Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

What’s next on my list of Lovin’ That!? Pete’s Living Greens. Some of you might remember when I got really sick with food poison back in January. I’d thought I’d gone to Hades and back, in such misery was I. The culprit was prepackaged lettuce, the kind that comes in a plastic tub. Usually it’s prewashed and it is of course, convenient. That’s why I liked buying it…

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Unfortunately, it can also be very dangerous to your health. Please check out my previous post, Prepackaged Lettuce, Let Us Not! After that terrible incident, I’d been making the effort to regularly purchase a fresh head of lettuce, to rinse and chop up myself. But I have to say, that too has had its frustrations. You bring it home in a thin plastic bag and it’s already moist (because they mist veggies with water in their display at the grocery), and so it goes bad just as quickly. If you take it out of the bag and put it back into the fridge, it wilts immediately. Argh!

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As a vegetarian…and now what I’d like to call a 98% vegan, I eat a lot of greens. I can’t have that fresh lettuce going south in one or two days. And I’m tired of wasting money! What to do?

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Introducing Pete’s Living Greens (and yes, I like to match the color of my drinking straws to the color on my soda water cans…I’ve gotta be me). Pete’s Living Greens do come in a plastic tub, but it is different

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It is plucked out of the dirt with the roots attached, neither precut nor prewashed. The label claims you get seven extra days of freshness because of the roots. I eat my lettuce far faster than seven days, so I can’t attest. However, I am very satisfied with Pete’s Living Greens. It stays bright, fresh, crisp, until I’ve eaten it all. Not one leaf going to waste. Lovin’ That!

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There’s very little moisture in the package, just a tiny bit of condensation. I pluck off as many or few leaves as I wish, and let the rest of the lettuce remain attached to its roots. Voila! Fresh lettuce for days. And affordable too! This head (which was much larger before I ate half of it) cost about $3.50…and remember, not a leaf goes into the trash. Finally, my lettuce woes have been solved!

*Pete’s Living Greens did not fund my lettuce eats. All opinions of lettuce love are my own!

Gobble, gobble! Go gobble your greens! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay inspired!

Lovin’ That! Soul Vegan Lasagna

Next on my list of Lovin’ That! is Soul Vegan’s vegan lasagna! Soul Vegan is a wonder food provider in Chicago that makes the most amazing, healthy, tasty dishes…

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Even as a vegetarian, I indulged in their lasagna regularly. They sell pre-packaged slices, wraps and full meals at the Whole Foods in my area, and according to their website, they also provide for the local Mariano’s…

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The first reasons why I love this lasagna is that it’s delivered to the store very freshly made, is only chilled (not frozen), and provides a perfect portion size that doesn’t leave me hungry…

Further, I like meals that can be thrown together quickly. I get home, slide two or three bake dishes into the oven, and done. Especially on a chilly, dark night! (I’m not a fan of microwaves when I can help it. I prefer putting a few things into the oven and stepping away to relax before supper). When I return to the oven, voila! The perfect meal!

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I also love this lasagna because someone else made it (lasagna takes quite a bit of time to make). I enjoy it further because it’s a healthier version of this dish. But most especially, I love it because it tastes AMAZING. I prefer this delicious slice to any lasagna I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. It’s so good, I could eat it every day. I even served it to handsome and he said, “Mmmm, this is better than real lasagna.” That’s coming from a meat eater…

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What I also really like is Soul Vegan’s message. Love life. Live life. Care about your community. Lovin’ That! You can check out their values and offerings here. If you are in Chicagoland, be on the lookout for Soul Vegan’s delicious meals. Try this lasagna and tell me it isn’t simply divine!

*Soul Vegan did not fund my obsession with their crazy awesome lasagna. I stumbled on these addictive slices all on my own! All opinions are mine, all mine.

Love Life, Live Life! Stay healthy! Stay Inspired!

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

I’d set aside today as a strict writing day and nothing was going to pry me away from my desk, nothing! I’m working on my newest novel, a romantic odyssey set in ancient days, and the perilous passages were just ready to spill from my fingertips (because I’ve decided a romance needs lots of peril). But then I got a text from a girlfriend across town. I brought the garden for you today!!

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My friend doesn’t have a garden. These greens actually come from her friend’s garden. My friend is house sitting and some greens were just calling to be picked and eaten before they went to waste. And if anybody has any extra greens, I’m all too happy to eat them. Granted, I finished the chapter I was working on before I hopped in my car to zoom across town…

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I was gifted with a bag of lettuce, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, chives and itty bitty tomatoes. Life is good! Have you ever sauteed Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic? Takes 2 minutes and tastes heavenly

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Tiddo the cat was checking out the herbs before I even knew he was in the kitchen with me. He wanted to see if the greens were some of that fresh catnip I nab from neighbors’ front lawns from time to time…

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Earlier in the week, this said friend also gave me some zucchini from said garden. Tonight, it took me all of 10 minutes to prepare supper. I made a vegetable tian with one zucchini, some Campari tomatoes I had on hand, and the fragrant rosemary. Drizzled over a little olive oil, sea salt and balsamic. It’s in the oven now…

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Rinsed the Swiss chard, plucked off the veiny tough stems, and will toss in the skillet just before the tian is ready (it wilts like a side of steamed spinach, but tastier)…

Goodness is it a blessing to have a friend with a friend who has a garden!

Stay inspired, eat your veggies, show someone you care!

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading other bloggers’ favorite things lists. Lists such as my favorite beauty products, or my favorite places to get a donut, or here’s what I got for for Christmas this year, or my list of best food trucks ever! I guess it’s entertaining to see the spectacular diversity in what others cherish and enjoy. These lists are always colorful, amusing, lighthearted and often informative…

So, I’m starting a new string of posts called Lovin’ That! to share some of my favorite things with you!

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First up, Mercato At Starbucks. Mercato is a new lunch menu that Starbucks recently launched in Chicago and Seattle. Now, I usually don’t stop at Starbucks because I make my own coffee each morning. But occasionally when I’ve run out of grounds and I’m in a hurry, I stop to treat myself on the go…

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That’s what happened a few weeks ago, and while waiting in line, I spotted what looked like some pretty tasty salads. I snatched up a cauliflower tabbouleh side salad with vegan written clear on the label and decided to try it for lunch. It was delicious and very healthy. I wondered if there was another salad that might be vegan too? Well, if you don’t indulge in the little cup of creamy salad dressing served with the green goddess avocado salad, then you’re good to go! A second green and healthy favorite on the menu!

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The point of their new menu serves two purposes. One, adding lots of tasty variety, including lovely looking sandwiches. Their roasted turkey and dill havarti sandwich sounds dreamy, along with everything else. Starbucks planned delicious new items that covered a variety of tastes and dietary considerations. Lovin’ That! But the second part of this menu, is that Starbucks donates all leftovers at the end of the evening to the hungry. Lovin’ That!

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The Mercato menu is a tasty step up from their past on the go lunch offerings, are made fresh daily, and any extras are given to those in need. Even though I don’t frequent Starbucks, as someone trying to eat a plant-based diet, I was very happy to find something that I could grab on the quick when I’m out and about. Eating vegan is tricky. It’s hard to find fresh, fast options. If you’re not in Chicago or Seattle, I hope they extend this to a city near you, so you can try it too!

*Starbucks did not fund my eats on the go. All opinions are my own.

Rock on friends…stay happy, stay healthy, stay inspired!

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

Hands down, the best plant-based meal I’ve eaten of late was at one of our local favorites, Roka Akor in Skokie. This Japanese grill smells heavenly, the ambiance is always hip and relaxing, the service is excellent, and the food is ever amazing…

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The amuse-bouche was a beet puree topped with a hint of greens. I’m nuts for beets, so I was very pleased to start the meal with this flavorful spoon. I could have eaten a bowl of this…

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Handsome started his meal with tender grilled scallops. I’ve had them before at Roka and know just how exquisite they are. Though my chopsticks did not sneak across the table to steal one this time, I was very tempted…

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The amuse-bouche had me wanting more beets, so I started the meal out by going to town on this salad. Not an almond sliver, or carrot shred, or beet medallion was left on that plate. Isn’t this dish so colorful? I could eat this fresh salad every day…

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For the meal, I ordered up the mushroom hotpot. Inside this cooking vessel above, the metal of which is inadvisable to touch due to its lava-like temperature, a steaming mushroom and rice mixture awaited. As our server dished out a bowl for me and a bowl for my date, I secretly wanted to snatch up both bowls. NO sharing the mushroom hotpot…mine, all MINE! Ha-ha-HA!

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I also had grilled vegetable maki with broccoli and sweet potatoes. You could taste the grill on those potatoes…

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Handsome ate a lobster. It was pre-cracked to display the most succulent morsels of meat for ease of eating. Though I did not partake, it was another temptation. I envisioned a snatch and run. My partner would later find me in the parking lot, broken lobster claws scattered around my feet, a crazed look in my eyes, not a single bite of lobster meat left…

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But I did not exact my shellfish fantasy, and instead inhaled a plate full of Brussels sprouts. The marinade on these sprouts rocked my taste buds! These sprouts also had a hint of seafood flavor to them. Ethereally thin bonito flakes (a Japanese tuna) were lightly sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a plant-based topper…oops!

Another fresh and savory meal at Roka, with plenty of options for this veggie lover! The smell alone coming off that Robata grill keeps us ever coming back for more. Holy beets and Brussels sprouts!

Sometimes Satisfying, Sometimes Not!

As I wrote in my last post, I am working on acclimating myself to being the best gobbler of greens I can be (aka, mostly vegan). I’ve been a vegetarian for some years, and am now trying to cut out more animal products, and eat even more plant-based foods…

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After 5 weeks, I wish I could say that I feel amazing (light as a feather and as glowing as Eve of the garden), but I don’t. To be honest though, I think that’s probably because this gal needs to get her booty to the swimming pool for some swim aerobics and stretching in the therapy pool. Let’s get these muscles moving! Where’s my goggles?

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As for my food adventures, I’m finding that some meals are quite satisfying, and some are not. Yesterday, I threw a quick lunch together using some leftover dinner veggies. Corn, asparagus, onions and vegan *cheese* shreds made for some ‘interesting’ veggie tacos that turned out to be quite blah. Thank goodness I’d packed some cruciferous crunch to accompany them. Radishes saved the day!

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I am proud however, that I used up my leftovers and stuck to a vegan lunch. I have to remember that not every meal I eat is going to rock my palate, especially when I’m experimenting with new veggie concoctions…

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But ooh, did I have a delicious meal at Terra & Vine in Evanston last week! We sat out alfresco, the weather being unusually warm for this time of year. Even where we sat for dinner, being close to dusk and in the shade, I was amply glowing from the heat (not perspiring, only dudes do that)…

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I’d perused the menu online in advance (a gobbler of greens needs to know what their options will be…though I also generally just enjoy salivating over menus). I was quite pleased to see a section title for Vegan (as well as Vegetarian). I thought that was quite thoughtful! But when we sat down at our table and I looked over the paper menu, those choices were missing. I asked the waiter about it. Unfortunately, they’d discontinued those particular menu options. Aww man!

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But very kindly, the server said that the kitchen could absolutely prepare the pasta dish I’d had a hankering for. Yea! In most restaurants, it’s not too hard to make menu choices (without becoming a terribly annoying, picky diner). For many dishes, just asking for no cheese or sauce does the trick (or on the side if you’re sharing). Now, I did try a bite of blue cheese on the salad, and a bit of aioli on the artichokes, toppers that weren’t vegan. But I’d usually have covered and slathered every fork-full of my meal in cheese and creamy sauce. So, let us just say I successfully reined in the cheese monster that lives inside me…

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I might have eyed that cheesy dish across the table with a bit of longing, but in the end, was 100% satisfied limiting my non-vegan intake. I mean, pasta and fried artichokes…what’s there to miss?

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All of this to say, whether you’re cooking at home, or dining out, eating mostly plant-based can occasionally be a gamble on taste. It’s also not easy to always make healthier choices. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s ok.

As for me, I’m excited to keep experimenting, keep cooking, and keep playing with the menus I’m sitting to. And if a meal doesn’t turn out to be all that satisfying, well there’s always another one around the bend! Now If I could just find my swimming goggles…

I am the Gobbler of Greens!

Nope. I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan, and I’ll tell you why at the end of this post. But I’ve read a lot of books, and watched a lot of health documentaries, and after being a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) for 6 years, I’m leaning harder in that lifestyle direction. It’s what I think is best for me

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Do I enjoy eating meat, dairy, eggs and seafood? I love it. I could plant myself next to a cheese tray for hours (and I have). I think my grandma’s meatloaf, buttery mashed potatoes, and homemade coleslaw slathered in mayo is a dish sent from Heaven. My mom’s fried egg sandwiches…omg. I’ll devour plates of all-you-can-eat steaming crab legs drowned in drawn butter, and then steal the crab legs out of your hands and make a run for it. I love it…I love it all

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But I think as a general rule, eating my fruits, nuts, grains and veggies, while skipping the animal-based products, is the lifestyle choice for me. Thankfully, I’ve always loved veggies, or else this would be a bit tricky. I’ve got my grandma’s garden while growing up to thank especially for that…

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the newest documentary focused on the correlation between poor health and what we’re eating, I greatly encourage you to watch What The Health. It is a film that I believe everyone should see, if only to open up more thought, and dialogue, about the Western diet and our food industry. It is currently available on Netflix…

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For me, eating vegan means not only trying to eat all plant-based, pure, whole foods. But also that I should try to avoid the ‘processed’ stuff (vegan or no) more often than not. For instance, Oreos are vegan, and I like them. Especially the mint ones. But I’m not going to make a habit of snacking on them…

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With that being said, it can’t be helped to crave and want to ‘replace’ the animal-based foods I’ve always enjoyed. I personally would find the vegan diet difficult to sustain without a few veggie protein (fake meat and cheese) tricks up my sleeve!

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So, I’m sharing with you what I made for lunch today. I was craving a classic BLT. I haven’t eaten a ‘real’ BLT sandwich in who knows how long, but I will never stop liking them. The vegan BLT I was planning turned into an even more magical sandwich, because I couldn’t stop dragging everything out of the fridge…

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Toasted Italian bread, Earth Balance organic/vegan mayo, sliced red onion, tomato, a dash of pepper…

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Heinz natural yellow mustard, Lightlife vegan veggie bacon strips (oh yes they get crispy in the pan), lettuce…

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Next, a few slices of Chao vegan ‘cheese’. This is some wonderful stuff. ‘Coconut herb with black pepper’ or ‘creamy original’ (munster anyone?) or ‘tomato cayenne’. These slices make a sandwich or veggie burger sing! I’m pretty sure they punch a few itty holes into the slices on purpose to make you believe you’re eating Swiss cheese. I’m convinced…

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My mouth was watering as I layered up this sandwich, and the kitchen suspiciously smelled like I’d really just made up a skillet of crispy, sizzling bacon…

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I think the key for me to eating vegan, and in eating as healthy as I can generally, is to learn how to cook plant-based meals that I enjoy (and that won’t leave me feeling deprived). As I continue on in this lifestyle choice, I want to learn lots of things. I want to learn how to make my own vegan meatloaf (out of lentils). I want to simply take joy in a roasted veggie pizza (learning to be just as happy without that thick layer of cheese I so adore). I’m even going to try and make my own sour cream (out of cashews) to plop over my veggie fajitas! The sky is the limit, and I’m having fun!

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But why did I say that I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan? Well, I’m going to be open and honest…

If you see me eating alfresco oceanside in Massachusetts, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a faint over the world’s freshest lobster roll. Or, if you spot me sitting aside the lagoon in Venezia, I very well may be intaking a generous plate of fruitti di mare. And if I ever find myself in the Swiss Alps, it is highly possible I will try a nibble (or two) of every local cheese available…

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And on Christmas Eve, I just can’t promise that I won’t be devouring crab legs and drawn butter with my folks. It’s become a special tradition. And…well…I’m not sure I can live the rest of my life without crab legs…

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But generally speaking, I’m going to do my best to remain the best gobbler of greens that I can be, and that’s a good enough goal for me!

Best wishes friends! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay you, stay inspired!

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

Shelly-Poo was my older cousin’s nickname for me growing up, a term of endearment. Shelly is short for Michelle of course. And poo? Well that word is added onto names sometimes as a sign of affection. “Oh, your little puppy-wuppie is so cutie-poo!” Oh goodness!

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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Guess where I was today?! Setting up our shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We’re so excited for our 2nd season! Opening weekend is next weekend, July 8th. We have moved locations, but are still on King’s Landing. We can’t wait to see all of the friends we made last year, and all the new friends we are yet to meet! It is the 30th Anniversary of this beloved festival, and one beautifully tended park awaits you!

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Now, I do not consider myself clever with crafting/decor, but don’t you think the little ‘book case’ I put together to display my fairy tales is cute? I was pretty proud of myself…

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My business partner and artist mother Lita, will be displaying some lovely painted canvases this year, along with her illustrations. I don’t have a sneak peak for you here, but can say that when I first saw them, I wanted them all for myself. But then, we would have none for our sweet little shop! Come by, and peruse…

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Maid of Honour and The Mermaiden will be available starting first weekend!

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Veleno will be available for Marketplace Weekend (3rd weekend) through the end of the season. Official release date just around the corner (with convenient availability through Amazon). This one’s for mature readers only…

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In other news, I love cheese. The word love hardly begins to describe my craze for cheese. But being in Wisconsin setting up shop today, the very state that won the World Champion Cheese Contest in 2016, I was made a very happy woman. Ellsworth Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds, Buddy Squirrel Cheezzzy Cheddar Popcorn, and Sartori MontAmore (the size of a small brick). I’m in Heaven. If you’re ever in Kenosha, WI, stop into Tim and Tom’s Cheese Shop. Attached to a sizable antique shop, and with cheese galore, it’s a field trip…

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In other, other news, I have a pet jumping spider who lives on my writing desk between my book Venice, and Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. He’s hopped out during 3 consecutive days of writing hours to keep me company. I must say, he has good taste in books!

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Speaking of great books, I’m currently reading The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Life Of The Last True Hermit. A true story…hermit Christopher Knight of Maine…written by journalist Michael Finkel. Order this book right now, and thank me later…it is too spectacular to put down…

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In further, further, further news…this vegetarian is still cookin’ up the veggies! Whatever I’ve got in the fridge. Look at those healthful veggie tacos! Summer is fresh veggie time! Love it!

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And, after all my veggie-loving years, I’ve gotta say that radishes are the apple of my eye. Read my previous ‘Swimming Radishes’ post here. I think I love radishes as much as cheese! Gasp! Is that possible?

Here’s to your daily good health and happiness, and to your taking delight in simple pleasures every day! Here’s also to the joys of an excellent read, and to the deliciousness of your table favorites! Best Wishes!

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…

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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…

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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

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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…

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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…

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

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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!

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

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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.

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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…

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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?!

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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!”

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

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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! 

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

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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…

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

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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!

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

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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…

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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…

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[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!

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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!

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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…

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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

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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)…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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

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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!

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

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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…

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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?

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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I ordered the earthy and flavorful Roasted Root Vegetables

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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?

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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

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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…

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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…

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…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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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?

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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?!

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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!

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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!

A Night At The Museum

There are three places in the world that I deeply treasure in my heart. Venice, Italy. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI. And, The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. So when handsome and I received an unprecedentedly exciting invitation to an evening soiree at The Field, my mouth dropped open, my eyes grew sparkly, and my brain broke for approximately five whole minutes…

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Chicago was having a bit of a blizzard, but that didn’t stop us. It made the evening even more charming (especially because my date was driving while I yapped on, cozily in the passenger seat). I was delighted to see that we had valet right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum, and a white tent hovering over the grand stairs to keep guests covered from the wind and snow…

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After checking in our coats, we filed up marble stairs to the second floor, where hors d’oeuvres and beverages were passed on silver platters. The view was breathtaking, the holiday lights and enormous wreathes of greenery were hung festively, and jazzy music echoed all around. I had a perpetual grin on my face as my eyes darted around in every direction. The secrets within the museum halls were calling my name…

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It was an absolute privilege to amble through the exhibits at night, with the halls dim and the cases enchantingly lit, hardly bumping into another guest. It was like we had the whole museum to ourselves. The beautiful botany, the pinned insects, the dinosaurs, the ancient artifacts…I swoon, I die…actually I gasped, and giggled, and smiled and felt as merry as a lark…

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I whispered with the dinosaurs and my imagination went wild with prehistoric visions…

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I told Sue that she was pretty. 65 million years have nothing on her!

If you haven’t seen the incredible documentary about this T-Rex, titled Dinosaur 13, I entreat you to watch it immediately. The story was so moving that I cried. Yup. I secretly shed tears for a dinosaur. Sue’s story is truly amazing…

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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I love, love, love the bugs! In another life, I am an entomologist! Aren’t they fascinating?!

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This dude had some serious spine. I wonder if he suffered from back aches?

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And in my other, other life…I’d like to be a full-time scale models, replicas and diorama maker for museums! Tell me this beach scene doesn’t look real? The figures in the sand are no bigger than my pinky finger. Ahhhh! I’m nuts for dioramas!

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After adequately losing my mind with childlike excitement, we sat down to a delicious dinner. I very much enjoyed my salad of greens with blue cheese crumbles, crusty artisan bread, and mushroom risotto with asparagus. It was perfect…

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There were adorable little desserts too, tasting of egg-nog and peppermint. Miniature winks to the festive season! And after our sweet treats, we roamed the halls of the museum once more, and then ended the evening with much dancing…

If you ever have the chance to visit The Field, I hope that you will and will spend some time. This museum has an incredibly rich history, its roots taking hold with The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893). The Field Museum is truly magnificent, and offers so much learning. I will cherish it for all of my days!

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…

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

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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!

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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)…

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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.

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

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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…

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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)…

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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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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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)…

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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)…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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!

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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!

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

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

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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!

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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…

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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)!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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…

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

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

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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)…

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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

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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…

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

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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!

Terrible Typhoid Mary

I recently read Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, just as voraciously as I consumed Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map (about a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 which I reviewed here). I make the comparison here, because both books give us a snapshot of how city officials, doctors and citizens were dealing with contagious disease during a budding time of medical experimentation and progress. And also because these diseases are in some ways similar…

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Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant, moving to New York City in 1883. She was employed as a cook for rich families, and was considered a clean and hardworking woman. However, in the families she worked for, cases of typhoid commonly arose…

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Typhoid is caused by bacteria that multiplies in the intestine after a hapless victim consumes food or water tainted with an infected individual’s waste. It comes with a dangerously high fever, extreme fatigue, terrible headaches and rashes, and an ailing intestine. It is a very serious disease…

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Mary Mallon was a silent carrier of typhoid. In rare cases, someone who has had the disease can continue to populate the bacteria and pass it on to others, long after they’ve gotten well again. Most survivors of the disease stop reproducing the bacteria after a span of time. In Mary’s specific case, she had no recollection of ever even having typhoid in her life. Most likely, she’d beaten a bad fever at some point in her youth, never knowing what she’d had…

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Worse still, she was employed as a cook. All it might take was one poor hand washing after using the water closet, and then prepping food in the kitchen, to pass typhoid on…

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In reading this retelling of history, I found myself both feeling sad for Mary, but also angry. When the connection was made that she might be a carrier, she refused to believe it or even speak with doctors sent to help her situation. She put up fierce fights, fled the scenes, changed her name. And partly, we can understand. At this time, experimental cures and unjust incarcerations were rampant. As far as she was concerned, she’d never had this disease and was not the cause of the cases coming down in the houses she worked for…

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On the other hand, she was made a fair offer. Change your profession and your freedom will remain your own. What did Mary do? She hid her identity and went to work as a cook in a women’s hospital. You can imagine the inevitable outcome. 25 people were struck with typhoid in this case, two died. She was caught and placed into permanent isolation…

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This book also gives us a snapshot into news tactics of the time. To sell papers, larger than life (and often false) stories were premiered. Mary was made a villain while men who were silent carriers and infected crowds were wholly ignored in the news. Presumably, this was because she was a cook, and as a woman, was expected to be utterly caring of others. This story also gives insight into how medical authorities dealt with (often poorly), odd situations such as Mary’s and how it impacted a patient’s freedom, spirit and health. (I certainly took a fright to how they tried to cure Mary of her typhoid. Eeek!)…

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I can hardly give this story justice here however. Therefore, I entreat you to read Terrible Typhoid Mary for yourself if you have any interest in medicine, city health and planning, late 19th/early 20th century American history, or the truly wild details surrounding one poor Mary Mallon!

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…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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)…

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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!)…

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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!”

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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…

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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…

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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?

Here’s A Health To The Company…

Hello Friends! What’s new?! As for myself, there’s just one weekend remaining for The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! Our little shop (filled with Lita’s pretty art and my imaginative books) has but only this coming 3-day Labor Day weekend left to share our little treasures…

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We sincerely hope to see again, many of the wonderful people we’ve met this season, so that we can bid you good health and happiness until next summer! And for each and every one that took home one of our works this season, we appreciate you…

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The sunset was so beautiful this last Sunday evening as I trudged out of Bristol, that my heart fluttered at the sight of its glory. I was filled with peace and thankfulness…

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A friend of mine named Mary (an inspiring woman who in her 80’s goes to the gym regularly and is as healthy and lovely as ever), generously surprises me with her rice pudding every now and then. This unexpected, delicious gift, humbles me and makes my day, every time. When I was young, I never thought much of rice pudding…but I do now. Thank you sweet Mary…

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This is the grumpy albino skunk who makes an appearance at the Bristol Faire on the weekends (curtesy of a private farm). I love this skunk. I love him and want to give him hugs and take him for walks, and he could be best friends with my cat Tiddo…

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When we first met, he huffed, jumped towards me, scratched, grunted, and generally tried to ward me off. However, I am unmoving. I still love this skunk. With lots of cuddling, don’t you think I could bring his attitude around? (And no, he wasn’t stinky).

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In other news, I’ve been feeling some serious exhaustion these last few weeks. There is only one remedy for that, you know. Shrimp salad. I just pile as many veggies onto a plate as I have in my fridge, throw some shrimp in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then enjoy. Its effects on exhaustion seem to be more effective if you get some sleep afterwards…

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In further news, this enormous spider was hanging above the potty this week, just like that otherworldly cave cricket. I think there is a conspiracy amongst the bugs in our house to frighten me when I need to use the amenities. Only, I’m not afraid of spiders! Bwa-ha-ha…

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…well, except for this dude in our mailbox! We have a problem with spiders in our mailbox.  Last night, no spider. This morning, an intricate web and what I considered to be a more energetic spider than most (he jumped at me in the most ungentlemanly way when I reached in for the mail). Of course, discovering that the mail lady hadn’t come yet, I had to save this hapless (if ungentlemanly) spider from the mailbox so he wouldn’t get squished when she arrived…

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I didn’t appreciate the way he jumped at me a second time, before skittering away on the porch. But my conscience is clear…no smushed arachnids today in my mailbox.

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Here’s wishing you many treasured moments in your days! And, I’m looking forward to seeing many smiling faces this weekend at The Quill and Brush, before Bristol’s winter slumber. To all our friends, here’s sending you Health to the Company

Jumping Spiders & Rooftop Riders

This little dude took a run around our tented shop (The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire) this last Sunday. I noticed him as I was closing up and I’m pretty sure I looked like a total oddball taking photos of something (while in costume) undetectable to be seen for passersby (as this table was bare at the time). But what can I say, I dig bugs…

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According to my favorite go-to for insect identification, Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin…this furry fellow is a common jumping spider. This threw me off, for I’m accustomed to jumping spiders being much smaller (and hopping about constantly to show off their athletic prowess). This guy wasn’t jumping at all (though he ran pretty fast) and was a pretty big spider.

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I thought he was a pretty handsome dude (just as long as he didn’t jump on me).

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Best shot ever! I put my finger real, real close and he lifted up his fuzzy eyebrows and stared right at me with two black eyes. We shared a moment, eye to eye. Awwww! Do you think I’m an oddball too?

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Riding up to the faire each weekend (rather early for shop set-up), there are always folks already waiting in line just outside of the parking gate. I love that! These folks are the truest fans of the B.R.F. and I think they are awesome! Renaissance themed tailgating? I approve!

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And here was the scrumptious fare we enjoyed this past Saturday. We make our little picnics to reflect less of the 21st century and nod towards the Renaissance. Ever tried crackers, pepper jelly and cream cheese? I could swoon! Delicious!

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In other news, I have an addiction to egg-in-the-holes and there is no cure…

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I also started pulling out of a parking space today with my lunch box on the roof of my car. Some construction workers in their utility truck yelled out with gestures to warn me. “COOLER!” I think I might be a little tired. Thank goodness I didn’t take it for a ride around town…

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I also spent more moments (minutes?) trying to figure out how to twist the cap off of this tube of caulk today, before eventually realizing that I needed to snip off the tip with scissors. I felt silly. I still feel silly.

Here is wishing you all a wonderful weekend, filled with rest, happiness and much laughter!

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…

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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)…

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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…

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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…

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

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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…

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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!

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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…

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

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

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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!

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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…

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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?

Good Morning! Good Day!

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

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A golden sunrise just outside the window…

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And a friend to watch it with…

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

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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….

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

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

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

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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…

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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…

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

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

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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!

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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.)

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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).

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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).

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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!

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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!

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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…

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

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

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

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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…

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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.

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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.)

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

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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).

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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!

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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!

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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!

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

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!