_3809

Grilled octopus is a touchy dish, but Boltwood does it right. Fresh seafood that is grilled to perfection! Makes me feel transported from the Midwest to the Mediterranean…

img_3813

And of course, there was no passing up the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Need I describe something so delicious? You can see from the photo that those potatoes are heavenly!

img_3811

There was also a big salad, for I love my greens! The simple, yet satisfying chopped salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and lemon vinaigrette was delicious and is just the kind of dish that inspires my own salad makings at home…

img_3814

For the main course, handsome had the grilled pork chop with red rice, quinoa, fennel and plum salsa. All that was left at the end was the bone, so I can only conclude that it was one pleasing chop…

img_3816

Meanwhile, I relished in the wild king salmon with fresh shelly beans and mint-almond pesto. Look at that beautiful fish!

img_3818

And after blowing out my pretty pink candle, we partook in a very unique dessert. Sweet corn with ice cream, corn cake and caramel. Definitely a wink to the sweet bounty of summer!

Here’s wishing you blessings all year long, be it your birthday or any day other!

The Tale of Three Toasties

It isn’t autumn yet, but there is a delicious chill in the air this evening. I’ve opened the windows and let the cool outdoors inside. The smell of woodsmoke has crept in with it…

img_2783

During the summer, while sunlight and balmy weather last late into the evening, I have no problem stopping at the store when necessary for an ingredient or two to cook up a late supper. But as the days are growing shorter, I’m already finding I’d rather just get home and not linger out after dark. I’m quite a homebody…

img_2784

Over the years, I’ve become creative with using what I have on hand at home, to drum up a satisfying bite when I just can’t be moved to stop at the store. One of my favorites are toasties! Thinly sliced bread that is on the cusp of stale (I like French bread or sourdough the best), throw on what you have on hand, and stick it in the oven for 8-10 minutes or so. I love toasties!

img_2786

These three were on sourdough. The first one had provolone, chopped pecans and honey. The second was boiled egg, cheddar cheese and pepper. The third was boiled egg, herbed olive oil and pepper. They were filling and delicious! The only thing that was missing was a pop of green (a topping of arugula would have been perfect). However, I was out of greens that evening (on account of not wanting to stop at the store that night and just make something easy).

You can put anything on your toasties, making them the very best last minute meal for cold weather. I love making them into tuna melts, caprese or avocado toasties…what would you put on yours?

Feasting At Found

Ooh heavens! What a busy summer I’ve had! The Bristol Faire has now come to an end until next year. It is both bitter and sweet, for while I’ll be missing this beloved festival, I’ll also be enjoying the change of seasons and working on new stories…

img_3671

I’ll also be enjoying more time with my honey! We were able to fit in a delightful date night at Found in Evanston a few weeks ago, and what a treat it was!

img_3670

To start, we had the Braised Turkish & Japanese Eggplants with Silky Tofu and Naan. The crispy yet chewy naan spooned over with flavorful eggplant had me singing (only in my head of course, I didn’t want to embarrass my date)…

img_3677

Next, the Harissa Roasted Shishito Peppers, Sweet Corn, Okra & Pepitas. Sweet kernels, smoky okra, zesty peppers…this dish spiced up date night! (I dare you to say Harissa-Roasted-Shishito-Pepita out loud three times in a row real fast. Tongue twister!)…

img_3675

img_3676

The Masala Fried Cauliflower, House Made Yogurt & Pea Tendrils was absolutely delicious! I may have looked like Smeagol from The Lord of The Rings as I hovered over the last piece of cauliflower with my fork, “My precious!”

img_3682

More and more, we’ve been enjoying sitting chef-side at our favorite restaurants, to watch as the food is prepared. As I watched this mozzarella being sliced (seen above), I was tempted to make handful grabs of it and run out of the restaurant stuffing mozzarella in my face. I really love cheese. But then our main dish arrived and I came to my senses…

img_3681

We shared the Ivory Char with Heirloom Tomato Fondue, Cannellini Beans, Carrots & Sourdough. It was really perfect. The fish was tender, yet meaty with wonderful flavor. The beans were al dente and the carrots sweet and summery. The sourdough toasties were crisp yet chewy, and fantastic with a little spread of the zesty-sweet tomatoes…

img_3687

If you ever find yourself in Evanston, Found will provide you with a real connection to the food and flavors that make eating a genuine pleasure! We certainly savored every bite on our romantic rendezvous and ended our evening quite contentedly with two spoons!

What are some of your favorite pleasures as the summer days roll away and the smell of autumn rounds the corner?

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

What an adventure I’m having with my mother Lita (the artist) and step-dad, at the Bristol Renaissance Faire each weekend while we man our little shop The Quill and Brush (selling our books and art)! We are three weekends past, with six more to go. Though the weather has been mostly agreeable (even if beastly hot and humid), we’ve already met with several thunderstorms that had us covering our heads as we hovered inside of our tent…

IMG_2658

Because we are playing as village merchants from the 16th century, we can’t go about lunching on our regular 21st century fare, and using our plastic cutlery! The little picnic shown here is an example of what we’ve been nibbling instead (though I sort of cheated with the glass bowls)…

IMG_2657

Unfortunately last Sunday morning, a storm blew in even before we opened for the day and an intense wind billowed up our tent and flung my table away with a crash! Our delicious food, so nicely prepared, went into the mud and my glass bowls shattered…

IMG_2666

But the frogs sure didn’t mind the rain! This little guy hopped into the tent, surprising me when I found him hanging around under my table of books…

IMG_2667

And we see this busy dude each day, going in and out of his hole right next to our tent…

IMG_2669

And after another thunderstorm this last Saturday, this crayfish emerged (likely flooded out of his hole). That was pretty neat, for we don’t see these all that often…

IMG_2671

I rolled my ankle walking in the faire’s midday parade and have had a mean little sprain for over a week. We sweated buckets, got crispy in the sun, and labored with our bins, tables and tent. And I might have screeched a little as we covered our heads and huddled as the thunder and lightening boomed and lit the sky!

However, reward comes only after a challenge and my reward are the smiles I see when I share my stories. It makes my heart sing. And how happy I am to watch one of my books being carried away, knowing the delightful adventure that awaits the reader!

IMG_2627

I’ve been nursing my sprained ankle with good food, for I can’t imagine anything being better medicine? Delicious whole wheat pasta with veggies and parmesan shavings…

IMG_2676

Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

Salmon and roasted veggies, delicious! If you like roasted salmon, try this little concoction I spoon over mine…

IMG_2659

Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, seed mustard and honey! Oh heavens! When the fish cooks, this glaze hardens on the top and it is just wonderful!

IMG_2680

Outside the high temperatures have brought on one of the loveliest parts of summer, the cicadas’ song! Just snapped a photo of this handsome creature. Look at those pretty pink flecks in his wings! Magical!

Here’s wishing you sunshine in your life today, and many joys from life’s simple pleasures!

Summer Delights, Simply Delicious!

My honey and I are about to dive into one very busy summer, each tied up with our own exciting endeavors. We’ve always done our best to have a weekly date night to catch up, relax and enjoy a good meal together. This summer however, date nights will be harder to fit in and will likely be a bite at home. Thus, we had to get to one of our favorites before we’re both carried away with summer…

IMG_3444.JPG

Evanston’s Boltwood is simply delicious, every time! First on the menu, beets with greek yogurt, pistachios and saffron honey. So fresh and earthy!

IMG_3445

Next, grilled carrots with harissa, black sesame seeds and apricot. Oh heavens! I could have eaten that sauce with a spoon!

IMG_3448-2

We’d be tempted to make a trip to Boltwood just to eat these crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz! We order them each time we go and are completely blissed out with every bite. So, so good!

IMG_3447-2

I love seafood anytime, but especially in summer when it’s served with bright flavors and color! This swordfish with citrus, fennel, radish, avocado and chives was light and excellent!

IMG_3449-2

The crispy tofu with coconut rice, broccoli, chili garlic and sesame seeds was the best dish of the night! This dish was on fire and so was my mouth! Spicy! I normally don’t eat spicy food because I can’t take the heat. This dish was hot, but I couldn’t stop eating it. The spicy sauce was offset by the coconut rice (perfect al dente) and the tofu. And though a large dollop of a tear ran down my face from the heat, I kept eating. Wow!

IMG_3454

I think I heard angels singing when I took my first spoonful of the budino. Butterscotch pudding, caramel, sesame tuile and whipped cream. It made me remember how much I love butterscotch. This pudding was so smooth and dreamy!

IMG_3453

Strawberry and rhubarb sing summer, so we quite enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb crisp with oats and chamomile ice cream. A wee tart and wonderfully fruity.

Here’s to the flavors and fun of summer, and spending time with the people you care about. I hope your summer is off to a great start and wish you many sunny days ahead!

Summer Delights, and A Mystery Solved!

We’ve finally received warm weather here in Evanston! 70s and even low 80s! Now, I’m more of a cool weather gal (I get a little grouchy when it gets into the 90s) but this weather is truly perfect. I’ve spent several days writing outside on the porch (my absolute favorite way to spend the day) and am looking forward to many more…

IMG_1404.JPG

Tiddo has enjoyed his first sprigs of summer catnip, which is already growing quite abundantly around the neighborhood. He’s also been trying to dart out of the front door and is yowling like a wild thing. He wants to spend the day outside too!

IMG_2310.JPG

For me, the moment the weather turns from cool and dreary to warm and sunny, what I want on my plate changes as well. As soon as it turned mid-70s this week, I wanted a caprese salad!

IMG_2369.JPG

And though a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil usually do on my salads, once summer begins, I’ve a hankering for reduced balsamic…

IMG_2366.JPG

Pour a few cups into a sauce pan, place over low heat and then stir (and stir, and stir) until it is reduced to about a fourth of what you originally poured in. When you taste it, the bitterness should have run out and the sweetness kicked in. I like to then cool it in a ramekin in the fridge, it becomes thick as molasses. Oh heavens! Remember to keep stirring while it cooks however, or else it will burn immediately and will not turn out.

IMG_2316.JPG

I also made a delightful quesadilla for breakfast, with a caprese twist. Purple onion, red and yellow tomatoes, basil…

IMG_2321.JPG

I particularly like experimenting with breakfast. I’m weirdly ravenous about an hour after I wake up each morning. Therefore, I think just about everything sounds delicious and am more willing to cook up something out of the ordinary for that meal.

IMG_2410.JPG

And now for a mystery solved! This was so cool! The raccoons have been out, enjoying the nice weather too. This isn’t the same dude who was hanging off of our tree the other day (who looked a little scrawny I thought), this one is a real healthy size. I took this picture of him in the backyard (safely from the window of course).

IMG_2408.JPG

The shots are blurry, but if you look closely, he’s digging around in our backyard drainpipe! He pulled out some snacks to munch on, who knows what it was. Wet and stinky no doubt, gross!

IMG_2415.JPG

What made me smile when I saw this was that one, he went straight for the drain as he ambled through the yard, as though it was one of his usual spots to check for a bite. Second, if you look to the top of the photo, you’ll see a brick. There used to be a green cover over that hole that mysteriously kept coming off, and broke apart. I thought it was the result of lawn mowing. So, I placed a brick over the hole so that debris (leaves and sticks) would not clog the drain. Though capped off, it’s still designed to capture water below the surface…

IMG_2416.JPG

Mysteriously, that brick kept being moved. Usually, just aside the hole. Sometimes, a few feet away. I even asked my honey one day when I noticed this strange phenomena, “Did you move that brick???” Nope, he didn’t do it. I was puzzled, because it kept happening.

Was this noisome gases pushing up the brick? Hmmm. Was this a backyard ghost? Hmmm. A mischievous fairy? (I have an overactive imagination…good for book writing). The wind certainly can’t blow a heavy brick over. What was this! Go to bed and the brick is there, look out in the morning and it is inches away. NOW I know why! The clever raccoons know that there are snacks down there, or maybe he’s getting a gulp of water?

Here is wishing you’ll find special delights in each and every day, no matter the weather!

Egg-in-the-hole!

Have you ever made an egg-in-the-hole? It’s fun, ridiculously easy to make, and so tasty!

‘Unless it’s tuna fish, I’m not coming out to help you make breakfast mom. I’m cozy right here…

IMG_2261.JPG

The first time I ever had an egg-in-the-hole was in grade school. As my mom went to work early in the mornings, I joined a ‘before school program’ where they served breakfast and I could play games with the other early birds, until classes began. The school cooks prepared breakfast for this little band of kiddos amidst prepping to feed the entire school a hot lunch.

IMG_2253.JPG

I begin by buttering two large pieces of sourdough bread. However, some folks simply melt butter in the pan first and throw the bread in. I also use a glass to cut out the hole (which is small enough for the egg to nest, but large enough that the egg doesn’t begin to ease over the toast). Throw the little rounds into the pan too!

IMG_2254.JPG

Next, crack the eggs in and let this side of the toasties get crispy.

…the days that the school’s lunch ladies made egg-in-the-holes, were the best days ever. Each child was allowed one. If you were still hungry for a second one when you were finished, you could go back in line and they would make you another (as long as all of the children had received their first one).

IMG_2256.JPG

The key to great egg-in-the-holes are that you allow the bread to get crispy (requiring ample butter). But at the same time, you don’t want the eggs to cook completely. You still want the yolk to be liquid. For this balance, let the bread toast up a moment before putting your eggs in so that you don’t end up with gooey bread…not so good.

IMG_2258.JPG

Use the little toasted rounds to dip into the yolk. Why is this so darn delicious? There is something about the way the bread toasts and soaks in the egg…awesome.

So, did I get in line for a second helping when I was a wee one? Oh yes! Those eggs-in-the-holes (using good ole’ Wonder Bread) were it. All these years later, I’m still making them.

IMG_2265.JPG

This morning I was out of sourdough and had whole grain bread in the house. Folks make their egg-in-the-holes using whole grain, but I just as prefer to eat that kind with over-easy eggs. There’s something about sourdough, or Italian bread that makes an egg-in-the-hole just right. Check out Pioneer Woman’s entertaining post for this recipe here!

What foods did you eat as a youngster, that fill you with nostalgia today? Do you ever make them?

That old April Adage

Here was that precious white bud that I found in my front yard, the only of his kind…

IMG_2208

And here it was a few days later, so pretty!

IMG_2217.JPG

Only he wasn’t able to stand up and was fallen in the grass…

IMG_2218.JPG

So as much as I’d rather have left him to bask in the sun…

IMG_2220.JPG

He brightened my bedside table, and bloomed instantly under my lamp. I was actually able to see his petals moving, and it only took a few minutes to fully open. I thought flowers’ openings each morning took far longer than that, but this little guy’s response to bright light was quick! I was fascinated!

IMG_2223.JPG

The daffodils too were finally opening up. How cheery are their yellow and orange faces!

IMG_2221.JPG

But it soon turned rainy and chilly, so I made roasted potatoes…

IMG_2225.JPG

And turned on the fireplace, which Tiddo cannot resist!

IMG_2229.JPG

Was this a smile or a sneeze? And look at those claws! Where’s the clippers!

IMG_2246.JPG

I digress, but don’t you think he should win an award for the handsomest whiskers?

IMG_2148.JPG

And an award for best lounging pose? I don’t know why I thought it was so funny, but when I came upon him sitting up like this against the pillow, I had a good chuckle.

We stayed pretty cozy despite the rain and chill. But I was not expecting to wake up to this this morning…

IMG_2252.JPG

The world outside is gloomy and lightly covered in snow, and it keeps falling…

IMG_2250.JPG

We must change the April adage…it must now say, “April snow showers bring May flowers.”

My poor little daffodils! Should I hurry out and clip them, bring them inside to put in a vase and enjoy what is left? Or do you think they’ll weather this unexpected snowfall?

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Good Morning! Good Day!

How lovely the start of a new day! Today, mine includes…

IMG_2194.JPG

A golden sunrise just outside the window…

IMG_2201

And a friend to watch it with…

IMG_2199

Even if he is more interested in the waking birdies than the sunrise…

IMG_2208.JPG

A sweet little bloom in my front yard. What a pretty white flower it will make. I think it’s waiting to open up when it’s not so chilly, brrrrr….

IMG_2209.JPG

And these yellow darlings too, I can’t wait!

IMG_2207.JPG

A hot cup of coffee (or three) and a bright kitchen view…

IMG_2212.JPG

Another one of my odd breakfast concoctions (and some people thought I’d never learn to cook…HA-HA-HA!!!)…

IMG_2213.JPG

And time spent working on my new adventure, the very best way to start the day. A magical world awaits!

Here’s wishing you a blessed and beautiful morning, and a day filled with good things!

Home Lovin’

Last night, handsome was out and I had an evening at home to myself…

IMG_2188.JPG

Tiddo of course loves any moment I’m home and follows me around the house. We’re best friends. He curled up right beside me and we chilled. After that, he only lifted his head up once to sniff the air. It was just as my supper was near ready out of the oven. He smelled the shrimp…

IMG_2190

I roasted a pan of shallots, garlic, jumbo shrimp and green beans. Healthy and homemade never tasted so good!

IMG_2191

And even now as I write this post, my little dude sits by my side…

IMG_2192.JPG

How good home is…

Here’s wishing yours full of great food, loving family, caring friends, good health, and much happiness!

Dining with Grace

A week ago today, handsome and I had a special occasion to celebrate and wanted to make it remarkable. For some time, we’d been wanting to visit Grace, a restaurant in downtown Chicago with an exceptional reputation!

IMG_3170

I can hardly describe, how otherworldly and magical this dining experience was. There are really no words for the glorious eight course meal we had, along with remarkable wine parings, impeccable service and truly exquisite ambiance.

This restaurant isn’t flashy from the street (we weren’t even initially sure we were at the right address), and when you enter, what peace and elegance; dim lighting, soft colors, minimal decor, gentle music…we immediately melted into our seats and relaxed (after a rather heroic city drive under some intense city winds that closed off streets due to high-rise debris falling on cars, during rush hour. Not terribly uncommon in the Windy City.)

IMG_3115.JPG

When you first begin, you select from one of two menus and the courses begin. Flora (for the plant lovers) or Fauna (for those who want seafood & meat). I tried Flora, and my companion, Fauna (though we shared, of course).

IMG_3116

Above was the amuse-bouche, “mouth amuser” in French, which isn’t ordered, but served prior to the meal gratis of the restaurant. I was fascinated with the forest plate set before us… we were told to use our fingers (no cutlery).

IMG_3120.JPG

To start: Parsnip with malt, pink grapefruit, lemon balm…(mine). So beautiful!

IMG_3121.JPG

Osetra Caviar with brandade, lemon, scallion…(his). Oh heavens!

IMG_3122.JPGIMG_3123.JPG

This one was served with a lid, and when you remove it, you’re instructed to lick the delicious lemon creme on it (like a yogurt cap). From within, smoke pours out, the wood smoke scent was amazing!

IMG_3124.JPG

Butternut Squash with ginger, mint, coriander blooms…(mine). I cannot express how divine the taste of coriander blooms are. I’d tasted coriander seeds before, but these little blooms were packed with a burst of spicy, flowery, herby flavor that I’d never tried…it’s a wild little plant!

IMG_3125.JPG

Alaskan King Crab with sudachi, cucumber, lemon and mint…(his). On this one, delectable bites were nested at the bottom, and layered over the top. You crack the shell up top with a spoon and then mix it all together. So, so pretty and the crab was so fresh.

IMG_3128.JPG

With the main dishes, small house-made breads were served to the side of each course (each piece unique), presented with a very special herbed butter. I could eat that butter with a spoon and I’m not ashamed to say it!

IMG_3130.JPG

Pumpkin with coconut, finger lime and sorrel…(mine).

IMG_3131.JPG

Hamachi with black cardamom, yuzu and chard…(his). The fish was so tender!

IMG_3133.JPG

Beets with goat cheese, cider, red amaranth…(mine). Do you see the goat cheese? It has been crafted into that edible white bowl right there!

IMG_3136.JPG

It melts, releasing the incredible liquid onto the plate to meet with the vegetables. I am a huge fan of beets…I was so delighted with this dish!

IMG_3138.JPG

Trumpet Royale with oat, cara cara and sea cress…(mine). Mushroom bliss!

IMG_3140.JPG

Pig Tail with endive, cauliflower, oxalis…(his). The meat (tender and juicy inside that ball up top) was utterly incredible.

IMG_3144.JPG

Chestnut with perigord truffle, buddha’s hand and white kale…(mine). A rare dish using  buddha’s hands, which are a tart, citrusy fruit. Paired with savory truffle, and nutty chestnut, truly unique!

IMG_3143

Short Ribs with watercress, lime and Vietnamese herbs…(his). I didn’t try the meat, but my date loved it. I did snatch another nibble of those coriander blooms however…I think I need to grow some of this plant this summer!

IMG_3146.JPG

Paused between the main dishes and dessert to have some Meyer lemon sorbet in a cone to ‘cleanse the palate’. It was like we were on a summer stroll. We could have stopped there and been content, but then…

IMG_3147.JPG

Banana with blueberry, cashew and African blue basil…(mine). Oh blueberry!

IMG_3148.JPG

Hazelnut with apple, brown butter and sorrel…(his). Hands up! Give me that donut!

IMG_3151.JPG

Chocolate with heart of palm, tangerine and citrus begonia…(his). I could have licked the plate.

IMG_3162.JPG

Firm, jello-like balls filled with chilled lemonade that burst in your mouth…so, so cool! Some pretty neat food chemistry was going on with this one…

IMG_3152.JPG

Peanut with passion fruit, murray river salt, banana and mint…(mine), in the glass to the left, along with a row of our wine pairings. It was a shame to let any of those delightful sips of wine go to waste (some of the most amazing tastes), but we were so delightfully fed and blissed out that we just couldn’t finish them. This three hour meal left us speechless.

IMG_3161.JPG

We love a decadent meal, but this one went far beyond that. For us, this was not just a meal, but an experience that we will never forget, marking a special occasion. If you’re planning something special and are local to Chicago, Grace will ensure your night will always be remembered!

Valentine’s Day Delights

My honey and I enjoyed another delicious meal at Evanston’s Boltwood to celebrate the holiday of love, and it was amazing! (You can also review another one of our visits here.)

IMG_3087.JPG

Holding hands with my Valentine…awww!…Now let’s get to the food!

IMG_3090.JPG

Ok, I understand some folks are squeamish about shellfish. But I had to get a picture of these oysters up close because I am mesmerized by nature. I never really thought about an oyster’s anatomy but they’ve got a heart, gills, a stomach, etc. You can read about them here. I hadn’t noticed these things before, but this particular variety had a very visible mantle on the shell and green gills!

After reading a little more about these little dudes, this vegetarian’s heartstrings tug for eating them. However, they were delicious pared with Boltwood‘s citrus mignonette. And it was Valentine’s Day, and oyster’s are said to inspire passion…

IMG_3091.JPG

Next we each had a slice of black bean toast, topped with avocado, cilantro, radish and cabbage. Oh my! They used a thick slice (reminding me of Texas toast), toasted perfectly with that crisp on the outside and comforting chew on the inside. The toppings were so cool and fresh, a dream dish for veggie lovers!

IMG_3092.JPG

Then we went to carrot heaven! Yellow, orange and plum color carrots prepared al dente, accompanied by burrata (soft cheese), mint and pesto…really, really, really delicious.IMG_3096.JPG

For our main dish, handsome had the grilled spiced octopus with almond tarator and lime relish. He enjoys octopus, having eaten it often in the south of France where he grew up, where it was abundantly pulled fresh from the sea and grilled. The hard part about ordering it locally (in the U.S.’s Midwest) is whether it will be fresh, but also grilled to a point where it isn’t overcooked, yet isn’t rubbery. This isn’t octopus snobbery, mind you. No one wants to eat a smelly, fishy tasting, rubbery octopus tentacle!

As there is an entire menu of delectable dishes at Boltwood, my date was on the fence. But our server assured him that he wouldn’t regret choosing it, and he didn’t! Cooked just right with a splendid spice and citrusy relish.

IMG_3097.JPG

Meanwhile, I couldn’t get enough of my grilled Indiana shrimp with miso squash, red cabbage, peanuts and cilantro. There was a taste of summer in these delicately charred shrimp and fresh slaw, wonderful! The squash was sweet and the peanuts crunchy, what a combination!

IMG_3094.JPG

We couldn’t go without a side of Boltwood‘s infamous crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Glorious, crispy buds with fresh green onions and one addictive cool dip for them. We could eat these everyday!

IMG_3099.JPG

To finish, the apple tart with almonds, peanuts and vanilla ice cream. This traditional American dessert was out of this world. It tasted like a chilly autumn night, with trick-or-treaters, jack-o-lanterns and fiery rustling leaves. Oh, my, goodness good! Tart little cubes of green apple, sticky carmelized sauce, nutty crunch, cinnamon spice and cold ice cream. Loved it!

We highly recommend making a reservation at Evanston’s Boltwood if you find yourself on Chicago’s North Shore. For us, it was yet another lovely evening filled with warm ambiance, excellent food and great service; quite a charming Valentine’s dinner!

Citrus in Chicago

Text message from my honey: “…did you give the squirrels a tangerine?”

My reply text: “They foraged in our garbage bin…………I think.”

tangerines-1111529_1280

I saw the tangerine sitting on the front lawn when I left the house. Yes, I sometimes feed the squirrels and chipmunks, even though I know that I shouldn’t because they become pesky. I learned that lesson after giving them some berries and nuts while writing outside last summer. Before long, I could hardly type a word without a chipmunk or squirrel approaching my bare feet to see if my toes were almonds.

The tangerine in the yard (which I believe was foraged in the trash) had a perfect hole bore into one side and the fruit removed. I told a friend this because I thought it was unique (don’t squirrels peel their tangerines with those little squirrley hands?). My pal moved here recently from a warmer climate. She immediately told me about the palm rat or roof rat.

oranges-1117628_1280

They live where fruit trees are abundant, which is why I hadn’t heard of them before. We certainly can’t grow citrus in Chicago! She said that when you go to pick what looks like an unblemished piece of fruit (fruit trees grow abundantly in people’s neighborhoods), you often find a perfect hole bore into the back and the fruit removed. The culprit is the roof rat. I had to look the creature up!

roof-rat-961502_1280.jpg

Though not unlike other rats, they like to nest away from the ground and love to eat fruit. They apparently plague homes by nesting in roofs and eating all the fruit from the trees. There are even ‘rat guards’ that you can put on your citrus trees to keep the rats out. I read this article and felt sorry for folks who have to deal with that. It seems to be a rather serious problem for home owners.

Of course, the tangerine in my yard had been eaten by a squirrel, who though not as precise with his drilling abilities, had made an impressive round. I’m very thankful that we don’t have roof rats; our raccoons are quite enough. Yet again, I learned something new! I’ve certainly never seen a rat climb a tree…only dumpster dive and dodge taxis!

IMG_2085.JPG

As for me, I made fresh orange juice this morning (one of my absolute favorite ways to start the day). This glass juicer is vintage! Didn’t you know that vintage juicers make the juice taste better? Wait…that’s just my imagination? When at Volo Antique Mall with my folks, I declared I wanted to find a juicer, and this pretty yellow one came home with me!

IMG_2087.JPG

Do you think the sunshine in my glass might melt that snow? Oh citrus! How delicious!

Thanks for sparing me a few oranges, you naughty roof rats!

Mangia! Mangia!

We had a delicious Italian meal at Convito Cafe in Wilmette, just up the street from home last Friday evening. We love finding new places for date night, and feel doubly lucky when we discover a great place right where we live.

IMG_3064.JPG

I smiled when they sat us in the coziest enclave, white linen on the table, soothing flameless candles, and this print of Venetian canals. If Venice is in my view, how could a meal ever be unpleasant?

IMG_3066.JPG

I’m a sucker for beet salad! If it is on the menu, I order it. Some soft goat cheese and spicy arugula, earthy chilled slices of beet…this salad alone made my night.

IMG_3065.JPG

No helter-skelter mussels arrangement here! Didn’t you know that mussels taste better when they are arranged this nicely? The Prince Edward Island Mussels with San Marzano cherry tomatoes, white wine, parsley, marjoram (a type of oregano), butter and crunchy garlic bruschetta was delicious!

Is it just me, or could you also eat an entire loaf of ‘crunchy garlic bruschetta’, dipping it into the sauce until there isn’t a drop or crumb left, only to ask the server for a second loaf?

Fun Fact: Bruschetta is actually just grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. You can put toppings (like diced tomatoes, onions and basil) on it, but bruschetta doesn’t mean its topped. I’m always learning something new!

IMG_3067.JPG

Pasta heaven! My date had the Campanelle Tonnato: bell shaped pasta, Italian poached tuna, grape tomatoes, picholine olives, capers, fresh basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of chili peppers. Was it delicious? I ate his leftovers and mine the next day.

IMG_3068.JPG

I enjoyed every bite of the Penne Integrale: whole wheat penne, butternut squash, kale, leeks, pumpkin seeds and parmesan butter sauce. Mmmmm…parmesan butter sauce. I dug this dish! The hearty kale, soft sweet squash, flavorful leeks and crunchy pumpkin seeds made it a pasta plate to remember.

A slice of sticky sweet apple tarte and vanilla ice cream was just the right ending to our meal. That was handsome’s espresso, but I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled divine. I would have taken a sip, only my eyes would have been wide open all night and this gal needs her eight hours.

IMG_3070.JPG

Convito Cafe was simple in the very, very best way. The food was delicious without being overly rich, the restaurant was classy yet warm like home, the service impeccable without being stuffy. We truly enjoyed our dinner.

But there’s more! Convito Cafe has a market on one side of the restaurant, filled with delectable, take-home meal options. We just picked up some butternut squash lasagna (for me), and meat lasagna (for him)…and some potato gratin (for him) and some cannelloni (for me)…and some roasted brussels sprouts (for us) and a lemon bar (for him…but I’m going to steal a bite when he isn’t looking and blame the cat). Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs…well, maybe not mine.

If you live on Chicago’s North Shore, take a little ride up Sheridan along the lakefront and enjoy a table at Convito Cafe. It’s a gem! We’ll see you there!

Swimming Radishes

There are a great many things I do on autopilot…like blurting lesser used (or locally unheard of) words and phrases, picking up grimy found pennies on the street and sticking them in my left shoe (for good luck of course), or this for example…

I’ve been craving radishes lately. My grandma used to grow them in the garden and I ate a lot of them growing up. The crunch, the spice, I think they are delicious. Sometimes I find them so spicy, I need a glass of milk.

IMG_1967.JPG

I sat my fresh cut radishes in the fridge the other day, covered in a bowl of water, and for the first time stopped and wondered why I did that. I instantly remembered snatching radishes out of my great grandma’s fridge after church, covered in chilled water, on Sundays as a girl. My grandma with her garden did the same. And now, I do it.

So I looked it up. Cutting off the stems and leaves keeps the radish from drying out, and the cold water keeps the cut radish crisp. I guess I knew there was logic to making my radishes swim, but never knew exactly why until now.

Funny what we pick up along the way, something taught that we didn’t know we learned, the things that make us who we are…

Indulgent Robatayaki

As I thought about our date night at Roka Akor this past Friday evening, the first word that popped into my head was decadence. Oh yes, we can’t stop going back (read here & here), and for good reason. In fact, we had other reservations but the moment handsome got home on that cold night, I blurted, “How about Roka Akor?” The answer was an immediate, yes.

IMG_3004.JPG

We started with the Salmon Tartare with Roasted Tomato Dressing and Crispy Taro Chips. The perfectly minced stack of salmon was so fresh, but the delightful, cool fresh toppings sent the flavor over the top. I felt my chopsticks combat in that bowl with my dinner companion’s, though we were on a date, so I didn’t nip his fingers like I wanted to.

You can purchase taro chips nowadays at the grocer, a healthier substitute for potato chips for certain. If they tasted like these, I’d be stocking up on bags like it was the eve of an apocalypse!

IMG_3010.JPG

The oysters were perfectly chilled, politely loosened from their shells, plump and topped with a hint of refreshing additions…just how an oyster should be. Bottoms up!

IMG_3011.JPG

Next, we once more selected the tender Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. “Decadent”: to be luxuriously self indulgent. Yes, that sounds about right! That pork belly is amazing!

We also enjoyed the fresh, crisp Organic Vegetable Maki rolls. Earthy and simple, the perfect balance in our mix of delectable choices.

Do we always select four appetizers when we eat out? Only at Roka Akor…decadence, remember?

IMG_3018.JPG

For the main course, I enjoyed sweet, tender Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter. Crab is king in my book, and this plate was generously stacked with the best. And though I find it satisfying to break apart my own crab legs on the hunt for meat, I didn’t have to look like a wild-crab-claw-crusher in front of my date. They come sliced open, the meat easy to get at. That’s some classy crab!

IMG_3015.JPG

The Japanese Wild Mushroom and Mountain Greens Rice Hot Pot is a very special side. To open that rustic looking kettle safely planted into a wooden box feels like I’m sharing in tradition while eating the very thing to ward off winter. It is such a satisfying dish. Roka also offers shaved truffle with it. Did we get the truffle? Decadence…

IMG_3017.JPG

Handsome had the Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod with Pickled Onions. Holy cod! That fish was exceptionally light, fresh and flakey with that lovely crisp on the top. The yellow sauce was a sweet, creamy lemon and it was out of this world delicious. Sometimes, I just want to eat sauce with a spoon. How is that for decadent? And let’s not forget the pickled onions, a little sweet, a little sour, a nice crisp, loved them.

IMG_3024.JPG

For dessert, Warm Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Caramelized Peanuts; one wonderful end to a magnificent meal. That with a sip of Japanese whiskey, what can be said but perfect.

The staff once more showed their excellence in service and we were never inconvenienced with clutter or a spill left on the table (like the soy sauce I tipped out of the bowl). The folks at Roka Akor really are impeccable at what they do, making our dining experience both delicious and genuinely pleasant.

Of course, we don’t eat this way everyday. We sup on our home cooked meals, a simple menu, ever trying to strive for the opposite of overindulgence. But on date night, we love a great experience, and of course, a little decadence! Cheers to good food, and one sizzling robata grill at Roka!

La Joie de Vivre!

We had a fabulous meal at Evanston’s Bistro Bordeaux once more on New Year’s Eve!

IMG_2976.JPG

Though it is always lovely to bring in the new year by toasting at midnight (which we’ve had the pleasure of doing at this very restaurant before), we decided to take an early meal and kept it simple; no oysters, no dessert, no heady digestifs…but of course there was champagne!

IMG_2971.JPG

Handsome started with the quiche du jour, which is always filled with savory ingredients and the perfect buttery crust that melts in your mouth. Served with a mixed greens salad, this lovely plate could make the perfect meal all by itself (and often does in our house).

IMG_2972.JPG

I chose the soupe du jour to warm up from the cold. A creamy tomato and their perfectly crisp and chewy French baguette to dip. Heavenly!

IMG_2973.JPG

My companion selected the Cassoulet Toulousain for his plat principal: French white bean stew, duck leg confit, braised pork shoulder, boudin blanc, bacon lardons, chapelure. When I asked him toward the end of the dish if he’d like to reheat the other half of it on the following day, he said no and took another bite, and then another. Some dishes must be finished, not a bean left behind!

IMG_2974.JPG

I selected the Gnocchis Parisian aux Truffes which you can also have served with the braised pork shoulder. Truffle gnocchi, button mushroom, arugula, butternut squash, beurre noisette. I normally don’t order gnocchi in restaurants, or pasta either. It tends to be overpriced, processed, the sauce overly rich or too bland. But at Bistro Bordeaux, I order it all of the time because it is fresh, handmade, perfectly cooked and always served with delicious al dente vegetables. Over the years, they’ve made it out of different veggies (not just potatoes), which is a vegetarian’s dream. The truffle flavor made it completely special this night!

IMG_2967.JPG

The restaurant was aglow with hanging candled glass orbs, the chatter was buoyant, the service excellent and the atmosphere cozy. Tres charmant!

IMG_2979.JPG

The decor was so pretty, and I especially appreciated the heaters in the foyer that kept us toasty while we waited for the valet (who was appropriately wearing a French beret).

IMG_2977.JPG

It was a frigid night, but here in Evanston on Chicago’s North Shore at one of our favorites, we approached our new year warm, well fed and cheerful. We couldn’t want for more!

Venice’s Fish Market

I don’t need any excuses to reminisce about Venice. However, we had a terrible snow storm yesterday that for me, led to one of those white knuckle driving experiences. There were cars stranded on the roads in what was a pure ice storm. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was shaking from cold, or the stress of being out at a dangerous time.

This morning, safe and sound as the world outside recovers, I fancy that I live in Venice where I don’t ever have to drive in dangerous conditions, because there are no cars. Where would I go, car-free this morning? The pescheria!

CIMG0974.JPG

Living in the middle of the U.S., I crave fresh seafood. So whenever I travel close to the sea, all I want to eat is fish and shellfish.

CIMG0976.JPG

With its place on the sea, Venice draws in fresh seafood every day for its restaurants and citizens to pick from. The variety of creatures for sale are amazing, leading to endless dishes!

CIMG0979.JPG

Always clean beds of ice; assured that your seafood is kept cool and fresh.

CIMG0978.JPG

I’m attracted to food displays where colorful fare is laid by type in heaps. The bounty and organized clutter looks like art to me! I always have to pull out my camera, whether tables of cheese or piles of shrimp.

CIMG0982.JPG

Those long crustaceans to the right are canocce, a kind of shrimp. They look like they have big black eyes, but those spots are actually at the end of their tails…maybe to frighten predators with?

CIMG0981.JPG

These are seppie (cuttlefish), which produce black ink to ward off predators when they are disturbed. In Venice, you can order spaghetti nero di seppie, which is pasta mixed with the ink of the cuttlefish. The pasta turns black, and though I haven’t tried it, it is said to make pasta whisper fresh flavors of the sea. Cuttlefish dishes are abundant in Venice; the animal is often stewed in its ink and served with pasta or risotto.

CIMG0984.JPG

Seafood heaven, what more can I say? I’d learn how to cook it all if I lived near a market like this.

What I especially love about seafood is how simple it is. When it is fresh, it doesn’t need a lot of fancy cooking and sauces. A little roast or steam, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of green garnish; let me sit to that table for a while!

CIMG0989.JPG

Ah well, I’ve enjoyed this momentary respite from the weather by thinking of Venice’s fish market. But alas, I must now bundle up and see how much ice remains on my car.

A chapter of Venice is dedicated to this fascinating place, where the boats pull up from the Grand Canal to deliver such bounty. If you want to take a stroll through the market, but can’t get to Venice just now, I hope you’ll enjoy my storytelling as you amble through the market in my book.

And as for those of you in Venice just now, please share something special about the market in the comments! We’d all like to know your favorite part about this spectacular, cultural, Venetian jewel!

Food & Fellowship

On Christmas evening, I enjoyed a homemade dinner at my mom and step-dad’s house. I am an only child, so it is often just us three. We had a casual picnic using used wrapping paper as our tablecloth over a low coffee table.

IMG_1954.JPG

My step-dad steamed up a big pot of crab legs, and baked us each a potato and some hot buns. I’d made coleslaw, which was the perfect fresh and crispy compliment to the meal.

IMG_1952.JPG

Mom and I had some chilled white wine and my step-dad enjoyed some beer that handsome sent over for Christmas. We ate on paper plates and enjoyed every delicious second of hunting for our meat. It was sweet and fresh!

IMG_1956.JPG

As you can see, the meal was thoroughly enjoyed. Since there were no claw-crackers, or nut-crackers in the house to be found, pliers and a hammer may have been used, and chopsticks too, to push the very last little morsels of crabmeat out of their shells. We take crab seriously.

IMG_1957.JPG

A big bowl of empty shells and a roll of paper towels later and we were lounging relaxed and merry, listening to holiday music. In our family, when crab is served, we mean business!

IMG_1948.JPG

I’m very happy to call my folks my best friends. We always have animated conversation and a lot of laughs when we get together. And though on Christmas, we tend to spoil one another with lots of gifts, this year we took it easy and just offered a few presents (I got a bread maker and I’m making a wheat loaf this very minute!!).

This meal reminded me however, that all the good restaurants and a pile of gifts can never beat good food and fellowship. How thankful I am, all the year long, for special occasions like this one. I could ask for nothing more.

Here’s wishing you many blessings this season, and well wishes for the approaching new year! May you enjoy every moment of food and fellowship that come your way!

Chicago’s French Market

On Friday evening, I attended the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre here in Chicago with my best friend. The performance is dazzling every time, and this year was made more special in that it is the last to be performed in Robert Joffrey’s version. His choreography and style for this ballet was one of the first to create a version of the Nutcracker that looks American and has been replicated throughout the country. Head to the Joffrey site to learn the interesting history.

But as is our norm, we must always eat before heading to the ballet or opera. One cannot truly appreciate the arts without a full stomach, or so I believe. We met at Chicago’s French Market which is located underground of a bustling train station. IMG_1904.JPG

What is fun about the French Market is that it has a cozy, European market feel with a lot of local vendors. Deceivingly however, it isn’t filled with French fare, though you can certainly get a crepe or a French pastry. It is simply called the French Market to stir up the feel of such lovely places. Even the isles between kiosks have names like Boulevard Saint-Germaine and the open dining area looks a little like you are sitting near the Eiffel Tower at an outdoor cafe.

IMG_1907.JPG

I have never been fond of shopping, but shopping for food is another matter. I love it, and of course, I love artisan, good quality, fine food. You can pick up quite a number of such things at the French Market, like fresh seafood, vegetables, cheese, meat and wine.

IMG_1900.JPG

The location is perfect for the thousands of train commuters flowing in and out of the city, which I personally appreciate. I like places of quality that are also convenient when you must be a part of the hustle and bustle.

IMG_1902.JPG

Nice too, are all the little restaurants serving food that is fast, yet finer than fast food. One stand offers scrumptious grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with delicious and unique fillings, another serves up perfect lobster rolls, another excellent sandwiches on artisan bread. I had a lobster roll from Da Lobsta. If I’d been alone, I could easily have eaten three of them. Who am I kidding, I’m sure my best pal wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d ordered three. She’s seen me polish off some pretty large meals before.

IMG_1908.JPG

You can even grab fresh flowers, which definitely adds to that open market feel. So pretty!

IMG_1895.JPG

I was personally overwhelmed by the selection of handmade chocolates at Lolli & Pops and stood staring at the display for an embarrassing amount of time while waiting for my friend to arrive. I just couldn’t pull myself away.

IMG_1894.JPG

IMG_1897.JPG

If you are a Chicago commuter and in need of a small holiday gift, you can’t go wrong with a box of these chocolates. The looks of them alone would put a smile on anyone’s face!

IMG_1898.JPG

Oh heavens! I mean…Oh la la, how lovely is Chicago’s French Market!

Robata Heaven

Date night took us back to Roka Akor and what an amazing meal and excellent service it was once more! I observed that we had bouts of silence over our plates, which isn’t like us. On date night, we tend to keep it pretty chatty, that time in the week to catch up. But as we devoured each bite, we just stared around vacantly and dreamy eyed. Nothing existed but each exceptional bite.

IMG_2924

To start, Butterfish Tataki with White Asparagus and Yuzu Shallot Dressing. So beautiful to look at, incredibly fresh little bites!

IMG_2926.JPG

Crispy Fried Squid with Serrano Chili and Lime. So good, I would have had a chopsticks duel with handsome if he even tried to get one more piece than I had. Selfish? Greedy? Taste this dish and you’ll sharpen your dueling skills.

IMG_2929.JPG

Also, Forest Mushroom Salad with Truffle Citrus Vinaigrette and Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. We had four appetizers? Uhm, yes. Confession, I’m a  pescatarian. I don’t eat meat, though I do eat seafood. But sometimes, on vacation, or at Roka Akor…I might take a nibble. Well, I might have nibbled half of that pork belly. I wasn’t strong enough to withstand this particular temptation; this grilled meat was like butter.

IMG_2937.JPG

For the main course, I had the Barramundi with Miso Butternut Squash Puree. Handsome had the Lamb Chops with Korean Spice and Grilled Eggplant. I died and went to Heaven, that’s where I’m writing this blog post from. For the sides, Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Shallot Dressing and Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter. Let me tell you, delicious corn. Grilled so that there was that perfect, crisp pop to each fresh kernel. The soy garlic butter…wow! And as I’ve said about Roka Akor before, I love when my fish has that perfect crisp on the top while the meat remains tender. The barramundi was just right!

IMG_2931

I didn’t nibble on my date’s lamb chops…but now that I’m reviewing the photo, perhaps I should have made another pescatarian’s exception?

IMG_2928

Wait, let’s look at that luscious pork belly one more time. You understand how I might have faltered in my reserve and gobbled a row?

FullSizeRender.jpg

Dessert. Purple Sweet Potato Pot de Creme. Oh, my, goodness! Like creme brûlée with a tart, fruity, sweet potato twist. Life is good!

Hats off to the phenomenal service once more! Roka‘s staff are like fluid dancers giving one perfect performance. You are never inconvenienced with clutter, or served the next dish too soon. Our server Jennifer was thoughtful when making recommendations (keeping me on track when I was about to order everything that was fried/rich on the menu…I can’t help it). A balance of light and rich dishes was the right decision. Very thoughtful, knowledgeable, professional service; thank you!

FullSizeRender-2

If you’ve got one near, get to Roka Akor. You’ll thank me for the recommendation when you’re in robota heaven! But more importantly, it’s the season to enjoy a moment with your loved ones and be mindful of all your blessings. Here’s wishing you’ll enjoy each meal, those precious pockets of time you have with your family and friends, and a little restful time to yourself too!

What The Scone Said

“Well hello Ms. Lemon. Haven’t seen you here for a while!” Says Mr. Blueberry Scone while taking a discreet sniff of her pretty, lemony perfume.

“Oh, hi Mr. Blueberry, yea…they’ve been so fancy with those buttery croissants lately that I don’t come here as often…ooop, there comes that hungry looking man! That’s my ride, see ya’ around!” Replies Ms. Lemon, wishing she could have chatted with Mr. Blueberry a little longer. He’s such a nice scone.

IMG_1849.JPG

“Give me a kiss, Ms. Latte!”  Says Mr. Espresso, smelling like freshly roasted beans and leaning in with a smile.

“Hurry, before the cat sees Mr. Espresso! He’s hiding behind those house plants Smmmooooch!” She blushes, Mr. Latte is so handsome.

IMG_1850.JPG

Tiddo looks on from behind the houseplants. No one believes him that the weekend pastries and coffee have a chat when they get together. Ah well, who would want that sort of breakfast anyway when you can snack on green?

IMG_1853.JPG

The Key To Everlasting Love

Once upon a time, two people came together…only, there was a dilemma.

CIMG2146.JPG

Handsome felt pretty confident with his coffee maker…

CIMG2147.JPG

But the lady simply preferred her own.

CIMG2148.JPG

They would just have to find a solution!

IMG_1760.JPG

And so they did, isn’t love so nice?

IMG_1762.JPG

…especially on Saturday mornings when the coffee maker isn’t used at all, and he braves the cold for coffee and pastries while she stays under the warm blankets…

IMG_1761.JPG

That is the key to everlasting love. Especially when the pastries are pain au chocolat! Cheers to love and good coffee!

Only For A Pastry

Oh heavens, I don’t want to get moving today, but the day is planned out and I’ve got to shake a tail feather! I’d get moving much, much faster if I could relive this moment…

CIMG0967.JPG

Once upon a time, that latte in Venice had my name on it…I believe I drank two. Look at those tarts, one filled with custard, the others covered in thin slices of pear and apple with a sweet glaze…

CIMG1125.JPG

Oh yes, here is that second latte and that second plate of pastries. That creamy tart topped with tiny, fresh strawberries and that puff pastry dipped in semisweet chocolate…

CIMG1127CIMG1128

If I were just around the corner from this pastry shop in Venice once more, I’d already have my lipstick on and be out the door with a smile and a skip in my step! Wouldn’t you!?

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Central Park, NYC

My boyfriend is in NYC on a business trip and sent photos last night of Central Park.

IMG_2841

Having lived in NYC myself, the city has a special place in my heart.

IMG_2843

He also stopped in this delicatessen for a quick bite. There is nothing like a sandwich from a NYC delicatessen…

IMG_2839

And though he said he didn’t indulge in any of these…

IMG_2838

He may have just covered up the truth so that I wouldn’t be envious. New York cheese cake…Oh heavens!

An Autumn Night In Evanston

“Brrrr mom, it’s getting chilly out there!”

IMG_1471

“I think the sun is setting, we better find a warm place.”

IMG_1472

“All set…please turn up the thermostat, would ya?”

IMG_1401

The evening meal is set…

IMG_1485

The house is cozy and warm…

IMG_1488

And the fireplace illuminates our evening…

IMG_1492

Happy Autumn!

The Golden Egg!

Today I’m buying a lotto ticket because I think it’s my lucky day! I had some boiled eggs for breakfast and definitely thought one didn’t quite look the same as the others. It was rather oblong and large. I thought the hen may have had a hard time laying that egg, and that was why it was shaped a little funny. But low and behold, two yolks!

IMG_1478

According to fresheggsdaily.com, there was about a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting the golden egg! And, it’s even more rare because egg distributors often throw away the odd looking eggs…what a waste!!! But if you raise your own chickens, you may see this once in a while. Pretty neat!

Oh heavens, Bennison’s!

In Evanston, we have a heavenly place called Bennison’s Bakery. They’ve been around since 1938 and are always packed with customers. Around the holidays, you really need to place orders early and prepare to stand in a line when you arrive. But it is worth the wait! And believe me, your eyes will have so many things to look at, you’ll wish the line had been longer so that you had more time to decide on what you want.

IMG_1475IMG_1476

Bennison’s has everything from delicious cakes, donuts, cookies, sandwiches (my favorite is the Caprese), pies, pretzels, French macarons, fruit tarts, artisan bread, cupcakes and so much more. It’s aways cheery and the bakery smells will put a smile on your face for at least an hour after you’ve walked out the door…and several more if you indulge in a few of their treats. We love this place (along with everyone else in Evanston), and it’s the perfect place to stop when you can’t think of a hostess gift or you need to bring a dessert to an event. Just stop there, the receivers of these treats will thank you!

The Pleasantly Palatable Menu at the Peckish Pig

My boyfriend and I make a particular effort to plan a date night each and every Friday evening. It is always something to look forward to and we often chat during the week about what we’d like to do. Shall we dress up and head to dinner downtown Chicago? Get tickets to the ballet or theater? Do we want to order in and have a comfortable couch night (best for those exhausting weeks)? Should we grab a casual dinner in Evanston and head to the movies? It’s so nice to have that special time together that we plan ahead for.

IMG_2773-2IMG_2781

And oh boy! Let’s just say when it comes to Evanston restaurants, we are becoming ever more spoiled! The perfect fall evening that it was, we cozied up at Evanston’s Peckish Pig this Friday. It was our first time dining there, and we loved it!

IMG_2772-2IMG_2779

To start, we had their Whipped Goat Cheese & Honeycomb on toasty little slices of bread. Oh heavens! I’m a cheese addict, this was delicious! We also had the Roasted Beet and Burrata with Basil Oil which was served chilled. It was so refreshing! We also sampled their Beer Pig Mussels Cooked with House Brewed Beer & Bacon.

IMG_2785IMG_2786

For our main course, handsome had the Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese, Mango-Lime Mayo and Cumin Fries. I’m pretty sure I ate more of his fries than he did…those perfectly crispy, seasoned, large cut fries! And I had the Chef’s Fish Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Whipped Avocado. To finish, we shared the Fresh Fruit with Creme Fraiche & Balsamic Reduction. Tart and fruity!

IMG_2791

The atmosphere at the Peckish Pig is awesome! We arrived for an earlier dinner and were very pleased to see all of the families, couples and bar folk, a very pleasant mix to the crowd. The lighting isn’t blaring and I particularly liked their use of candles, strung bulbs and ambiance lighting. Water is served in blue mason jars (which we also drink out of at home), loved it! Service is excellent and there is a great energy to the place. With a really nice selection on their menu, we can’t wait to head back! And I’ll make sure to be a little more than peckish when I arrive!

Steak & Seafood at Pete Miller’s

Every morning, I stand outside and assess the weather. The Weather Channel, what’s that? Not for me, I like to walk outside and figure it out for myself. I admit, not exactly the greatest tactic for preparing for how the weather may develop as the day progresses. This morning, as I stood looking at the cloudy sky and felt the cold air, I thought to myself, “Winter is coming”. Yes, I imagine myself as one of the characters in Game of Thrones sometimes. But winter is coming, and in northern Illinois, it can be brutal.

IMG_2756IMG_2758

There is only one way to face it, cozy restaurants with good food. Preferably, they’ll have a fireplace, and serve heavy dishes filled with tryptophan and other endorphin releasing chemicals. How else will you manage to survive?

IMG_2762IMG_2768

It isn’t winter yet, but we thought we should do a restaurant test run just to make sure we’re ready. On Friday night, we went to Pete Miller’s in Evanston. We found the ‘food coma’ inducing tryptophan levels in the rib eye steak and king crab legs to be most satisfactory. Ok, I jest…we didn’t even get sleepy from feasting like kings. But we sure as heck left feeling pretty good!

IMG_2764-2

To start, we enjoyed warm bread & butter, East Coast & Blue Point oysters with LaMarca Prosecco and a fruit & burrata salad. Oysters are served with different condiments everywhere we go. I liked the traditional lemon and cocktail sauce (which was very tasty) here at Pete Miller’s. Burrata is a creamy Italian cheese (a little like ricotta and buffalo mozzarella). For this salad, they served the cheese with merlot-poached pears & balsamic drizzle. Oh heavens! For our main course, handsome had the rib eye with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed spinach. I had the king crab legs with truffle parmesan fries and asparagus with hollandaise; served with two glasses of Uppercut Cabernet. Delicious! We were far too full for dessert (but I enjoyed leftovers the following day).

It isn’t food alone that makes for a great dining experience however. Our server Vasi was cheerful, informative with the menu and very timely, as were all the staff that kept our table tidy and our water glasses filled. We appreciate this restaurant’s excellent presentation of steak, seafood and impeccable service! To get through the winter blahs, reserve a table at Pete Miller’s if you’re near Chicago’s North Shore!

Snackin’ Like A Hobbit

Ok. I’m not going to lie. I’m an eater, a gal who loves food. You won’t find me skipping a meal unless I’ve got the stomach flu…and I’ve got a pretty good immune system. I’m like one of the hobbits from The Lord of The Rings (if you don’t know this schedule by heart you’re clearly not a hobbit, I’m sorry for you).

IMG_0788

Today, I had to skip a special part of my day because I was genuinely so busy, that I couldn’t even sneak an M & M in my mouth. I missed snack time and the day just wasn’t the same. See, I have a thing for making what I call ‘little plates’ in the afternoon.

What’s that? You think this plate looks like a big plate? Not for this hobbit! But even if you don’t have my appetite, remember what good that little break can do for you and take it! A walk around the block with your orange slivers and a soak of the sun, a nibble of chocolate on your warming coffee run, a slice of cheese on a baguette with a daydream of Paris, some salty olives and thoughts of Italy, or one of my ‘little plates’…everyone needs a break and a treat, hobbit or not. Take a moment for you!

Japanese Robatayaki at Roka Akor!

Do you know what makes a dreary, rainy evening amazing? Fantastic food! As the skies opened up on Friday evening and warnings of flash floods loomed, I completely forgot the weather and enjoyed a cheery repast at Roka Akor in Skokie, IL. Roka Akor offers contemporary Japanese cuisine, Robatayaki to be exact. Robata for short, is basically slow grilling over a fire and oh, so delicious! Everything I tried left me speechless.

IMG_2738

To start, their Roasted Beet Salad with Jalapeno Miso Dressing and Smoked Almonds. I think beet salad is the cat’s pajamas and order it wherever I go. I hesitated with this one as I worried about the jalapeno…I wasn’t raised eating spicy, I get faint with one red pepper flake. I’m working on it. However, this salad had the flavor without the fire and those smoked almonds…can I take a jar of those home with me please?

IMG_2740

Then there was the Sweet Corn and Edamame Dumplings with Soy Vinaigrette. Excellent! I appreciated their crisped bottoms, perfectly chewy. I’m not a fan of soggy dumplings, these were perfect and the vinaigrette…can I take a jar of that home with me please?

IMG_2741

Then there were the Robata Grilled Diver Sea Scallops with Yuzu Aioli and Wasabi Peas. Large, plump scallops, perfectly grilled and dressed, light and not at all fishy.

IMG_2743IMG_2742

For the main course, I had the Skuna Bay Salmon with Ginger Teriyaki and House Pickled Cucumbers and my handsome dinner companion had the Madagascan Jumbo Tiger Prawn with Yuzu Kosho Chili Paste. As for our sides, the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Japanese Mustard Vinaigrette and Bonito Flakes and the Cremini Mushrooms with Soy Garlic Butter. We always share our main dishes, so lucky for me I always get to taste everything on the table. The prawn was detached from its shell and cut into perfectly grilled bites; the meat was wonderful. Just be sure you can take the heat! My salmon had that crispy, flavorful grill on top that I love and that ginger teriyaki, can I take a jar…! Those mushrooms were divine and we couldn’t stop nibbling the Brussels sprouts. If you aren’t a Brussels sprouts lover, that’s because you haven’t tried them at Roka Akor yet.

IMG_2751

For dessert, we shared the Green Tea Custard with Caramelized Banana and Chocolate Pearls…天国! It was a very special dessert, light and not too sweet. Several delightful flavors and a perfectly whipped texture, the little chocolate pearls were fun to chew, too. I have been down on bananas lately. I’ve been eating them for breakfast my whole life, and they are getting to be a bore. As I dreamily enjoyed our dessert, I said, “If only my breakfast banana could taste like this.”

It was a wonderful dining experience and the service was very professional, attentive and timely. It is very evident that the staff works as a seamless team at this location, one plate dropped, another picked up, a menu offered, a glass cleared. We sat at a smaller table and never once had to worry about clutter, or wait for what we’d requested. 幻想的な Roka Akor Skokie! You’ve got the art of fine dining down!

Alfresco dining at Bistro Bordeaux!

The weather turned from its uninvited chill earlier in the week and is now as lovely as ever here in Evanston. For several days, the sun has been shining, the breeze warm and the squirrels and chipmunks having a field day with all of the falling acorns. Yesterday, I watched a ruby throated hummingbird buzz around a flowering bush in my yard. Those little birds amaze me; I’m fascinated every time I see one. They are just so itty-bitty and fast!

If the weather is holding summer temperatures and sunny skies where you are, then there is something you must do, before it’s too late! Go eat alfresco! Take advantage of the out-of-doors…a picnic, a blanket on the beach, your favorite restaurant with seating on the sidewalk, a sandwich on a park bench, or a BBQ on your back porch.

IMG_2734

I enjoyed a lovely dinner at a traditional French bistro, Bistro Bordeaux here in Evanston on Tuesday evening…alfresco of course! To start, some chilled champagne and East Coast oysters (oh yes, I’m taking full advantage of the last delicious moments of summer left to us here in frigid northern Illinois).

IMG_2737

Then, I had their Moules Frites Marinieres (“…mussels steamed in white wine, shallot, garlic, parsley, butter”). They are served with Bistro Bordeaux’s addicting beef tallow fries. Turn up the volume and click on their website…makes you feel like you’re in Paris, no? Now check out their menu…ooh la la! The dining inside the restaurant will transport you: bistro style seating, warm lighting, ambling French music, spectacular French food…wait, I mean spectaculaire!

IMG_1282

I did not have dessert because I took the cheese selections home with me to enjoy the next day. I do this often…I can’t help it. J’aime le fromage…like, love cheese. Spread it on a toasty baguette slice with a little honey, heaven! I’ll take cheese over chocolate any day!

Whatever your favorites, go enjoy them outside…while you still can! Bon appetit!

Divino’s Gelato from Italy!

Do you know why I’m smiling in this photo? Well, there is the obvious reason…I was in Venice. Then there is the other obvious reason…I’m eating gelato. Actually we should say gelati (plural) as it appears that I am eating both a cone and a little cup, I like to live on the wild side when it comes to gelato.

CIMG0996

So imagine the look on my face when while perusing the grocery for something new and interesting, I found these!! Made in Italy, Divino. Fruity gelato served in the fruit! I bought one of each flavor…wild side, remember?

IMG_1263

Last night I tried the Black Diamond Plum. My first reaction was, “Oh, how pretty.” Then I bit in. Brain freeze! So, I looked on the package just now and it says to let the plum sit out for 10 minutes before you nibble. Ohhhhh! Suffering through my icy headache, my second reaction was, “This tastes like sorbet, not gelato.” Again looking at the back of the package, I see now that the plum fruit is in fact filled with sorbet. ‘Gelato’ on the front of the box, ‘sorbet’ on the back of the box…you’re confusing me Divino!

IMG_1262

There is a connection however…ancient Italians used to bring snow down from the mountains and top them with things like wine, fruit, honey…the first snow cones and sorbet! Gelato derives from that, with the added ingredient of milk. Divino’s Roman Kiwi is filled with gelato. Their Apulian Peach, Black Diamond Plum, Ciaculli Tangerine and Amalfi Lemon are filled with sorbet (it’s a go vegans!). Divino is also non-GMO verified.

IMG_1269

The plum was delicious, and the fruit shell edible. Refreshing! They are also served with cute little neon spoons…only I didn’t see that because I was too eager to receive my brain freeze. Today I’m going to try the Amalfi Lemon and I’m prepared having read the directions, you have to let it sit out for 20 minutes before enjoying. I’ll have to walk out of the room to avoid temptation!

Farewell, Summer Salad!

It’s getting rather chilly here in northern Illinois…brrrrr! I had a campfire with my folks last weekend, we must have known the chill was coming! Wasn’t it summer just yesterday? They’ve already had the pumpkins and potted fall mums displayed at the grocery store this last week and though autumn is my favorite season, I’m just not ready. In fact, I spent a greater part of this morning daydreaming about summer salads. Yes, I wake every morning and daydream about what’s on my menu for the day…don’t you? Below are three salads that I still swoon to remember from Ristorante Antico Pignolo in Venice…

CIMG1089

The fresh eggplant salad with ripe red tomatoes and chiffonade basil leaves drizzled with balsamic reduction and olive oil…faint.

CIMG1091

The traditional Caprese with soft rounds of mozzarella, tomatoes and bright basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic reduction and topped with black olives…insert heavenly singing here.

CIMG1090

And the simplest, yet most delicious salad ever invented…ripe melon and tender, slightly salty prosciutto…I’m seeing stars.

If you’d like to have a go at making the melon and prosciutto salad, you’ll find inspiration here with Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast. Her delightful site and cookbook are filled with splendid watercolors and enchanting forest arrangements that make her realistically simple recipes look oh so pretty!

For the Caprese salad, try Pioneer Woman’s recipe. She says she, “…love Caprese Salad so much it actually hurts.” I know how she feels!

Here’s to good food at Boltwood!

When I think of Venice, I think of a city that remembers to enjoy the good things in life. A stop in the piazza to grab an espresso with a friend and watch the world go by, an umbra of wine in the afternoon at the local bacaro with a nibble of savory cicchetti, a stroll through the morning fish market to stir up fresh ingredients for tonight’s repast, open windows embracing the sounds of flowing water and a singing gondolier, a stop in the local campo to catch up with your neighbors…

With that in mind, I intend to share snippets of not only Venice, but also those things that remind me of what that city embodies; the great joys in life, like good food!

0-5

Last night, I feasted at Boltwood in Evanston, IL. The city is just north of Chicago and hosts some excellent restaurants. Boltwood serves seasonal New American cuisine using the freshest ingredients. The photo above was of their arugula & La Quercia (prosciutto) salad with sliced plums and grilled Brun-uusto (cheese). I’d had it there before, and the treat is that they change up the fruit in the salad! If you haven’t tried prosciutto and fruit together on one plate, you must!

IMG_2662

I also enjoyed these Island Creek Oysters served perfectly chilled with a glass of rosato brut (from the Veneto region in Italy). So refreshing on a hot summer evening!

IMG_2673

As for my main dish, my eyes grew as large as quarters with the very first bite of their tilefish served with aioli, succotash and bacon. The word delicious doesn’t cut it. A lightly crisped fish on the top with delicate meat within, a nice portion of fresh vegetables and a sauce that I was tempted to eat with a spoon.

IMG_2680

For dessert, the chocolate cake and ice cream topped with tart kumquat slices and perfectly toasted chopped almonds. Delightful and pretty!

If you find yourself in Evanston, reserve a table! I like to sit at their intimate chef-side seating where you can get an eyeful of the dishes as they come out! The hostess is welcoming, the servers are sincerely pleasant and knowledgeable, and the manager attentive. The ambiance is dreamy and the food, spectacular!

Let’s Have A Celebrazione!

CIMG0800

I took this photo at Ristorante Antico Pignolo located in the Sestiere di San Marco on calle Specchieri. The meals that I enjoyed there were some of the best that I have ever, ever had. While basking in the delights of one such meal, I looked at the empty table nearest my own where a group had just departed, guests who seemed to have had a wonderful time. I captured this photo because I thought the cluster of glasses represented the splendid celebrazione that had just taken place there…I also puzzled over the number of glasses!

CIMG0798

This was the divine chocolate mousse cake I enjoyed for dessert that evening. I thought the bright red currants, single yellow cherry tomato yet on its leaf, and the drizzle of chocolate and salty caramel sauces so picturesque. A crust at the bottom was made out of chopped pistachios. The sauces remind me of olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar drizzle.

CIMG0801

And this photo was my table at the end of the night. I could nibble on one of those Venetian bussola buranello cookies right now! Yes, I had cake and cookies for dessert!

Today, I have things in my life worth a celebrazione! Blessings to be thankful for and loved ones to cherish, accomplished milestones to celebrate! How about you? Here’s wishing you good things in your life today! For all of those things, celebrate! Saluti!

Dreaming of Tramezzini!

IMG_0815

I love sandwiches! I mean, what’s more pleasant than mindlessly chewing on good bread? You can fill a sandwich with just about anything, which is convenient when you’re running low on the conventional ingredients…haven’t I tried a sandwich with green beans in it somewhere? And, sandwiches are portable. You can munch on one while riding down the Grand Canal in a vaporetto!

I usually mash up my eggs and smother them in mayo for an egg salad sandwich, but today, I had one lone hard-boiled egg to work with. So, I cut it into pretty oblong slices and laid it into the sandwich. After cutting it in half and looking at it, my first impression was, “A tramezzino!”

If you haven’t tried tramezzini, you must try them in Venice! The first ones I ever gobbled were from the paninoteca (