2014 Chicago Bucket List, part 1

I’m so far behind in blogging about my resolutions and other adventures from this year. We’re halfway into December and I have drafts from outings from February. So how about rolling up this very fun resolution into a miniseries?

Around this time last year, I posted a first draft of my Chicago bucket list: an aspirational collection of 50+ outings and adventures that I’d like to tackle before I eventually leave Chicago. While I didn’t stick to my goal of one bucket list item per month, I knocked a number of them off this year:

Sandwiches and Petits fours
Tea at the Drake

Tea at the Drake Hotel with Mom: For the last few years, I’ve met my mom in the city for a birthday weekend. This year I requested high tea at The Drake in lieu of a birthday dinner. While pricey, it was a really nice thing to do for a special occasion, and something I look forward to doing with my nieces in the future!

The Brookfield Zoo: In February, we braved the cold to take advantage of a free admission day to visit the larger of the Chicagoland zoos. They don’t have a sand cat, but they do have black-footed cats! The highlight for me was probably the wolf habitat – it was amazing to watch the pack tear around in the snow.

The Oriental Institute: I took a whirlwind tour of this museum during a tour of campus when I first started my job, but hadn’t been back in the two years since. If you haven’t been and you have even a passing interest in history or archaeology, you MUST go. I wasn’t feeling well the day we were there, so I spent a lot of time reading the contents of cases that had benches in front of them.

We walked downtown for donuts.
Do-Rite

Donuts from Do-Rite: It turns out I’d already had donuts from Do-Rite, but I hadn’t been to the main location downtown, so we made it our destination on a late spring morning when Nicolas wanted sweets and we both wanted a long walk. We’ve been a few times since, and their old fashioneds have been consistently excellent – possibly my favorite donuts in the city, though that might be the subject for another post.

Not bad.
Our view for the Sox vs Sox

Tina!
More baseball with Tina!

White Sox game: I was raised baseball agnostic, but adopted the Cubs as my team by default when I was subjected to radio broadcast of the games at my post-college call center job. If you’re a Cubs fan, you can’t be a Sox fan. That’s just the rule. So this was one of the least likely items on the list – unless I got tickets to the Crosstown Classic. Instead, I went to TWO Sox games this year. In April, Tina and Jeff treated us to an extremely cold Sox vs Sox game (and a helmet full of nachos). And then in May, we got a good deal for tickets and snacks on Memorial Day. I’m still a Cubs fan, but I have a new appreciation for the Sox – or at least their ballpark.

Water taxi <3 <3
View from the water taxi

The water taxi: THE WATER TAXI. How did I live in Chicago for two years before taking the water taxi? How did Nicolas live here for three times that long without taking the water taxi? The water taxi was a highlight of our summer, and a frequent weekend activity – walk to Chinatown, take the water taxi downtown, have an adventure, take the water taxi home. It’s the cheapest way to see the city from the water. If you buy a 10 ride pass, it’s not much more than taking the El, and it’s considerably more pleasant. About half the time, they didn’t punch our pass, or didn’t punch it the right number of times, so we have a number of water taxi rides saved up for next summer. Seriously: take the water taxi.

Chicago Bucket List: Donuts from Do-Rite

Saturday morning hunger is not something to be trifled with. I wanted bacon, but N wanted donuts. We struck a compromise: a quick bite at a place in our new neighborhood (bacon for me) followed by a long walk to get donuts.

That long walk turned out to be 3.5 miles from Pilsen to Do-Rite, just across the street from the Daley Center downtown. Despite the limited menu options, we struggled to make our choices, but left with an iced coffee and the beginnings of grease stains on the sides of our paper bag containing three precious donuts. It was a beautiful day, and with no seating readily available, we wandered over to Millennium Park to dig in.

We walked downtown for donuts.

It was only after we dug in that I remembered that Do-Rite was on my Chicago Bucket List, though we’d previously had their donuts from Star Lounge and Dark Matter Coffee. We tried three old fashioneds: I had the chocolate, while N enjoyed the buttermilk AND the pistachio Meyer lemon.

It would be premature to say that these are my favorite donuts in the city, but they’re a pretty strong contender. Doughnut Vault’s are excellent but the lines are a significant drawback. Glazed and Infused’s are delicious, but have a similar effect to what I imagine chocolate frosted sugar bombs doing to Calvin. But Do-Rite? Just right.

New York Meals: The Breslin

The fifth in a series of posts about the exceptional food I ate in 2.5 days in New York.

Oh how I wish I’d taken photos of the dinner I shared with Dan at The Breslin.

The Breslin
Photo by karigee

The Breslin came highly recommended by my friend Shana – in fact, she gave a blanket recommendation to the entirety of the Ace Hotel complex: The Breslin, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and No. 7 Sub. As soon as I walked into the lobby, I could understand why Shana loves it: the space is dark, intimate, and hip, with a variety of seating, working, and drinking options. Mr Pickle and I chilled out in the AC while we waited for Dan – coincidentally in town from Chicago for work – to arrive for dinner.

Mr Pickle at the Ace Hotel

I would say – and I do – that I regret not keeping the camera out throughout our meal – but Dan and I were so busy catching up and devouring delicious things to take the time for pictures. I enjoyed the miticrema bruschetta with grilled greens and speck – thick slices of rustic bread, a smooth sweet cheese, savory greens, and thinly shaved flavorful pork – and Dan had the PEI mussels with chorizo and garlic toast.

Both of these were overshadowed by the absolutely wonderful sweetbreads, which we split because we both wanted it, but could neither commit to it exclusively nor accept the idea that we would only get to try one thing from the menu. And OMG, was this a good decision. The sweetbreads were among the best fried things I’ve ever had, and the mashed up peas provided a fresh counterpoint. Both were fantastic in flavor and texture. I would like to go back and eat five more plates.

the breslin
Photo by karigee

In the time it took us to commit to our drinks and dinner, the ladies at the next table received a very intriguing plate of – something, we weren’t sure what. Dumplings? When the second plate arrived, we decided that we should probably get some as well, especially once it was revealed that they were donuts. Brioche donuts. Brioche donuts with a trio of sauces: apple cinnamon something, chocolate, and salted caramel. I am not ashamed to admit that we ate the caramel with our spoons – and with the donuts, of course.

When I asked for New York dining recommendations, this was exactly what I had in mind: decadent but not overwhelmingly so, an emphasis on quality over quantity, the sort of food that you want to share because it’s too good to keep to yourself. I’m so glad that I tried The Breslin – and glad that I had a fellow pork, fried food, and bourbon aficionado along for the meal.


If you go:
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
Ace Hotel
20 W 29th St
New York, NY 10001

Even if you can’t or don’t want to swing dinner, get a coffee or cocktail and a small plate at the bar. You’ll be glad you did.

1107 Post-Bakefest Dinner

So see, we had these for breakfast:

Chocolate + Sprinkles

That’s right.

An Array of Wonders

Homemade donuts. And a lot of them, including this beauty that I dipped myself:

A Perfect Donut

All made by the usual bakefest crew while we ate breakfast burritos and Matt and Shane stoked the fire in Olivia’s woodburning stove.

Boys at work

So you can imagine that we were on a bit of a sugar high for a few hours. And when we came down, our brains and bellies aching from too many sweets, we needed something simple and healthy. This soup wasn’t quite as creamy and wonderful as the one Suz made the other week, but it was filling without feeling heavy. Next time I think I’ll roast the cauliflower instead of boiling it, and maybe use a bit of cream in addition to the cup of shredded parmesan that Suz recommended.  So very good.

Recipes:
Cauliflower Soup from Whole Living (Nov ’10 issue)

0705 An Ode to Timbits

In the late 90s and early 2000s, I was pretty obsessed with The Tea Party, a now-defunct Canadian band heavily influenced by blues, prog rock, and various flavors of world music.  They last toured the States in 1997, when I happened to catch them opening for Jimmie’s Chicken Shack at the Barrymore in Madison.  I was blown away – literally, in fact, because the bass was so intense that I had to go stand in the lobby.  It’s pretty accurate to say that for the next 3-4 years, I listened to their music almost exclusively.  I met the band in Paris in 2000 and followed them “on the list” for a couple of European dates while studying in London.  When I got back from London, I found myself in a Tea Party-free wasteland, and so made several whirlwind trips up to Canada to go to shows and meet up with fans from the Sister Awake listserv.

It was on one of those trips that I first encountered Timbits.

Breakfast of Champions

I had driven from Rockford to Sarnia, arriving just in time for the show, then met up with a bunch of SAers and continued on in the Red Car Caravan to London, where I spent the night at Lynda’s.  I was sick, and was up half the night coughing my lungs out, but somehow Lynda and her parents (who I just met that night) put up with me.  In the morning, a bunch of us made a trip to Tim’s – as ubiquitous in Canada as Starbucks is in most major metro areas here – and the native Canadians had a good time watching me figure out my money.

It’s such a funny and random memory – but as a result, I associate Tim Horton’s with these road trips to Canada and with the fun Canadians I met each time I crossed the border.  Other than this nostalgia, however,  I can’t think of a single thing that differentiates Timbits from, say, the donut holes from Dunkin Donuts, other than that Timbits come in a more interesting array of flavors.  This morning we picked up a box of 10 for road trip snacking – two Dutchies (raisin and apple), two chocolate, two honey cruller (less overwhelmingly sweet than the honey dip), and four sour cream (rich and flavorful) – and a couple of iced coffees.  Good stuff, and enough sweets to bring on a rush of nostalgia – or maybe that was just a sugar high.

The Last 10 Days of Food

Gees, where to begin?  I’ve been pretty diligent about posting to date, but a weekend of friendos visiting from DC followed immediately by a mid-week trip with some of my favorite girls resulted in 10 days of nothing – and very little desire to catch up.  So here’s what I got:

Mike and Bill rolled in on the 27th, kicking off four days of beer, movies, more beer, vegetarian food, still more beer, a trip to Detroit for the guys, additional beer, dinner at Jolly Pumpkin, and oh, more beer.  I’m still not sure if I accurately captured the amount of beer that was consumed over this weekend.   This wasn’t like a woooo spring break!! kind of blow out – rather, it was a series of tastings, sharing rare or regional treats from each of their stashes.  I wish I’d taken pictures of the very serious boys taking their serious beer very seriously.  I know Shane took a picture of all of the bottles, so that’ll have to suffice.

While the boys were busy with the beer, I made a couple of tasty dinners – Butternut Squash and Fried Sage Pasta (hearty and filling, though not quite what I expected from the recipe) and tempeh tacos (always a crowd-pleaser) – and the killer spinach strata that we’d had at Shana’s on my birthday.  When the boys were late coming back from Detroit, I ate without them, then regretted it as Shane stepped up to make a really delicious Moroccan Carrot Soup (which we’re going to re-run for dinner this week).

Stradaaa

And THEN I hopped on a plane to St Louis, where my friend Erin and I collected some of the best donuts in the country and also some legendary pretzels before hitting the road to Carbondale, where we met up with Angie, Kim, and Laurie for a couple of days of hiking, snacking, napping, drinking, and relaxing with farm animals.

Fritters and Globs

In addition to delicious baked goods and a whole lot of other bad-for-us snacks, we grilled out, toasted s’mores over a campfire, and made breakfast together using two pounds of bacon and the most beautiful farm eggs I’ve seen.  We also checked out a bar and a cute breakfast place in Erin’s neighborhood and had an awesome dinner at Schlafly Bottleworks (including curry crackers that I’m committed to duplicating) on our last night in town.

Farm-fresh free range eggs

Suffice to say that the next few weeks (leading up to um, a special occasion) will should be a bit leaner on the indulgent meals – segueing nicely into the beginning of the growing season and the return of fresh things to the market.  It’s been a delicious and ridiculous ten days – and I’m very much looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and back into more normal eating.

Recipes:
Butternut Squash and Fried Sage Pasta from Self
Tempeh Tacos
Spinach and Cheese Strata from Smitten Kitchen
Moroccan Carrot Soup from Bon Appetit