H and I were talking the other day about changing trends in baked goods (the most important trends on which to maintain up-to-date information), and determined we are both quite happy with the shift from cupcakeries to donut/doughnut shops. While a cupcake can still be a perfectly wonderful thing (Washington DC’s Baked and Wired or the ever-wonderful Sprinkles come to mind), too many of these cupcakeries sold giant cupcakes that looked much better than they tasted and were too large to fit into your mouth without replicating a scene from Jaws. Once cupcakes require forks, knives, and napkins and start giving you sushi face if you dare to try to actually take a bite of both the cake and frosting together, it’s time to move on.
Last weekend we did just that. A famous Los Angeles donut shop called Stan’s Donuts opened a location in Chicago, and we drove over to Wicker Park to check it out and do some people watching. The location couldn’t be better (right under the blue line station but tons of convenient street parking nearby) and the weather was great: mid-60s and sunny. Hipster parents and hipster children were everywhere. The decor is pretty snazzy too: a little retro but bright and colorful with a wall of kitchen-aid mixers (it’s like they decorated their business just for me!). There isn’t a ton of seating but there’s enough to go around. The best thing about Stan’s Donuts (well, other than the donuts) is their decision to stay open each evening until 9:00 p.m. (even on Sundays!) and to bake fresh donuts all day long. Stan and his people believe that fresh delicious donuts should be available all day, not just at 6:00 a.m., and I couldn’t agree more.
H and I sampled a blueberry fritter (his favorite), a captain crunch cereal milk-filled donut (pictured above), and a lemon-pistachio old-fashioned cake donut (my choice). We found the captain crunch to be a bit heavy on the filling — I don’t like filling in donuts typically, so no surprise there — but the filling really did taste exactly like captain crunch cereal milk and the donut was remarkably good. H powered through the blueberry fritter and most of the captain crunch (sans filling), and I enjoyed my lemon-pistachio with a large Intelligentsia coffee. (I’m still not sold on Intelligentsia coffee yet, but I’m trying to embrace it as it is Chicago’s bean of choice.)
In our family, donuts may have always been superior to store-bought cupcakes, but recently its more obvious how clearly they have taken the lead. Have you arrived in donut country yet? Still loving cupcakes, or the “healthy” addiction, frozen yogurt? If you have a favorite place, share in the comments below or link me up on Twitter!
A few months back, I ordered H a single-month subscription to Besh Box, which was a monthly foodie subscription service where you would receive a box of random awesomeness from celebrity chef John Besh, along with five or six recipes for using those things to make a delicious meal. I was loving my Stitch Fix subscription and this was a comparable surprise package for a man who loves to eat delicious food. The box arrived about a week after Valentine’s Day and was mostly non-useful kitchen things (we don’t really need a special tool to devein shrimp, a knife will do that just fine). But, there were some pretty cool things in there too, like a plastic test-tube of hot sauce crystals (tobasco Devil’s Blend), a little king cake baby, and cucumber seeds for growing your own cukes and making New Orleans-style pickles.
I was surprised to discover on their website that the Besh Box is no longer a thing, but the jambalaya recipe that we received in the box has become a staple in our house and I’ve been much too slow to share it with you. It really is so incredibly delicious, full of sausage and shrimp, and all-around wonderful. If you’re expecting a crowd and want a warm, hearty meal, this jambalaya is sure to be a winner.
Here’s a snapshot! I’m not sure if the photo does this meal justice, but it is seriously the greatest jambalaya I have ever eaten. Along with the recipe came a box of random goodies (smoked pickled okra, a shrimp deveiner, and our very own king-cake plastic baby!) as well as a New Orleans-themed playlist for setting the mood with your meal. Click here to listen to some awesome big band music via Spotify.
To turn this jambalaya recipe into a delicious meal, I recommend making a quick salad, some kind of cheesy toast or biscuits, and warm chocolate brownies or an easy bread pudding for dessert.
Do you have a favorite recipe for date nights at home?
It’s weird, how they say you can’t go home again and yet — you can. You just purchase a plane ticket and pack a bag and there you are. This weekend we traveled back to Washington, D.C. (our home for the previous five years) and spent a few days in our favorite city, visiting with our favorite people and eating at our favorite places. This isn’t a recipe for a perfect tourist weekend, but here’s a DC resident’s perfect weekend in our Nation’s Capitol.
FRIDAY NIGHT: land in city and sleep in the guest room of your bestie’s house.
SATURDAY MORNING: eat Bethesda Bagels. Recommendation: bacon, egg, and American cheese on an everything bagel. Grab coffee at Quartermaine next door. If you go with a friend one of you should order coffees while the other stands in line for bagels because, unless it’s snowing or raining the bagel line will be out the door.
SATURDAY ERRANDS: close your old bank account. Or, you know, whatever.
SATURDAY MORNING HANG-OUT: meet your best law school buddy for coffee at Politics and Prose Bookstore‘s Modern Times Coffeehouse, the place where you studied for all of those finals before they instituted completely unacceptable laptop policies that ruined everything forever. Recommendation: London Fog.
SATURDAY LUNCH-ISH: brunch/lunch at Open City in Woodley Park. We learned that the music makes babies dance. The service can be a little slow so make sure to tell the waiter exactly what you want the first time. Recommendation: Greek Pizza, BLT, iced mocha.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON HANG-OUT: Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Avoid boring pandas but be sure to see the Lions. They are awesome. Best part of America are the Smithsonian’s river otters.
SATURDAY DINNER: Coal Fire Pizza in Gaithersburg. Recommendation: Dark and Stormy, Ring of Fire Pizza (Italian sausage, banana peppers, and spicy marinara).
SATURDAY POST-DINNER: Celebrate your friend’s birthday back at her house with carrot cake and red wine. They are a perfect pairing.
SUNDAY MORNING: Grab a coffee and cheer for your husband and friends as they run a ten mile race around the National Mall. Take in the monuments for a bit while it is sunny and relatively warm, but head toward brunch by 10:30. It’s definitely time to eat.
SUNDAY BRUNCH: Ted’s Bulletin on Barracks Row is a bit of a wait, but totally worth waiting for. Recommendation: homemade poptarts (strawberry is the best), sausage biscuits and gravy. If you’re lucky you’ll see the cadets marching around with their giant guns.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON: After a shower for the runners, head down to H Street to hang on the back patio of the German Biergarten. Recommendation: the hefe-weizen that is “very carbonated,” pretzel buns with mustard. The mustard is the best part.
SUNDAY EVENING: Return the rental car and grab your last dinner at The Silver Dinner, airport edition.
We landed in Chicago late Sunday night and it was technically early Monday morning before we were back in our Condo in the South Loop. We both worked today and we are exhausted, but our wonderful weekend was worth every minute.
As part of our three-day Valentine’s Day extravaganza, H reserved us two spots in a weekend cooking class. [Don’t make too many assumptions here. We don’t really do that lovey-dovey holiday stuff, but it was a great excuse to try a few new places and do something fun.]
We headed over to The Wooden Spoon in Uptown Chicago for a class called Cook and Eat Like a Francophile. I was expecting bistro sandwiches, things to pair with brie on a cheese platter, or some kind of pastry since it was a lunch-time class, but I was really wowed by the menu. We “made” shrimp bisque, fancy chicken with sauce, french-style bitter lentils, the most delicious green beans ever, and a weird pudding-berry-custard dessert. Or, as the French would call it,
- Shrimp Bisque;
- French Lentils with Honey Cashews;
- Green Bean Salad with Basil and Tomatoes;
- Poulet Sauté Chasseur; and
- Mixed Berries Gratin (not pictured).
Cooking classes are, overall, kind of weird but really fun. We didn’t fully cook any one single thing, because about a dozen people were helping with different stages of preparation. Everyday cooking would be so much easier if I had a half-dozen sous chefs to do all of my prep-work and measuring for me! We were tasked with chopping a few things, stirring a few things, and draining the lentils — but, most importantly, we got to eat everything. I would have perhaps liked a little more hands-on time than this class size provided, but we made some new friends and had a lovely time.
Sharing our love of food with strangers was comfortable and warm. A few other couples, a few friend groups, and two adult sons with their dad on his 68th birthday chopped and sautéed and ate this beautiful meal with us. (I remembered again how lucky I am to have such an awesome mom while watching a young woman search for help when asked to stir the pot, but not so often that the veggies wouldn’t brown.) Even the vegetarian we were partnered with loved learning about each of the recipes and promised to cook the bisque again for her fiance if he would handle the shrimp-y parts.
It may sound unimpressive, but our favorite dish of the day was the green bean salad. The green beans were blanched (well, more like double-blanched because they were almost done when they came out of the boiling water), chilled, and then tossed in a freshly made Dijon vinaigrette and served alongside sliced, salted tomatoes. It was perfect spring/early summer picnic food, and all-in-all a pretty healthy dish.
The Wooden Spoon has a cooking tools shop (and provides knife sharpening for their customers for only $3) so we purchased a little salad dressing bottle to take home with us for storing our own homemade vinaigrettes in the future. H has been mixing up balsamic and olive oil for our salads for the last few weeks and I’ve been food-dreaming about the vinaigrette recipe in Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine, which is pretty close to what we made in class that day. This weekend we’ll be purchasing some red wine vinegar and eating this dressing on everything in sight.
Would you ever go to a cooking class? Have any favorite salad dressing recipes?
This past weekend, H and I spent our rainy and grey Saturday afternoon exploring Chicago’s Field Museum. We live very close to the museum, and the building is so beautiful that we’ve been talking about visiting the museum since we moved to the city. After five years of living in Washington, DC, we grew pretty accustomed to free museums, so we’ve been a little slower to visit museums, aquariums, and other cool places in Chicago than we would like because of the hefty price tags. This weekend, H’s work had a deal with the museum where all employees of his company could enter the museums free with their families. We got on the gravy train.
It may have been the weather, but while the museum collection was expansive, impressive, and incredibly detailed I found the history of evolution and dinosaur exhibits a little boring. I couldn’t read a lot of the exhibits because the speed at which the crowd was moving was not conducive to the small, detailed text presented. What I was able to read belonged in a tenth-grade biology textbook, not on the wall of a huge and beautiful science museum. For example, while I’m sure the difference between asexual reproduction and sexual reproduction is really important to science or whatever, I don’t know how effective exhibits describing every stage of cell reproduction can really be for a crowd of people, especially when it’s a little dark and hard to read everything.
We moved quickly through the boring parts of evolution (you know, the tiny bits becoming slightly larger tiny bits) because what we really wanted to see were the dinosaurs. H LOVES dinosaurs and he knows everything about them — such as how many fingers a tyrannosaurus rex had.
In case you are wondering, the answer is two. Because of this, most children’s books are not acceptable gifts for our friend’s children because the dinosaurs depicted in the books are not accurately portrayed.
The text displays on the exhibits still weren’t all that interesting, but the dinosaurs themselves were AWESOME.
There were also some pretty cool non-dinosaurs at the end of the Ice Age section. And while I wish I knew the proper terms or names of many of these cool-looking skeletons, I just didn’t learn very much here. It was too hard to read everything and so I just snapped a few shots of cool bones and we moved on.
However, the Field Museum’s exhibit on Ancient Egypt was wonderful and I absolutely loved it. The museum built a replica of the tomb of Unis-ankh, who was the son of a fifth dynasty Pharaoh. They recreated the tomb using original wall carvings in several places. The viewing path was forced and relatively narrow, giving us a real shot at reading the information included in the exhibits. The structure was built to showcase the three-story layout of the tomb, so we climbed up and down stairs to see various chambers of the tomb from different levels. From the top, you looked down through a peep-hole to see a mummified body below, and from the bottom you could view the same mummy head-on.
I didn’t take any photos here because it felt inappropriate — like we were really walking through a burial site and the bodies deserved respect. We saw real mummies, replica mummies, canopic jars and artwork and hieroglyphics — it was a great experience. I would return to the Field Museum just to re-visit the Inside Ancient Egypt tomb, and perhaps it would be a little easier to engage the other materials on a weekday than it was during our Saturday afternoon visit.
Once we made it back to our warm apartment, made some tea and turned on some college football, we were pretty glad we had the opportunity to see the Field Museum up-close and personal. It wasn’t the best museum ever, but it was still pretty okay.
The night my parents arrived in Chicago, H and I had a date night in Wicker Park. Wicker Park is a trendy, hipster-ish neighborhood where the people dress a bit strangely, there are several vintage/used clothing stores, there’s a used book store and a used DVD/record store (my parents are probably getting Christmas gifts from this neighborhood, just FYI you guys), and a few cool restaurants. Based on great Yelp reviews, we walked around Wicker Park a bit and then went to get dinner at Antique Taco.
Antique Taco is trendy and hipstery, a perfect fit for the neighborhood. I mean, check out their adorable website: http://antiquetaco.com/. Because the tacos come in pairs, we ordered three pairs and tried three tacos each. My favorite taco was the Pork Carnitas taco, but H enjoyed the Sweet and Spicy Chicken taco (which is more of a curry spice than the Chinese flavor I expected) and the Crispy Fish Tempura taco. We also ordered their seasonal Agua Fresca (basically seasonal fruit puree in a lemonade) and guacamole with chips.
We had a wonderful time. The tacos were beautiful and delicious. The guacamole was exactly how we like it — fresh and that perfect balance of chunky and creamy. It was so wonderful getting out and enjoying our city, especially after being at home a lot during the shutdown.
But the thing is — and I’ve been thinking about how exactly to put this on the blog, which is why I’m writing this post ten days or so after our experience — about an hour after we left the restaurant we were incredibly sick. Like, the unfortunate kind of sick where you are afraid you might actually die inside the neighborhood Target. The kind of sick where you are spend way more time in the bathroom at Target than you expected. And, we all know the bathrooms at Target are no place to spend an evening.
It broke our hearts a little, because we had such a good time and the tacos tasted so great — so much so that we have been thinking that maybe it was a one-time thing. Maybe we should go back and try the tacos again, and see if it was just a fluke. It could have been something else that made us sick, like our lunch from that day or the ice cream we shared after dinner; there’s no way to really know exactly what the problem was. And while it is absolutely the truth that we ate tacos and shortly thereafter got sick, there is no proof that eating the tacos caused the sickness and I’m not saying they did. Causation is a tricky thing and this isn’t the kind of blog where we make faulty assumptions to accuse people of things. At least not today.
So, there it is. Enjoy delicious tacos in a trendy, beautiful setting at Antique Taco. Just try to do it on an evening where you can take it easy the next day, just in case.
Last week we spent an evening at Lincoln Hall with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, with David Ramirez. I first heard Drew and Ellie Holcomb sing while I was attending the StoryChicago conference, and I loved them. When they said they had a show scheduled the following week in my city, I knew we should go.
Typically, I’m not much for concerts. (Yes, I hate fun.) They are loud and typically it gets really hot, and there are so many strangers packed into a tight space that if you have to go to the bathroom you may never find your way back to your friends. Also, concerts typically start about the time I’m ready to go to bed, so before the main act hits the stage I’m yawning and mostly just want to put on my jammies and go to sleep.
But H loves concerts. He loves going to different venues, hearing bands he doesn’t know very well or used to love in college, and he can hang with strangers like a champ. One of my goals for this new city we are living in was to make sure I found a few cool venues for us to attend, because even though I mostly want to go to sleep, I’m usually glad I went once I get back home.
Lincoln Hall was a perfect venue for us. For me, it had an upper deck with bar-height tables so I could sit with a little space around me, return to my seat after going to the bathroom or walking around, and easy access to the bar. For H, it was a music venue, with music. That’s basically all it takes for him.
It turned out that DH and their openers were actually Christian bands, which at first was a total bummer because (a) they are usually terrible, (b) I hate being a stereotype, and (c) the 8:30 band was playing very lame and confusing songs that turned out to be praise and worship music, which was awkward.
So we sat back for a bit and drank our beer. But, when David Ramirez came out — wow. We both loved him. His lyrics were real truths, he said the F-word when his harmonica was upside down (so clearly we could be best friends) and didn’t care when the crowd of white hipster Christians gasped at his language (and I cackled like a crazy-person), and his voice was about 80% Johnny Cash.
And I love Johnny Cash.
My favorite Ramirez song was one about forgetting a lost love, called Shoeboxes. Here’s a video from YouTube of him singing that song:
In the venue the song was a lot more yell-y and broken that it sounds in this video, and I love that quality in his voice: you can feel his pain echoing through the room. His song The Bad Days is going to be big, I think. Check it out.
Next up: Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.
Drew and Ellie were great. Their sound with the whole band was very different from their sound as a duet, which is how I heard them first at Story. H and I both like them better when it’s just Drew with his guitar and Ellie with her mandolin, but you could really tell their band had a lot of fun together and we rocked out to their cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl. Best song of the night: The Wine We Drink.
All in all, this was a great night of challenging myself to push past my personal (grandmotherly) boundaries and ended up being a win-win, because not only did we have a great time but we found a new artist to support.