Chicago

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I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Chicago, my first time! The day of travel would have been just fine if the plane actually took off and arrived at the gate when it was supposed to, however we had a lot of down time on the tarmac. Dinner reservations were at 8:45 that night so we went straight to the room and back out into the city in search of the restaurant.

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard was a must do. Unfortunately her flagship restaurant The Girl and the Goat was booked out until November so we decided to try her Asian restaurant Duck Duck Goat. “Reasonably authentic Chinese Food” is what the waiters say when they greet you at the table. The place was buzzing for a late Thursday evening. The space was tight and the volume loud. Sitting almost too close for comfort next to other diners, we ordered off of the “chef recommended” menu. I only have a couple pictures since the lighting wasn’t doing me any favors.

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We started off with the wood fired duck hearts.  The were tender, smoky and served on a creamy bed of garlic aioli. Delicious.

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Along with those we ordered the duck spring rolls, braised pork belly and ended with the   char siu bao. The bao dough was probably the best I have ever had, so light and fluffy. It was all really good. Happy with our decision we moseyed on closer to the hotel to meet a friend for a drink.

The next day we walked out on the river and hopped in a water taxi toward Willis tower.

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Not wanting to wait in line for the sky view we kept on walking to Union Station where I had my first Chicago dog.

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I’ll come clean, I don’t really like hot dogs. I felt that I had to try it and see what all the fuss was about. Eh, it tasted like a hot dog that had too much stuff on it. I won’t need another one.

The rain started to arrive as we were along the riverwalk so we tucked into a winery for a couple glasses of wine. I really dig the vibe of the river front, I can see spending warm afternoons out there listening to music and people watching.

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Cold and ready for a hot shower we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner numero dos.

Reservations weren’t until later that evening so we started at a speakeasy bar called Brando’s. Remembering I am too old for crowds, we weren’t sure if we would be able to stand the elbow to elbow nowhere to sit room. However the happy hour prices and delicious dirty martinis swayed us to fight the sporadic nudges of the flannel wearing strangers. Then a barstool opened up and we made ourselves comfortable until dinner.

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Rick Bayless, he’s my favorite . He was who graced the screens of my early culinary classes and whom I grew to admire years after. Eating at his restaurant Frontera Grill was the first thing that came to my mind when I decided to finally see Chicago. I wish I had a better experience to share but it was just very underwhelming.

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We started with pork tamales and tamarind margaritas. Both were just OK. I’ve had much better in San Diego and our waiter was less than gracious.

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The entrees were molé enchiladas and a fish dish. The fish was better than the enchiladas. If you want really really good Molé Enchiladas head to El Comal or JV’s tacos in San Diego. Can’t be beat.

The best thing we had were probably the plantains, they could have stood to cook a little longer but dipped in crema and molé they were pretty darn good.

 

Unsatisfied we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.

I had the next day solo, so after lounging in bed with multiple cups of coffee I ventured out. I walked down to Navy Pier and had a mango smoothie along the water. I had some company stop by.

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I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the afternoon so I just started walking along the lake.

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So unreal, just breathtaking! Are we sure this is a lake?

I found myself not far from Lincoln park, I decided that would be my destination and a place to stop for lunch.

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I found a little restaurant outside the Lincoln Park zoo that suited my needs. A glass of rosé and a sandwich. The wind picked up and my toes were going numb, yes I wore flip flops, duh!

I also found that cabs were much easier than ride shares out there, do you guys agree?

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Back at the hotel I poured a big glass of Syrah and submerged myself in a piping hot bath. We were invited to an event at the House of Blues later that night, so with time to kill we went to the hotel bar for a bite to eat and a drink.

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The short trip ended with an open bar, live music, late night pizza and amazing company!

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It was a perfect little getaway. I love being in a new place, it’s one of my most favorite things. Like any place, I could have used a couple more days. If I ever get back there, I have a list ready!

 

 

 

Sneaky

The other night at dinner Kaili had told me she finished all her hot dog. I told her she could grab her Halloween candy and pick something for a treat. Once the candy was ingested I went over to the table where I noticed a rather large amount of hot dogs on Averi’s plate. I knew that I never gave her that much so when I asked Kaili about it, she admitted she put her food onto sisters plate. Little sneaky shit.

We decided to battle the crowds at Balboa Park for December nights last Friday. The International houses were open and serving a few of their countries delicacies. As much fun as it would have been to linger longer and try more food, the amount of people with two little kids is an anxiety attack waiting to happen. I have learned that the older I get, the more I hate crowds and especially lines.

We really didn’t get much out of the experience aside from the girls going on a few overpriced carnival rides, free entry to a couple museums and a visit with Santa.

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We ended up leaving the park for a proper dinner and found ourselves at a very unpretentious old and quaint Italian restaurant for dinner called Volare. I haven’t been really excited about a meal out in a long time. Shane might tell you I order wrong but I just think I have become a tad snooty with my food. However, I did not order wrong here and everything I tried was delicious. We were not disappointed and I can’t wait to return.

 

 

Mother’s Day

I hope all you wonderful moms had a great Mother’s day. We earned this holiday! I grew two  human beings inside of me and went through hell to get them to exit my body in a safe and timely manner. Then there is the aftermath of the birth, the NICU, the bleeding, the pain!  Being a mom is hard and it definitely takes a village. But we do it, everyday. We, you and me, we are badass!

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Kaili made me the sweetest Mother’s day gift at school. She knows me pretty well.

Saturday I was taken out to brunch at my favorite of the Brian Malarkey restaurants, Herringbone, where “fish meats field.”

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The atmosphere in the place is just amazing.

We decided to graze through a bunch of dishes that we normally wouldn’t order for brunch. Settling in with the endless Rosé, we started with oysters.

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I am a huge seafood cheerleader. I have had oysters before and eh, they are fine. I don’t get all the hype, especially when someone says they love them. Wait, do you like the taste of a fresh plain oyster or do you like to dump all the fixings on it? Because I feel like you’re not really tasting the oyster when its dripping with horseradish and lemon juice. Anyways….Here is Shane’s first time trying a raw oyster.

Pretty underwhelming reaction huh? Thats pretty much how I feel about them too.

Next we tore into a perfectly piping hot basket of beignets. We kept having to swat the kids hands away. Back up ladies, eat your eggs, these are ours!

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For our third course we decided on the whole fish ceviche. Basically a raw crudo of Branzino. It was amazing. So fresh and clean, like eating the ocean with bits of chili and micro cilantro for a proper punch and crunch.

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The girls were being so very good. I think this is a first time in a long time that they were this good at a restaurant. We decided to go with it and try one more dish while they were on this best behavior kick.

The lobster roll. I have yet to have a really good one in my 40 years so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

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But this, this was delicious. The lobster wasn’t hidden under globs of mayo, it was left to shine. The brioche bun was pillowy soft, buttery and melted in your mouth. I was so surprised with how much I liked it.

There was some live music in the front of the restaurant, we took our wine and went to listen for a bit. The girls played around patiently waiting for us while simultaneously asking for ice cream every two minutes.

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This entire meal from the kids, to the food was perfect. By far the best dining experience I have had in a long time. Since we know I am picky when it comes to dining out, you should all stop by Herringbone if you are in La jolla. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

Sicilian for a Day

I took my first Sur La Table cooking class last weekend. The theme was exploring Sicily which is one place in Italy I have not been. There were six of us in the kitchen and it started out with our chef walking us through the footprint of the class.

After a brief introduction and a quick knife skill refresh for some (obviously not me because I am amazing) we started on our first course.

Caponata, the Sicilian sweet and salty version of ratatouille. The longer it sits the better it gets. Served on a toasted baguette with a drizzle of olive oil, it makes a wonderful starter.

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Second course was a Fennel and cara cara orange Insalata, now I am pretty sure those oranges are not Italian but…..I kept my mouth shut.  Raw fennel isn’t my favorite, I much prefer fennel seeds, but this salad shined.

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The main course was grilled hanger steak with castelvetrano olive tapenade. The castelvetrano olives are Sicily’s most used bright green snacking olive. It has a meaty, buttery and mild flavor, absolutely delish.

We marinated the steak in olive oil, lemon, garlic, fresh herbs and red pepper. Showered it with flaky sea salt and then grilled to our liking, rare obviously.

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The tapenade started with poaching some garlic in olive oil and then we sat it aside to cool. The olives, capers, anchovies, lemon and red wine vinegar all got to know each other in the food processor. Just enough to marry the flavors but still have some texture. It paired very nicely with the grilled steak.

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Dessert was Cannoli tartlets and we actually started them early in the class. We made a basic pastry crust with the addition of some marsala wine. It hung out in the fridge for a half of an hour before we rolled out the dough and cut into small circles and then pressed them into a muffin tin. They baked for about 20 minutes until golden brown and firm.

The filling for the tartlets was a delicious mixture of mascarpone cheese, ricotta, vanilla bean paste, zest of an orange and powdered sugar all whisked together until combined.

The filling was spooned into the tartlet shells and then we sprinkled chopped dark chocolate pieces and pistachios on top. It was very tasty.

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It was a really fun class and I am looking forward to taking another one soon. At the end of class our chef asked me if I was a spy for the Food Network, I asked her why she thought that and she said it’s because my knife skills were great. Insert told you so.

I have already remade the hanger steak and it might be one of my favorite cuts right now, absolutely buttery and delicious.

 

 

 

Little Getaways

Kaili had this week off of school for Spring break and instead of us sitting around the house we joined Shane for a week in Oxnard, Ca.

We left Sunday early in the day and made a pit stop in Irvine for a visit with family before making our way up to Malibu. The drive along the coast up there is just breathtaking. We stopped at Paradise Cove for lunch. With tables in the sand and amazing views, you really do feel like you’ve reached Paradise.

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We easily devoured a bottle of Cakebread 2012 Merlot for a very reasonable price considering where we were. It’s hard to beat sitting on the beach with a good drink while the kids are entertaining themselves in mother natures playground. The food was underwhelming, which seems to be a reoccurring theme for us lately but the atmosphere made up for it.

dThe last leg of the drive was an easy one and we got to the hotel by check in time. Our room that was supposed to be ready, wasn’t, and being a Hilton Honors member we got upgraded to an ocean view suite. Still full from lunch we decided to skip dinner and just go with happy hour beverages. We watched the sun set on the balcony before tucking in for the night.

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Shane still had to work so the girls and I were on our own for most of the days.  We played at the beach in the mornings and then spent the afternoons at the pool.

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One day I brought my book down thinking I might be able to read a chapter and then I laughed and laughed and laughed at myself.

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We would meet Shane at happy hour in the evenings and then head into town for dinner. We had some very good steamed mussels at la Petit Cafe in the harbor, after we managed to make it back to the hotel bar to catch most of the USMNT soccer match. The girls ate ice cream on the floor, we had some wine, it was perfect.

We also found a good Mexican spot in Oxnard called Cabo Seafood grill and Cantina and everyone was happy with their meal, a rarity these days.

Thursday morning we took one last dip in the hot tub before packing up for the drive home.

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The hotel service wasn’t as good as it should be for a pricey resort but overall the stay was very nice. One of my favorite things is being able to hear the waves crashing from the couch as the ocean breeze blows through the room.

Kaili was complaining of an earache on the drive home and Averi was super tired and cranky. Turns out K had swimmers ear but luckily we caught it fast and she’s good as new now.

Little getaways like these are just what the doctor ordered.

This Weather

We have had a good run with the weather lately and yes I am bragging. My winter tan is coming along nicely, thanks for asking.

We have been spending time outdoors with friends, playing, eating and just enjoying life.

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A friend and I took our girls to Seaport Village for a Sunday Funday. We ate ice cream, rode the carousel and enjoyed the day.

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Kaili’s class had a field trip ton probably the best day of weather ever. I volunteered to help, my friend and I had a small group of girls to chaperone for a day at the San Diego zoo.

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I think we made a lot of ground, saw a lot of animals in the day. But it was hot and the girls   ended up just wanting to be done walking and to see the petting zoo.

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So we hiked our way through the treetops to get them all safely to the petting zoo, which is really just some goats…..but they were happy.

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We spent the last 30 minutes of the day playing on the playground and eating churros and then the kids were whisked away via bus and us adults went on our way. It was exhausting but so fun!

Averi and I have our new shopping routine. We head to Hillcrest where we can hit Trader Joes and Ralphs in a one-stop shop.

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She loves the ride up!

Then we spent the entire weekend in the sun, in the warmtub and just loving these sunny days.

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Averi wasn’t her normal self Monday and she ended coming down with some stomach bug. But on the tail end of it we landed at the park for a couple of hours,  I almost lost my daughter to the sandman.

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I hear it’s supposed to rain next week. Good thing I have a head start on my sunning!

 

Where Do the Days Go?

Is it really the middle of February? What the hell? I am turning another year older next week that probably explains why I can’t remember what we have done the past few weeks.

Aside from a couple of kids birthday parties and making hummus, my new weekly hobby, life has been mundane. I did, however make it to a USMNT friendly match. They played lousy but we still had fun time, with great seats on the field.

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I have been trying to take the girls to the park on Wednesdays, we have been exploring outside of our neighborhood park. Finding ourselves mostly at parks near the water when the weather is beautiful.

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Averi really wanted to hand feed the pigeon a chip, I almost thought she would succeed but   the bird chickened out.img_1137-1

The past few recipes I have made have been duds, I need to make something good enough to post. Luckily next Saturday Brian Malarkey will be cooking us dinner as we try out his new restaurant. What else should we do with a free night downtown?