Thursday, November 29, 2012

thanksgiving in the windy city

On Sunday Steve and I braved twelve hours of post-Thanksgiving traffic from the flat plaints through Indiana to the snow-dusted mountains of Western Maryland to return home, after a delightful Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago, Steve’s native place.

Chicago was great. Steve’s family (Mom, Dad, and sister Jordin) were great, and super hospitable, and super happy to see Steve as evidenced by the fact that they took him (and me!) out for deep dish the moment we arrived.

Steve’s family is also really SPORTY (as you’ll read about our bowling adventures later) and really good VISUALLY, as evidenced by his Master’s-in-photography-and-also-basically-Martha-Stewart mother’s Thanksgiving decor, pictured below:

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Those are two of the THREE tables, as there were thirty people there.

I break out in a sweat just thinking about it, but everything went smoothly and it was a lovely Turkey Day. I swore up and down that I didn’t feel like it was Thanksgiving without cooking and truly wanted to help, so when I padded down to the kitchen Thursday morning in my tee and boxers, Steve’s mom put me to work. When Steve rolled out of bed considerably later, he emerged to his mother and I rubbing absurd amounts of butter under turkey skins in the kitchen. He was “touched” (seriously).

I really wanted to be helpful, out-of-the-way, and inconspicuous, so I didn’t treat Thanksgiving as a Food Blogging Event (though what I have I treated as such, lately?).

I got a few shots of a few fun things, such as the EXCEEDINGLY tasty cheese mold, and the stuffed shells that his half-Italian mother makes every year, based on her own mother’s recipe.


This being my first wholesome Midwestern Thanksgiving (actually, my first Thanksgiving away from home ever!) I tried a number of dishes for the first time:
- Green bean casserole with Funyuns atop (so tasty!)
- Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (so confusing! Your first bite is dessert, and then you go… vegetables? I prefer them straight up :) As does Steve!)
- Jello for dinner

Most visually noteworthy was the largest quantity of gravy I have ever beheld (and this was after all three tables had gotten a boat).


The thought of arriving to Thanksgiving without something I had baked was unbearable to me, so I opted for simple, easy-to-transport bars.

I totally winged it on this but to give you a rough idea…

Crust: walnuts, oats, a bit of coconut, brown sugar, oil. Enough to put a thin layer on the pan of your choosing (I used an 8 by 8). Whirr in the food processor til crusty looking. Pre-bake at 350 til golden.
Topper: a super ripe banana, 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk, 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/2 tsp custard powder (basically cornstarch and vanilla) whirred in the food processor. Bake atop crust at 350 til set.

Transported semi-successfully in a shoebox (ooh yay alliteration!)


I REALLY liked them. But Steve’s family does not seem very into dessert whaaaaaaaa?! That’s no way to live. 

Thanksgiving was oodles of fun! It felt so nice to be included.

The next day was meant to be a stroll around Chicago day. But since it was, oh, 33 and EXCEEDINGLY windy, even Steve the native son thought it was too miserable outside.

So brunch was followed by bowling.


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Fun story: Steve’s family is REALLY GOOD AT EVERYTHING. As we chat during the bowling game, Steve’s mom casually mentions all the gymnastics competitions Steve won in high school… when Jordin filled in as goalie once during a soccer game and was the best they’d ever had… Steve’s parents pulled out their own PERSONAL BOWLING BALLS, which they used to play in their WEEKLY BOWLING LEAGUES.

The family racked up strike up on strike! Perhaps the occasional spare. Lots of high fiving, and discussion of technique.

And I… bowled a 26. Eesh.

Let’s move on.

After bowling we got dinner with Jordin and her super-nice boyfriend Bryan at the ridiculously tasty Wok 'n Fire, which had a ridiculously good happy hour with reduced drink prices AND half priced sushi and appetizers.

Then we went into Chicago proper, to hang out with Steve’s buddy Hector, who he’s known since high fschool.

It was meant to be a party involving blind wine tasting (thus our tasteful use of duct tape covering up our $3.99 Trader Joe’s purchase)…


… but it ended up being a low key crowd of Steve and I, Hector, and Hector’s brother Saul and his girlfriend Maki (sp?).

(that Hahn Grenchache blend was duh-licious, incidentally).

So there was just a lot of wine. And cheese. And Jenga!


Fortunately for hydration purposes, Saul and Maki (sp?!) have just started their own small business (!!!!!!!)- Tea Gallerie Chicago (website pending- worth checking out Chicagoans- they’ve got yummy tea!)

I had oodles of fun playing gourmande and describing the various flavors.


Saul knew a RIDICULOUS amount about tea and gave us a whole presentation. Who actually knows what polyphenols are? You just know they are “good”. Well, HE KNOWS.


The coconut chai was my favorite :)


I stayed up later than I had in quite some time (plus an hour for the time change) and then collapsed into Hector’s desk-that-turns-into-a-bed WOW SO COOL.

Sunday morning I took a MUCH overdue shower and marveled at yet another feature of Hector’s fairly old apartment- a radiator in the bathroom! I seriously HATE winter showers because I’m always so cold when I get out. This would be a game changer in my own home. I’d probably bathe more!

Coffee, after a whole lotta wine and not a whole lotta sleep, sounded REAL nice.

So we went to the thoroughly rad Star Lounge Coffee. It was decorated in orange, which I love.


And had crazy and cool coffee varieties (which excited me) and bacon donuts (which excited Steve).


I opted for the Wake & Bake.


YUM! No, it is not the most conventional combination. Just believe me when I say it smelled like Thanksgiving and tasted like heaven.

Then we went to Tre Kronor, a Swedish breakfast place (anyone reading this blog who’s actually met Steve in person immediately understands why this place was chosen) for brunch with Steve’s cousin Melissa and her wife, also Melissa (a blog fan! Hi Melissa!). Steve is SUPER tight with his cousin Melissa and I’d spent the past two years hearing stories about her, so it was a delight to meet her, as well as her baby GENIUS. Seriously, Melissas, baby A. is basically already smarter than I am.

More rich food. Lawd.

Hector and I went halfsies on two of the quiche selections, being unable to decide on our own: witness tomato basil and spinach and mushroom.


Steve, who throughout the decadent trip kept vowing he was going to start eating only kale, ordered smoked salmon eggs benedict :)


Then we get to my faaaaaaaaaaavorite part of Chicago, thus far (with my admittedly limited knowledge): Lakeshore Drive!

I told Lydia, my also-dating-a-Chicagoan bestie this, and she went “Oh, LSD!” Apparently I will understand Chicago humor a lot more in the future with my knowledge of this acronym. Noted.

LSD is beautiful.

Our muscles rejoiced at actually walking (whoa) and garsh the city is vair pretty.


I love the idea of this artery leading through the city being accessible by car (and the drive along Lakeshore Drive is an excessively pleasant one) but also on foot and by bike. I was fantastiing about living in Chicago and biking to work downtown, actually. Yknow, me, the girl who hates the cold.


But on a sunny day, even in November, Chicago was liveable. Love this picture.


As we got closer to downtown we saw this completely adorable, completely I-wanna-steal-you-except-I-lack-the-energy-to-care-for-you springer spaniel just FLYING along the water. Legs were basically a blur.

Taking pictures of him resulted in generally good pictures.


Can you still spot the dog?

And, doesn’t this make you want to go to Chicago?


Being tourists, we stopped at the Bean.

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There was no time for ice skating (thank goodness, based on how I’d comported myself at the other athletic event of the trip).


We headed for dinner in Greek Town. I will not discuss this… you’ll see why later.

We strolled around the German Market (presh! And good smells… this is before I started hating all smells… you’ll see, you’ll see…)

We strolled around the Macy’s- nee Marshall Fields- and looked at the window displays. Adorable.

Went up many escalators to admire Giant Tree.


Then we went to Jordin’s Nordstroms! Steve’s sister is a fashion school graduate whose very cool job is now to basically make everything at Nordstroms look awesome so you buy it (yes, I have no doubt there is an actual title for this but I’m failing to articulate it properly). Not only is she an incredibly hard worker; not only did she roll into the house at 7:30 am on Thanksgiving (!) because she’d spent 13 hours (!!!) doing ALL of the holiday decorations in one day (!!!!); she’s REALLY GOOD AT IT. We looked at some of the displays she did (my favorite being a wonderfully geometric look at Kate Spade accessories) and there is so much thought and creativity involved. Lighting, heights, textures, shapes- all go into making the final product look awesome. So cool.

And thennnn… we got back in the car. Got back in the car with the leftovers from the we’ll-leave-it-unnamed Greek place. And WOW, SMELLS. I got queasier and queasier and quieter and quieter throughout the ride- by the end I was basically just nonverbal, hoping no one would notice.

Steve’s parents dropped us off at his car, which was still by Hector’s place. I got out, gulped in fresh air, and firmly told Steve, “I have food poisoning”.

Thus followed a delightful trip back to the ‘burbs with the windows wiiiiiiiiide open while Steve kindly tried to distract me with a thought-provoking discussion of Chicago’s crack epidemic. I thought it all might work out, but a mere two blocks from home… suffice it to say thank God Steve had a spare Trader Joe’s bag in his car.

I wish it hadn’t been paper.

I really wish Steve hadn’t been in the car with me.

However, since life will inevitably consist of ups and downs, if the down of getting violently ill in front of my cute boyfriend was required to cancel out the millions of ups I experienced on my wonderful trip to Chicago, it’s a price I was willing to pay.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

thankful baking

My first time making coconut macaroons…


Smelled like heaven, toasty atop..


Packaged up pretty…


That card’s for the nurses who injected me, medicated me, took out my stem cells, and stuck ‘em on a plane to Europe.

To the card I attached an email I got from the coordinator at the National Marrow Donor Program…


Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

childhood friend gets hitched!

On Saturday, my friend Lauren who I’ve known since I was in third grade (in other words, for two thirds of my life) got maaaaaaaaaarried!


Her parents ended up moving to Gettysburg, PA after we finished high school, and man it is pretty up there. You’re kind of gambling with the weather gods having an outdoor wedding in November, but everything worked out great- it was a gorgeous day. The wedding was at the clubhouse of the golf course on which her parents live.

Not pictured was the beautiful stream that meandered through the property, and the bridge atop which the wedding party posed.


I took a few pictures at the ceremony but I was mostly just gaping seeing Lauren in a wedding dress. (A strapless dress no less- I wore a wool coat throughout the ceremony. I think she’s shivering in the picture on the top right, but she was a trouper, and looked bee-yoo-ti-ful).

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When the couple was pronounced man and wife we doused them in bubbles, in this cute cowboy boot shaped container (amazingly, this is the SECOND wedding I’ve attended with cowboy boot bubbles- my friend Virginia married a Texan last summer!). I was sitting in the aisle seat and my boyfriend and high school friends had fun covering me in bubble residue, as I was between them and the bride and groom. Jerks.


We moved inside (it’s so nice when weddings and receptions are in the same place, no?). They kept a pretty, simple autumnal theme throughout. I love orange.


And going along with it, a caramel apple. Did I eat this caramel apple? Of course not. Steve ate mine (and his) before the first dance.


Which was adorable. And to a country song. One of Alex’s friends, seated at our table, went “… I didn’t take Alex for a country music fan”. And I went, “Oh, that’s all Lauren”.

Salad and hot rolls commenced the meal.


Then asparagus, wild rice, and a COLOSSAL steak. All of the food was really good- despite the steak being well done (boo) it was still really flavorful. Which would indicate a pretty substantial fat content, eh? I ate like a fourth of mine, because I am a red meat wimp. So Steve ate 1 and 3/4 steaks. He was pleased. Til crippling pain began in the middle of the night.


Unpictured is a glass of champagne (super cute toasts- Lauren’s dad, who I think I’ve heard utter ten words ever, gave a really sweet speech about her).

Also unpictured is a gin and tonic. And a whiskey sour. And fantastic dancing (the first wedding I’ve attended since Gangnam Style came out. SO fun).

I was going to make a bet with Steve whether the bride and groom would smash cake into each others’ faces, and asked him to call it. He said they would, and then I saw the look in Alex’s eyes… and I didn’t take that bet. And they did.

The cake was EXCELLENT. I don’t as a rule actually like wedding cake, but this had layers of red velvet cake and what we think was pumpkin cake (extra excellent!) with cream cheese frosting (the best!).


So the ceremony had begun at 3 and then there was eating and dancing and festivities and then everything wound down and it was dark and I was drowsy and perhaps a bit tipsy and everyone strolled out the door of the reception and THEN I looked at my phone and it was 7:00, hahahahahaha.

The very nice parents of the bride (who’ve also known me since I was 8) kindly invited wedding guests to their home, just down the street from the reception… perhaps to sober up (or, in some cases, get all the drunker on the keg in the basement).

Loved the paper lanterns leading up the stairs (don’t mind the ghost- my friend’s hubby- walking by).


After chatting with other guests and finally even getting in a few words with the bride, we headed back to our B+B.


If you ever find yourself in Gettysburg, I highly recommend the Mary Penn Bed and Breakfast. Things that are awesome about this B+B, in no particular order:

- It was built in the 1700s. History!
- It straddles the Mason-Dixon line, so we slept in Maryland and had breakfast in Pennsylvania. The toilet was in Maryland and the shower was in Pennsylvania!
- Bea, the owner, is the PERFECT person to own a B+B- friendly, personable, excited to share stories and lore from the history of the home.
- It’s beautiful!

The exterior:


So much work was put in to restore the house: for example, the original bricks were in the fireplace, but they were dried out. Rather than replacing them, someone in Bea’s family, who was a mason, undertook a process of soaking them in water (!) and thus rehydrating them. Who knew?

Much of the furniture around the house was of the time period. When new additions were added- like the modernized kitchen- they sought out interesting materials, like the cabinets made of wood reclaimed from an old barn. Now admire the beautiful built-in cabinets in the dining room:


The parlor, where the original family would have spent much of their time:


The basement was particularly enthralling, with bare log beams on the ceiling, and a fireplace restored with the traditional cookware.


Unpictured is the tribute Bea put up to the slaves (eesh) who’d once slept there (eesh) in tiny rooms- with bars- that were essentially livestock pens. The particularly upsetting thing is that they were literally feet away from Pennsylvania and freedom.

Bea runs the B+B (boy, say that one three times fast) with the help of her granddaughter and her friend, who both attended culinary school.

Thus, the “breakfast” in “bed and breakfast” was absolutely delicious.

The table just grew and grew..



Along with light ‘n fluffy pancakes, blueberry muffins, sausages (which I did not but Steve did- really Steve? After the steaks?!), we got Eggs Benedict!

Absolutely scrumptious.


After learning more about the house and just enjoying our chats with Bea, we strolled around the property a bit, taking in the fresh air and the gorgeous day.