Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chicago: Day 2

The last little bit of my vacation disappeared when I ate the last kernel of the Garrett's popcorn on Friday. I had rationed it, to make the vacation last, but I guess it's time to admit it's over. Luckily, we've got Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations approaching.

On Day 2, we took a boat tour on the Chicago River, led by the Chicago Architectural Foundation. Andrew enjoyed it much more than I expected he would, as evidenced by the fifty plus photos we have of random skyscrapers. I learned lots of history, none of which I can remember right now, and I got thoroughly chilled, a sensation I can still remember distinctly.

Dinner was ethiopian (Thanks, Tim - Ras Dashen was terrific!) and I discovered that Ethiopian beer is orders of magnitude better than Ethiopian wine. They had several authentic beers, all of them a chocolate-y, port style, which goes perfectly with spicy veggie purees. We ended the evening with Billy Elliot, a musical based on the movie. It's set in northern England (county Durham) and their accents were spot-on (not that I could tell - I asked Andrew afterwards). It was a terrific show, but it reminded me once again of the perils of wearing eye makeup to the theater. Even happy shows have a tear-jerker song or two, and then I'm left looking like Tammy Faye Bakker.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chicago: Day 1

I was lucky enough to have ended up in a hipster neighborhood (Wicker Park) filled with vintage shops. I didn't do this on purpose (a disclaimer I must make, as my husband may have thought that this was a carefully-laid plan to spend all our money). I spent most of the first day puttering around, ducking into shops. I emerged with a renewed resolution to wear more vintage clothes, and more hats.

After that, I headed downtown to meet Andrew for dinner, because he was still busy doing conference things during the day. On the way, I made sure to stop for one of the iconic tastes of Chicago- Garrett popcorn. In particular, the Chicago mix is my favorite - a blend of cheese and caramel popcorn. Trust me, it's better than it sounds.

I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour at the Bean (aka the Cloud Gate). Almost everyone who walks by it has the urge to walk right up to the sculpture and make faces or goof around, which makes for exceptional people watching.

Then, on our way to dinner, Andrew and I discovered a good reason to come back in a few weeks, to see some live theater:

Our dinner turned into more of an adventure than I expected. I had set my sights on Ethiopian food, because there is no Ethiopian in all of southern Florida. I had left my list of recommended restaurants back at my room, so we relied on the guidebook, which placed three different Ethiopian restaurants within a few blocks of each other. Unfortunately, the guidebook was seven years old, and not one of these three restaurants still existed. Despairing, we ended up at an Indian restaurant, the Standard India Restaurant. The food was uniformly great, but the best part was the host. He was extremely personable, wandering around and checking in on each table repeatedly. We learned that he was a law professor and a director at a director at a global company. His family runs the restaurant, and he's a helps out (in his spare time?).

Andrew and I have been eating Indian together since we met, and to me it's a romantic food because our favorite restaurant catered our wedding. I've been a bit melancholy because that restaurant (Udupi, for all you former UMders) has closed, and I felt like a little part of my life was gone. But I guess I can have hope that I'll still continue to have new Indian food experiences.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sleeping in style

Chicago. I loved it. As a sort of belated trip journal, I'm going to post each of the remaining days this week.

When I was a kid, we never stayed in motels. If we didn't have a relative who lived in the location of interest, we used something called Mennonite Your Way. This was a sort of organization where you submitted your name to a directory, indicating that you were willing to host people who needed to stay in your area. In return, when you were planning to visit somewhere, you'd call or write a letter and ask if the host if they could offer shelter. I think there was generally a bed or fold-out couch for my parents, but usually we kids ended up on the floor. You weren't supposed to pay anything, although you could bring a small gift. As the name suggests, this was intended for Mennonites, and since my parents had both been raised Mennonite, that seemed to be good enough. Throughout my childhood we had all kinds of interesting people stay at our house, and I thought it was perfectly normal to have complete strangers (but only Mennonite strangers!) drop by your house.

This option is no longer available to me, so I now use something called Airbnb. This isn't quite free, but it's along the same principle. When I was planning my trip to Chicago, I looked up who hosts there. The options vary - sometimes there's just a place on the floor, sometimes a couch or bed, or even multiple bedrooms - and prices vary accordingly. I used this in New York and plan to use it again at Thanksgiving. I couldn't have asked for a better experience in Chicago - my host was a young electrical engineer, who says he can often cover a good portion of his rent doing this. He made us breakfast one day, and offered good tourist advice. And I paid $35 a night for a room with no set check-out time and a genial host. It's the hipster's Mennonite Your Way.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

My life has been a bit over-vegetabled lately. I've joined a vegetable buying club, where someone buys organic veggies in bulk, and distributes them each week. It's sort of like a CSA (community supported agriculture), but you can cancel at anytime and you're not limited to the produce of one farm, or even one region. The produce is much higher quality than what I can get at the grocery store, and they give you so much that I split the share with a colleague. This week, because I'm going away for four days, I've been trying to eat my week's veggies in just two days. It's turned into an experiment to test how much produce one can eat without upsetting the digestive system. Today I've managed to eat a pomegranate, a persimmon, collard greens, half a (small) watermelon, spinach, half an onion, two poblano peppers, and a half a pint of cherry tomatoes. Oof.

This hasn't hampered my Indian cooking too much, although I only managed one Indian dish this week: spinach pakoras. You mix fresh spinach into a batter and fry up patties. The most interesting part is that this recipe forced to buy chickpea flour (available at your local Indian grocery), which I would somehow like to start using more, because it's so much healthier than wheat flour.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Cooler weather

Today was cool, in the 60s (the mid teens, Centigrade). I'll admit that this is not exactly winter weather for most of the world, but I was able to wear a jacket. We also turned off the air-conditioner, a rare occurrence since moving to Miami in May.

My landlord had built a tiny fire in a makeshift fire bowl. It was lovely to sit by the fire with my wine and a book, and also reassuring. I've been wondering if I can survive in a place that doesn't have winter. Now I know that if I can have a few chilly days (and luckily, I'm easily chilled), I won't feel like I live in perpetual summer.

I'll also get the chance to experience some winter weather next week, when I spend a few days in Chicago. I haven't had Veteran's Day off since high school, but my university designates it an official holiday. So I'm making it a long weekend and flying up to Chicago, where Andrew will be attending a conference. Chicago is one of my favorite cities. I've visited many times, so there aren't lots of "must-sees" that I haven't seen. This frees me up to do other things. I'm going to take a river tour of the city run by the architectural society, and I'm going to do some vintage shopping. I also hope to find some Ethiopian food, one of the few cuisines that South Florida doesn't offer.

Speaking of cuisine, the latest attempts on Indian food had mixed results. Palak paneer (spinach and cheese) is definitely a keeper, because it's so easy. You puree the onions, garlic, and spices in the food processor, then fry it. Add the pureed spinach and cook, then add the paneer before serving. On the other hand, the pudding I made was odd and too heavy. I'm used to American puddings, in which milk is thickened with flour and maybe eggs. The Indian pudding was made by boiling down the milk until it was one-fourth the volume, with a handful of rice to thicken. I had to stand and stir the milk for a half an hour while it boiled down, and then at the end I had basically made evaporated milk. Next time I'll just buy a can of sweetened condensed milk and call it dessert. Or better yet, I'll make cake.