Day in the Country!

This past Saturday, I spent a beautiful fall day in the Indiana countryside. There were a lot of pigs; a lot of cows; well-designed exhibits as impressive as a museum, I kid you not; several info-packed lectures; delicious, locally grown food; horses (I rode my first!); and, mostly, very kind, very passionate people who have made farming their livelihood, their enjoyment, their pastime and who could not have been more gracious. When we arrived in Indiana, to an area just a short 75-minute drive from Chicago, our first stop was the Belstra Family Pig Farm, which is fitting, given that this whole thing was made possible for me by the National Pork Board. They sent me, with my friend Alicia, to join the ChicaGourmets group that was going Saturday. So at the pig farm: we hopped on tractor-pulled hayrides that looped around the barns, stopping at spots for us to see pigs milling around, a nursery with babies eating, sow stalls where the artificial insemination is done (yes, we … [Read more...]

Pizza at Burt’s Place

Sunday night, I had pizza at Burt's Place in Morton Grove, after calling in our order four days ahead of time, right down to the sizes and toppings and what time we'd arrive, because, if you don't know this already, Burt's is not just any place---it is a landmark, made famous largely by Saveur Magazine and Anthony Bourdain. It's kind of understandable that such a place would have some rules---and Burt's does. The biggest, most important rule is very simple, but it's vital: you must call ahead. I was there with my friend Jacqui (who was the first person to have told me about Burt's, way back in a January comment); her fiance, Murdo; our blogging friend Whitney; and her boyfriend, Dave. We'd known about the rule (it's recommended that you call days or sometimes weeks in advance), not just because Jacqui had been before but also through online reviews, which, by the time we met Sunday, it seemed most of us had read and, honestly, been a little intimidated by. The rules are … [Read more...]

Five Days in Colorado

Well, I'm back, as promised, with a lot to tell you about a beautiful, beautiful state I wish I could live in year-round, one that captured my heart with its larger-than-life mountains and golden aspens and friendly people and better traffic and meal after meal! after meal! of incredible food. The truth is, after five days of bakeries, restaurants, sightseeing, walking---and, of course, the mountains! oh my gosh, the mountains!---I got pretty comfortable out west. I kept telling my friends Wendi and Michele, whom I traveled with, that with every new place we visited, Chicago became more blah. I mean, what have we got? The skyline? Let me tell you, while we were descending over the Windy City Monday afternoon, the John Hancock building had nothing on the Rockies. NOTHING. What with the series of trips this year (Washington D.C., Wisconsin, Maine), I should be used to detaching from a place when it's time to come home. But instead, all that's been running through my mind lately … [Read more...]

Four Days in Maine

Hi, again. I'm back from Maine, and now we have a lot to talk about, and I mean a lot, so wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I do hope you're comfortable, maybe with something nice to drink nearby, because, brace yourself, this post is going to be a long one. … [Read more...]

the thing about Downers Grove

It's true the suburbs are no Chicago. There are no skyscrapers (no John Hancock Building, no Sears---I mean, Willis---Tower). Most things are spread out, so you can't just hop on the train, and you have to get in the car to go to work, the store, even the park where you ride your bike. There's also less of certain things, like boutiques or restaurant options, cheap apartments or people to run into at the corner coffee shop. We have some farms. We have bigger houses. We brag about lower crime rates. But you who have lived in suburbs, tell me this: have you ever tried to find a bakery? At least in the Chicago area, it's not easy. The few there are aren't much of anything special, or overpriced, or hard to get to. One exception would be Vesecky's in Berwyn, a long-time favorite of my family's, which makes addictive hoska, that eastern European sweet bread with raisins and soft yeasty insides---if you haven't been, go. And another exception would be this adorable little shop in Downers … [Read more...]

Tapas at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Have you ever tried Spanish tapas? You should. I say this as someone who, after trying tapas last month when we were in D.C., liked them so much that I was perfectly satisfied to have them again the next two nights. (And we did.) Also, since I’m making commands, here’s another for those of you in Chicago: when you’re in Lincoln Park, you really ought to visit Café Ba-Ba-Reeba. See, tapas are perfect for people like me, who like to try many new things but might not have the stomach capacity to try a lot of each of those new things. Essentially, tapas are small plates, like appetizers: reduced portions that allow you to order a little of this, a little of that, sharing them all at the table, dipping your bread and taking spoonfuls of side dishes to your dish. You get the opportunity to taste not just one entrée but lots of little ones: it is grazing at its best. As for Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, I first heard of it when I was going to school in Lincoln Park, then later when my … [Read more...]

Cafe Bonaparte in Georgetown

Sometimes, in the middle of something, it hits me that I’ll never get it again. It happened when I came home from my run last night and was stretching outside, when my dog saw me through the window and, after I came in to get him, jumped on the chair, my legs, the door, running to his leash when I told him to; also on Monday night, while I drove home in constant rain, after baking cookies at my brother’s apartment while the Internet guy drilled a hole in his wall; and when I overheard kids behind me on the airplane Sunday afternoon, asking their dad if D.C. was bigger or smaller than Illinois? And could all of Bethesda and all of D.C. fit inside Illinois with room to spare? It’s like, no matter how hard or frustrating or just very good something is, you’ve got to take it, arms wide open, because it’s yours, now. Like this last weekend. Even if I tried very hard, I probably couldn’t book a top-floor hotel room at Hotel Palomar in DuPont Circle again and, even less likely, for … [Read more...]