Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
This is my blogchalk:
United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Purple Asparagus for the Children

Purple Asparagus is a new educational organization here in Chicago and if you have children it's worth checking out. The group says it's "dedicated to bringing families back to the table" and they plan and promote activities that teach children about local and global food culture and the importance of healthy eating.

Purple Asparagus will host family-focused events around Chicago; click here to see their list of upcoming activities. If you have children in the Chicagoland area and have an interest in sharing good food and healthy food tradition with them, serve up some Purple Asparagus.

Next time At Our Table: An unbelievable find in an unexpected place

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Delicious Dinner and Downtown Decadence

This year, Win outdid himself and got me an amazing Mother’s Day gift. As you may remember, we recently had several weeks of sleepless nights transitioning our Lima Bean into her new “big girl bed.” Lima wasn’t sleeping well and I wasn’t sleeping well and this made for some very cranky, sleep-deprived people in our house. Win recognized my intense need for a break from the bedtime craziness and gave me the perfect Mother’s Day gift…a night away at a hotel!

So one day, a bit after Mother’s Day, I headed to downtown Chicago for a decadent day of shopping and relaxing while Win watched Lima. It was incredibly fun to stroll in and out of the stores on Michigan Avenue without a toddler in tow and to get to linger wherever I wanted.

When evening arrived, I went back to my hotel. Win had booked a room at The Drake, a fabulous Chicago landmark. On top of the serenity of the room, the hotel also offered a cocktail hour in its beautiful tenth floor lounge. It’s been a long, long time since I enjoyed a late afternoon cocktail so I was all for stopping in.

The Drake serves cocktails and hors d' oeuvres in their lovely lounge overlooking Lake Michigan. Pictured above are my view of the lake, my gin and tonic and my full plate of cheeses, fruits, veggies, dips and other snacks. The silver bowl was full of a nice assortment of nuts until I got there and ate half the bowl. All by myself. As I popped the 12th cashew into my mouth, I questioned the wisdom of eating this much but then I thought “Hey, this is my special day out on the town and I can eat all the nuts I want!” I reveled in that thought, polished off the gin and tonic and then went downstairs to dress for dinner.

While much of my day was spent enjoying Chicago solo, Win was meeting me for dinner. We knew we wanted to go to a steakhouse that night, but we hadn’t completely decided which one. So I consulted The Drake’s concierge and she reviewed the options. She said Gibson’s was the most famous steakhouse and it’s received the most critical acclaim. Rosebud was also excellent, and a bit less crowded. Her personal favorite, The Saloon, was much more low key but she found the steaks to be outstanding and she highly recommended it. We had been to Gibson’s and Rosebud before and loved them, but we were eager to try The Saloon this time around.

I’m really pleased that we did. The Saloon is in The Seneca Hotel and it’s a dark, masculine-feeling, clubby steakhouse. While it is perhaps the most low key of the three steakhouses our concierge mentioned, it was bustling the night we went.

I ordered Shrimp Cocktail for an appetizer and it was potentially the best shrimp I have ever had. Fresh, fresh, fresh and plump and delicious. There wasn’t much the chef did to make the shrimp cocktail so outstanding, but the quality of the shrimp was remarkable.

Win started with French Onion Soup and he loved that as well. It had pieces of prime rib in it for an extra unique, rich flavor.

The Saloon presents a selection of meats to you when you arrive so that you can see the quality of meat and evaluate different cuts before making your selection. Our server was helpful in discussing why she likes certain cuts over others and what makes some more or less flavorful. Win, a meat-eater from birth, went with the Bone-In Rib Eye. Rare, of course. He enjoyed this delicious meat with Pepper Jack Potatoes Au Gratin.

I chose one of The Saloon’s daily specials, a Stuffed Filet Mignon with Grilled Artichokes, Parmesan and Garlic, served over a bed of Creamed Spinach. This was awesome. The filet was cooked perfectly and the artichoke, Parmesan and garlic stuffing was flavorful and dynamic. The creamed spinach was exceptional and it was just the right amount. I always love creamed spinach at steakhouses but find that the side dish portions are always just gigantic for two people. This method of incorporating it into the dish was excellent. I really enjoyed this filet mignon.

We were too full for dessert, so we walked back to The Drake and enjoyed a glass of wine in their lounge. After appreciating Lake Michigan at night and savoring a nice Cabernet, I got to enjoy a night of peaceful sleep at the hotel.

Great day of shopping, an early evening cocktail, a delicious dinner and a peaceful night’s sleep…ah, the decadence!

The Drake Hotel
140 East Walton Place
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: 800-55-DRAKE
Web Site: http://www.thedrakehotel.com

The Saloon Steakhouse
200 East Chestnut Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: 312-280-5454
Web Site: http://www.saloonsteakhouse.com/index_n.html

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Oxford American's Southern Food Issue

Always on the lookout for new and interesting food reads, I was pleased to receive a copy of Oxford American’s First-Ever Southern Food Issue. This magazine is full of charming essays and anecdotes about the foods, cooking, restaurants, and culinary whimsies of the South. The writing is outstanding and every piece I’ve read makes me pause and think “Hmmm…wouldn’t it be nice to live in the South for just a bit to experience all this firsthand?” Vacations there are one thing, but I think you need an extended stretch of time to really let the unique food culture envelope you. So if you enjoy Southern food and good writing, this magazine might be of interest to you.

On a completely unrelated and random note, I can't stop laughing at these photos of Todd English. Yes, he's handsome, but these photos go a little too far in the sexy drama department. Click here to go to Todd's site and then click the Photo Gallery to see the photos. Oh, the unintentional comedy of it all...

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Visit to America's "Little Switzerland"

A couple weeks ago, we took a short trip up to Wisconsin for an overnight getaway. Much of our drive was spent on back roads, enjoying the beautiful country scenery and stopping in small towns to experience life there. One of the places we stopped along the way was New Glarus.

New Glarus calls itself “America’s Little Switzerland.” The town is located in south central Wisconsin and it’s apparently surrounded by farms and woods like those found in Glarus, Switzerland, the homeland of New Glarus’ founders. The town features Swiss chalet-style architecture on almost every building in the downtown and many of the restaurants and businesses are dedicated to serving or selling Swiss-themed fare.

We strolled around the town and stopped at The New Glarus Primrose Winery to sample some local wines. We tried several reds, whites and most uniquely a rhubarb wine. The rhubarb wine was perfectly clear and had a truly unique, refreshing taste. We ended up purchasing two other unique bottles: One a Primrose Red made tasty by the inclusion of Concord grapes and the other a Summer Wine that featured a distinct cherry flavor. Not a dessert wine, but definitely a wine on the sweeter side, to be served chilled. At the suggestion of the winery shopkeeper, we then moved on to lunch at The New Glarus Hotel.

The New Glarus Hotel is designed in the Swiss style and its staff is attired in traditional Swiss garb. This struck me as a bit hokey, but charming nonetheless. We were seated on the hotel’s second floor porch where we could enjoy a lovely view of the downtown.

Our waitress welcomed us to New Glarus and suggested we start the meal with some cheese curds. How could we come to Wisconsin and not succumb to the temptation of cheese curds? So of course we said yes. The cheese curds were delicious, especially when dipped in the hotel’s own spicey honey mustard sauce. We drank local beers with our appetizer, a Spotted Cow for me and an Edel-Pils for Win. Both of these were from the New Glarus Brewing Company, recognized as Best Small Brewery in America in 2003.

We both decided to try the restaurant’s roesti dishes. I ordered the Vegetarian Roesti, which was grilled vegetables served atop roesti potatoes and melted cheese. You can see this dish above. Win tried the Raclette Roesti, which was roesti potatoes served with a generous amount of melted Raclette cheese. Win’s is pictured below. Both were excellent…warm and satisfying.

We admired the silver tray of decadent desserts presented to us, but we had to decline as we were too full. Wisconsin cheeses will fill you up. After lunch we walked around the small town a bit more and then were off to see new things. One of the most notable sightings on our weekend drive was a cow and a horse sitting down next to each other in a field. They were so cute sitting there alone in the vast green field, hanging out. I’m not a farm girl so maybe this brand of farm animal fraternization happens all the time, but I’ve never seen it before and I loved it. Buddies.

New Glarus is a charming town and it’s worth a stop if you’re in that part of Wisconsin. There are several interesting restaurants, a delicious looking bakery, and a few unique stores. It’s a tiny town so perhaps one of the best times to come would be during one of New Glarus’ special Swiss festivals when there is more action.

The New Glarus Hotel Restaurant
100 6th Avenue
New Glarus, Wisconsin 53574
Telephone: 800-727-9477
Web Site: http://www.newglarushotel.com

The New Glarus Primrose Winery
226 Second Street
New Glarus, Wisconsin 53574
Telephone: 608-527-5053

The New Glarus Brewing Company
County Road W and Highway 69
New Glarus, WI 53574
Telephone: 608-527-5850
Web Site: http://www.newglarusbrewing.com

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bruna's: A Heart of Italy Gem

Regular readers of At Our Table have probably noticed by now that I am always up for a delicious Italian meal. That’s why I was so excited when Win recently suggested we have dinner in the Chicago’s Heart of Italy neighborhood. He had a couple places in mind for us that night and decided we’d make the final selection after walking around the tiny neighborhood, peeking in windows, and reading menus. After a fun walk around, we chose Bruna’s.

Bruna’s opened in 1933 and is apparently one of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood. Its dining room is warm and cozy and the walls are full of murals of Tuscany, pictures of Sienna, and other charming decorations.

The menu is full of classic Italian dishes, mostly home style favorites with some more unique and exotic choices also available. We wanted to try a number of Bruna’s offerings, so we decided that we’d have three courses that evening.

For our first course, Win selected the Bruschetta and I opted for a dish called Tomatoes Alla Smith. As you can see from the photos, the portions at Bruna’s are ample. Win’s bruschetta was delicious; fresh and flavorful. My Tomatoes Alla Smith (pictured below) was really interesting. It was almost like bruschetta, but served warm with melted cheese on top of roasted tomatoes, seasonings, a good amount of basil and olive oil. The warmth of this dish made it feel quite hearty and it was delicious.

We then embarked on another appetizer course. Win selected Prosciutto con Melone and I went for Mussels in Marinara Sauce. The prosciutto was outstanding. The mussels were out of this world. Fresh and perfect, in an outstanding marinara. The bowl of mussels was gigantic, but they were just so, so good that I ate every one. Spectacular accompanied by our bold Chianti and bites of just-baked bread from Bruna’s large and lovely breadbasket.

Already quite full from our first two courses, we still looked forward to our entrée course with anticipation. Everything had been excellent so far and we were eager to taste our main dishes. Win ordered Ravioli alla Bolognese, the traditional ravioli with a rich meat sauce. It was flavorful and very tasty. I chose one of Bruna’s special pastas for that evening, a Ravioli with Spinach and Cheese. Based on our waiter’s description of the pasta, I was really looking forward to trying it.

When mine came, I was surprised to see it in a cream sauce. I was anticipating a marinara. I took a bite of the ravioli and was even more surprised to taste tuna. Our server had accidentally brought me the Ravioli al Tonnno instead of the ravioli I requested. I tasted a couple more bites and decided that I really liked the tuna ravioli. It’s something I probably wouldn’t have ordered on my own, but when it appeared accidentally I found it to be quite good. So I decided to keep it and enjoy. The ravioli was full of fresh tuna and coated in a rich cream sauce sprinkled with freshly ground pepper. The pepper really enhanced the flavor of the dish and helped break some of the heaviness of the cream sauce.

Quite full from all our courses, we ended up taking much of the pasta home and savoring it again over lunch the next day. I actually found the tuna ravioli to be even better on day two with an even more pronounced, bold flavor.

The staff at Bruna’s was friendly and they made our evening there very pleasant, despite the ravioli mix-up. Everything we tasted was outstanding and if you’re in the mood to check out the Heart of Italy neighborhood in Chicago, give Bruna’s a try.

Bruna's Ristorante
2424 S. Oakley Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
Telephone: 773-254-5550

A note to those wondering about our Lima Bean’s new sleep schedule: All our guests left earlier this week, so we were able to transition Lima into a real bed and start that process. We’ve had ups and downs and I must say there have been more downs than ups in the past few days. She absolutely adores her new “big girl bed” and tells everyone on the street all about it. But she’s still reluctant to get to sleep on her own in it and it’s taking us a while to get her to settle at bedtime. Plus she’s waking up a couple times in the middle of every night, something she hasn’t done since she was a baby. Things are improving gradually and with any luck it’ll take just a few more days to complete her transition to the new bed and get her back to being an easy and independent sleeper for us. I was able to write this entry tonight because Win’s been a huge help this weekend, giving me back some spare time.

Next time At Our Table: A Visit to Wisconsin's Little Switzerland

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

How a Crib Escapee Has Stolen All My Blog Time

As you might have noticed, I’ve been away from the blog for an uncharacteristically long time lately. Things have been crazy around here, leaving little time to blog. Here’s a quick update:

First, about 10 days ago our Lima Bean figured out how to climb out of her crib. This was completely unexpected as she had never shown any sign of even thinking about climbing out of the crib before. She’s usually a great sleeper, but one night when she had a cold, she woke up in the middle of the night. I comforted her the best I could, but after a while I explained to her that she had to just try and go back to sleep. Well that was all the motivation she needed to figure out how to escape fast. “What?!? Mom won’t let me stay up with her at 2am?? Then I’m outta here!”

I must say it was extremely odd to see her little not-quite-2-year-old-self open the door of her room and just come walking down the hall. Completely freaked out by the unexpected escape, I put her back in there and hoped it wouldn’t happen again. No such luck. Lima was out in a flash and the days of crib sleeping were officially over, since I didn’t want to risk her falling and hurting herself now that she has figured out how to hoist herself over the crib’s side.

So, where to put Lima now? The crib is out and the playpen didn’t work either. I think one of those crib tents would freak her out and therefore not work. Normal people would just rush out and buy a toddler bed or a twin-size bed and have the child make the transition. This all happened at a very bad time for us though, with guests coming into town and little time for bed buying excursions. As such, Lima’s been sleeping on a makeshift bed (basically on the floor) until we can figure out what’s the safest, most practical next step for her. Some say it’s a toddler bed, some say it’s a twin bed…some say use guard rails on the bed, some say they are dangerous. Although I absolutely hate shopping for baby gear (researching strollers, high chairs, and the like gives me a huge headache), I’ve been diligently looking into all our options and vow that I will have something more official for her in place in the next few days. The trick will be getting her to STAY in the bed on her own, something she hasn’t been inclined to do for the past week.

So what does this have to do with my blog, you might ask? Well, here’s the catch to this whole bed thing. When Lima was in a crib, she was a perfectly independent sleeper. Put her in the crib, sing a couple short songs, say goodnight and she was fine to go to sleep on her own. No problem. With this horribly haphazard bed transition, Lima now requires much more effort to get to sleep and won’t fall asleep unless we’re in there. I know this is horrible and I need to break this cycle as soon as possible. But given all the craziness around the house the past week or so (she was sick, guests were in town, it was her birthday and she was excited about that), it’s been hard to achieve this goal. As such, the time I’d spend blogging each night is now being devoted to getting Lima to sleep. When I finally emerge from her room after getting her to succumb to sleep, it’s way later than I’d like and the rest of life’s work beckons; blogging has had to take a backseat for the past week.

We have more guests in town this week, so the craziness will continue for at least a few more days. As I mentioned though, my hope is to get tough on this whole thing by early next week and start us back on the right track with her sleeping.

So between Lima’s crazy sleep issues (hopefully extremely temporary), guests coming in and out, Lima’s birthday party, and other things, there has been little time to blog. Thanks to all who sent e-mails and left comments wondering where I was.

Some food notes: We went to Buona Terra again and I must continue to recommend it highly. This time we had 6 people at our table, plus Lima, so we were able to sample a wide variety of their offerings including fish, veal, chicken, pork chops, and pasta. Everyone raved about the appetizers and entrees and said they looked forward to a return visit. Service was excellent and very friendly…something that’s often tough to achieve with seven people at a table. So if you’re in Chicago and looking for delicious Italian, check out Buona Terra.

Buona Terra
2535 North California
Chicago, IL 60647
Telephone: 773-289-3800

Lima’s birthday party was terrific and I’m now basking in the glow of party leftovers. Don’t you just love having leftover birthday cake, veggies, dips, fruits and pastries around? All the tastiness of the party, but you can eat these in your pajamas at 11pm if hunger strikes. All the food fun with no formality. As an aside, I served my peach marmalade with bagels at the party (it was a brunch) and people seemed to enjoy it. Glad it got such good feedback.

That’s it for now. Once our next round of visitors leaves and I get Lima’s sleep patterns back on track, I will be blogging more. I have several new restaurants I want to tell you about…

Thanks for reading and think good thoughts about Lima getting used to her new bed quickly and easily. Even though she’s still a really sweet, smart, basically obedient girl, she’s been uncharacteristically tough to transition thus far so I think I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Next time At Our Table: More food and restaurant talk---promise!