2014 Chicago Bucket List, part 2

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?

The second installation in my miniseries about my 2014 Chicago bucket list adventures!

Chicago skyline
View from the Adler

Adler Planetarium: May’s Adler After Dark event was cosponsored by the Oriental Institute – a perfect excuse for us both to make our first visit! We learned about medical astrology and inverse moons and took funny photos of our bellies.

Hot Doug's
Doing Hot Doug’s right

Hot Doug’s: Chicago’s premiere encased meat emporium had been on my to-do list for years prior to the announcement that the owner planned to close up shop in October. My first thought was “I can go on my maternity leave!”. Fortunately, an earlier opportunity presented itself: since I was already missing half a day of work for an ultrasound, we decided to make a day of it and brave the Hot Doug’s line. It felt pretty ridiculous, but was worth it for extremely delicious sausages and fries.

Chicago Bucket List: Cubs game with Nicolas
View from Wrigley

#ChicagoBucketList: Cubs game with N, even though he's cheering for the Mets...
View at Wrigley

Cubs game with Nicolas: Despite living in Lakeview for 6ish years, Nicolas had never been to Wrigley Field or to a Cubs game – in fact, the Sox game in April was his first baseball game, period! We kept talking about how these all-American activities needed to be added to his citizenship dossier. Hot dogs, beer, and baseball on a perfect summer night were an excellent addition.

Drinks at a shitty Wrigleyville bar: After the baseball game, we knocked out a second bucket list item by walking down Clark to grab drinks and food at a random bar before Neo prom. We thankfully skipped the douchiest bars in Chicago.

Dim sum
Dim sum

Dim sum in Chinatown: The bucket list originally called for hot pot, but dim sum was on my mental list. We tried Moon Palace on the recommendation of another Chinatown diner who, after seeing us order pork buns at another restaurant, said we had to try the (off-menu?) steamed spinach buns at Moon Palace. They did not disappoint.

We stopped into Vosges yesterday and left with free truffles.
Truffles from Vosges

Vosges with Nicolas: I’ve been a fan of Vosges chocolate for years, and had been to the Lincoln Park shopfront a few times, but never with Nicolas. We stopped in while walking around Lincoln Park one afternoon and left with free truffles! My enormously pregnant belly probably helped.

Vegan Korean food with Karen! 36/#100daystobaby
Vegan Korean with Karen

Vegan Korean at Dragon Lady Lounge with Karen: Karen and I talked about checking out the monthly Korean buffet at Dragon Lady Lounge for two years before we had the right opportunity – the next-to-last buffet they would offer! We ate all the things, and all of them were delicious.

Sailing on Lake Michigan

Chicago skyline, golden hour

Sailing on Lake Michigan: We bought a deal for a two hour sailing adventure at the beginning of the summer, and cashed it in as one of our last pre-baby adventures on a lovely September night. We were supposed to share our outing with at least two other people, but they didn’t show up, so we had the boat to ourselves. We were treated to an exceptional sunset as we turned back to the city. It was perfect.

Pie at Hoosier Mama Pie Company: We made a strategic error in not eating before Nicolas’s naturalization ceremony, expecting to be in and out in an hour or so. Instead, it took three hours, and we emerged as a famished family of American citizens. We headed straight to Hoosier Mama and had pie for lunch. What’s more American than apple pie, after all?


February Pie of the Month: Chococado

Chococado pie!

Chococado pie. Or chocolate-avocado pie, if you insist on formalities.

Because sometimes one of your bestest friends gets divorced in the middle of the worst winter in your lifetime. And sometimes you need to bring a dessert that is vegan friendly. And sometimes you’ve had a recipe from a sometimes vegan friend in the wings for years.

And so it works out that you show up at the party with an incredibly silky, totally decadent, and shockingly easy dessert that also happens to be not terribly bad for you.

This one’s a winner.

January Pie of the Month: Key Lime

In mid-January, I stopped by Open Produce on my way home from work, and impulse-bought a bag of limes from their day-old section. I didn’t realize until I got home that I’d bought TWENTY-SIX limes for $1. What in the world was I going to do with TWENTY-SIX limes?

January Pie of the Month: Key Lime

Key lime pie, of course.

January Pie of the Month: Key Lime

I suppose it wasn’t technically ‘key lime’ pie as I had regular limes rather than ‘key limes’, which are smaller and stronger in flavor – but I followed a key lime pie recipe, so we’ll call it close enough.

This was the first pie I made for my pie of the month resolution, and it included a couple of firsts itself: first attempt at meringue and first graham cracker crust. The latter was a piece of cake (if you’ll excuse the expression), but the former was a bit trickier, piling layers of satiny egg whites and sugar onto the lime curd filling and hoping for the best as it went into the oven.

January Pie of the Month: Key Lime

My fears were all for naught, as the meringue toasted perfectly in the oven, and came out looking nearly as spectacular as the pie smelled:

January Pie of the Month: Key Lime

I don’t want to tell you how quickly we went through this pie, particularly as it was my birthday weekend and we’d already had a lot of sweets. I didn’t yet know that I was pregnant – we found out the next morning – but that soon-to-be-discovered fact may have contributed to my sweet tooth. Or, you know, the fact that the pie was as delicious as it looked. Besides, the meringue started to weep after half a day in the fridge, so finishing the pie was the only responsible thing to do. Right?

Pie of the Month: Lemon Blueberry

Lemon blueberry for Liz's housewarming party. 62/#100daystobabyJuly’s pie of the month looked good and tasted better.

We came home from Michigan with ten pounds of blueberries. I had good intentions of baking a blueberry pie the following weekend for the World Cup finale, but we ended up watching in a bar downtown, and by the time we got home, we were too tired for pie. Too tired for pie!

I’ve made blueberry pies before, so the challenge this month was a lattice crust – and then I decided to make it harder on myself by doing a fancy cut-out crust AND a somewhat improvised recipe AND started all of this less than half an hour before we were supposed to be at the housewarming party for which I was baking.

I wanted a straightforward blueberry pie scented with lemon, and after failing to find a recipe that met my wishes, accomplished that with a pound and a half of frozen blueberries, the zest of three lemons, and a splash of almond extract.

The pie came out of the oven right as I got out of the shower, and we made it to the party two hours late, but just as the grilling wrapped up – so just in time for dessert! At the end of the night, we were left with one slice of pie, which N finished off with homemade ice cream. He proclaimed this among the best pies I’ve made – including his made-to-order birthday pie from a few months back. Not bad!

I’m hopelessly behind in blogging this year’s resolutions. Might as well start at the present and work backwards!


2014 Resolutions

  1. Eliminate my credit card debt. I made progress in 2013 but not as much as I’d like.
  2. Bike 2,000 miles. A repeat from 2013. I made it more than halfway thanks to hacking my commute, which resulted in biking more than 500 miles in the last quarter of the year, so this should be easy enough.
  3. Bake one new pie per month. A repeat from 2012, when I made this resolution and then baked zero pies. Savory pies count, but not quiches, as I mastered them a number of years ago.
  4. Leave the country at least once. A repeat from 2013, with the added incentive of loved ones of my loved one living on another continent.
  5. Read 25 books. This was my goal for 2013, but I fell short by several books despite increased commute reading time.
  6. Score a new PR. This means either besting one of my 2013 times in the half or 5K, or running a new distance.
  7. Complete at least one item per month from my Chicago bucket list. Because if I don’t make a list, it won’t happen.


We’re in Rockford for the holiday, having moved the majority of our material possessions to Chicago three days ago. The last two days have been full of cookies and presents and traditions and relaxed family time. Max has been running around playing with trains and pointing at various delicious things and saying “mo-mo-more”, his voice lilting upward as he points at the object of his desire.

I mention this because as I look forward to 2012, what I want most is mo-mo-more. More time with friends and family. More travel. More flowers, more movies, and more amazing food. More miles. More love, more patience, and more connection in my relationships and with the world. So this post is me reaching my hands in the air and asking the universe for what I want in the next year:

  1. This year was about running further. 2012 will be about running faster in at least two half marathons plus the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.
  2. I want to take better photos of more than just food, though better food photos would also be progress. I want to take a class, read a book, participate in an online workshop – in general learn more about the fancy DSLR we bought almost three years ago. And then apply that knowledge for good, not for evil.
  3. I’m reasonably certain that the only movie I saw in the theater this year was the final Harry Potter installment. With two movie theaters within a mile of our new place, we should have no excuse – other than lousy offerings – to see fewer than 12 movies in the theater.
  4. I want to write more letters – at least one per week. Do you want to be my pen pal?
  5. I need to find a job in Chicago, as it will make many of these mores possible. More time with my family as they’ll be 75 minutes away instead of 5-7 hours. More time with many many Chicago friends (though less time with A2 friends). A new and exciting city life for the two of us. I’ve loved my MPub job, but I need to be in Chicago.
  6. I wanted to bake 24 unique loaves this year. We made significant changes in our diet over the summer, and I haven’t really baked since then. I think, however, that one pie per month is a reasonable goal.
  7. Bourbon and I got back together in 2012, but I need to have more in my cocktail repetoire than the trusty Manhattan. There will be many opportunities to drink fancy cocktails in our new ‘hood, but I want to master at least one new cocktail at home per month.
  8. We took a fun road trip vacation over the summer, and I took solo trips to Philly, DC, and New York for work, races, and fun. I would like more of the same this year, beginning with my birthday weekend in California and possibly including a trip to Europe after the semester wraps up.
  9. More books read: finish the 2/3 challenge, keep up with my book club, and hammer away at the To Read lists while reading at least two books per month.
  10. Step up my game and learn to do alterations so that I can finally finish all of the half projects in my closet.
  11. More feats of strength! More push-ups. More miles on Orange. And maybe, just maybe, a pull-up.
  12. And, most importantly, more time connecting with the important people in my life. I’m not sure how to quantify this other than to say that I want to fight my introvert nature and say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’ for lunches with friends, dates with my husband, or visits to my family.

What will you do in the new year?

25 Recipes #6 Take 2: Pie from Scratch

I meant to tell you about this pie weeks ago, but then I went out of town and then I came back and then, well, now I have no good excuse.  Especially when the pie looked like this:

Chicken Pot Pie

But wait til you see what was inside!

Chicken Pot Pie

Much better than failure fridge pie in all respects – faster, prettier, tastier, AND better for us! I love that chicken pot pie is basically chicken soup that has been thickened a little, then baked in a flaky crust. In this case, I baked individual pot pies in ramekins with only a lid – then used the remaining crust and filling to bake a tart-sized pot pie which we froze for later enjoyment.

Crust: Basic Pie Dough from Williams-Sonoma
Filling: Chop your desired filling into bite-sized pieces and saute until almost soft. Add cooked chicken (or your protein of choice, or no protein) and enough broth to just cover the filling, then simmer for a bit. Thicken with flour or corn starch, then add to prebaked pie crust (if you’re using two crusts) or individual ramekins. Top with crust, then bake 25 minutes at 375, or until top crust is flaky and golden.

25 Recipe #6 : Pie from Scratch

So, despite the fact that I won the pi/e day competition at Gelman two years ago, I’d never made a pie entirely from scratch until last week.  Sure, I’ve made lots of scratch-filling pies, but I’ve always relied on the trusty roll-out Pillsbury crusts from a box.  Lazy, I know, but why mess with a good thing?

Well, the time has come, and last week I made my first pie entirely from scratch.  What kind of pie?  A BEER pie. See, the dudes were here, and they have a long history of demanding fridge pie, and we were making a beer-heavy dinner, and it was the eve of pi/e day, so what could I do?


Well, if you’ve ever made pie under pressure in a crowded kitchen when you’re on a time deadline, you’ll know this was a questionable idea. The custard wouldn’t simmer, and then it wouldn’t set. I couldn’t get the camera to focus. I couldn’t get the damned pie to cool. Eventually we gave up on the idea of sharing beer fridge pi/e, put it in the freezer, and I went to bed.

The end result? A tasty pi/e that never quite set. The custard went icy in the freezer, and started to separate as it thawed in the fridge. My fatal error may have been using less than full-fat dairy, or it might have been not using a wide enough saucepan, or it may have just been hubris. All I know is that Mike and Bill each enjoyed big slices of beer fridge pi/e for breakfast with coffee, and Shane and I had about one slice each before giving up. The remaining half of the beer fridge pi/e went out to the curb on trash day.

While I’ll certainly be making pie from scratch again soon – I’m over my fear of crust – I don’t think it’ll be this one.

Beer Cream Pie from Beer at Joe’s

Pie Flights

I spent the weekend in Chicago with Mom, Jenn, and baby Max. In fumbling around to find a dinner reservation meeting our criteria (not too expensive, not too loud but still baby friendly, not too crowded, easily accessible from our Streetersville hotel, reservations available despite the holiday weekend), I found Harvest. Harvest met all of our requirements, and the press coverage mentioned that 95% of their ingredients from regional producers, including their own beehives on the roof of the Mariott. The total lack of Yelping about Harvest made me anxious, but as Jenny pointed out, it’s in a no-man’s-land of hotels, meaning that few actual Chicagoans will ever go there.

What sealed the deal, though, was the mention of pie flights. I like pie. I like flights. I like $2 desserts. We had a winning equation on our hands.

Pie Flight!

Upon arrival, it was fairly obvious why Harvest had plenty of reservations available on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day: it’s a hotel restaurant. A hotel restaurant with a good menu and admirable sourcing values, but a hotel restaurant nonetheless. Our food was enjoyable but not remarkable: Jenn and I shared a steak, and one half came out medium-rare (what we ordered), while the other half was past medium. The fancied-up tater tots were good, but the herby dipping sauce was better. I had a great martini, but Jenn’s wine was corked (and quickly replaced). No one complained when Max squealed or dropped tater tots on the ground.

The pie flight, however, was beyond reproach. Each slice – about half the size of a normal restaurant portion – was $2, so the three of us shared a slice of butterscotch and of pear cranberry. We were pleased with our desserts, and Max loved the whipped cream. I’m not sure this is enough to justify a return trip, but we did enjoy our evening, and it’s nice to know of other nice-but-not-chain places for downtown dining when we’re next in Chicago.