Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sex In the City

For my third weekend in a row out of town, I spent time in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, which was a nice change of pace from the last two weekends spent camping and enjoying the outdoors.

As I’ve mentioned before, Karen serves on a planning committee for a professional conference that takes place in Chicago each December. Throughout the year, she heads to Chicago for planning meetings, and I tag along to selfishly enjoy the fabulous downtown accommodations, shopping, and dining, and to catch up with friends who live in the city.

We spent late Saturday through Monday in the city. Saturday was a beautiful day, so after checking into the hotel, we immediately headed to the Ohio Street beach to lay in the sun and read. That night, we ate dinner at A Mano, an Italian Trattoria located on North Dearborn, near the House of Blues. A Mano focuses primarily on antipasti, wood oven pizzas, pasta, and gelato. The Arugula Salad (with pine nuts, parmigiano and Meyer lemon vinaigrette) was fantastic, but my entrĂ©e—Herb Gnocchi (with mussels, zucchini blossoms, preserved lemons, and snap peas)—didn’t quite live up to expectations. I liked the open kitchen concept, but business was relatively sparse for a Saturday night, which makes me believe it won’t last long.

On Sunday morning, we did a nice long run on the Lakeshore bike path. Afterwards I met my friend, Seif, at my favorite Chicago breakfast spot—Fox and Obel. It was great to catch up, and after brunch, we did a little shopping on Michigan Avenue. I then met up with Karen after her meetings, and we went to dinner at Avec, a truly unique and extraordinary restaurant that Seif had recommended, and a place deserves a post all to itself. Details will follow.

After dinner, we went to see the film Choke, which exceeded my expectations in being dark and disturbing. I knew the basic storyline and how the main character is a sex-addict, but really, I wasn’t expecting quite that much raunchy sex. I would steer clear of this movie if you’re a.) on a first date, or b.) expecting to have sex in the next month. Otherwise, go for it. I suppose it was thought-provoking, and I did love the soundtrack.

We had big expectations for Monday, our final day in the city. We did another long run on the lakeshore path, I had breakfast at Fox and Obel, and Karen had just a few hours of morning meetings, after which our grand plans included a trip to the Lincoln Park zoo. Unfortunately, our parade was literally rained on, so we settled for a little shopping on Michigan Avenue, lunch at Go Roma, a fast-food Italian chain on North State Street that never fails, and then headed home, back to the comfort of Madison, at least for a few days, until our travels take us to Minneapolis for our next urban adventure.

Fall Food Fun

I've had some nice "fall food fun" spottings lately. I found the top picture on my favorite foodie site, tastespotting.com. The oreo turkeys were originally featured on a food blog entitled "the hungry housewife." Ingredients include double stuff oreos, candy corns, milk balls, Reece's cups, and chocolate frosting. The original posting points out that a recipe is hardly needed...once you look at those little turkeys, you can pretty much figure out how to make them. If you need more assistance, check out the hungry housewife blog.

I found the pumpkin pictured in the second photo over the weekend at Fox and Obel, a gourmet food market in Chicago. I think pumpkin art is always fun, and I like the idea of using assorted vegetables for the eyes, hair, ears, etc. Very creative and food friendly. Hopefully these pictures will get your creative foodie juices flowing!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Film Ramblings

As the weather turns cooler, one thing I am excited for is going to the movies more often.

Just last week, I saw a great movie at the theater in town that features “soon to be on their way to DVD” new releases at discounted prices. We call it “the cheaps.” Anyhow, the film I saw, titled The Visitor, from the director of Station Agent and the producer of Sideways, is the story of newfound connections with strangers and their ability to transform and awaken a once joyless 62-year-old man to a new world and new life. It was poignant, understated, heartfelt, uplifting, human, and illuminating. I loved it, and it’s one of those movies in which you find yourself thinking about the characters afterwards, wondering how they’re doing, as if they really exist.

I’m also excited to see the film Choke, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The film, which was featured at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is being released nationwide today. It's the dark and twisted story of a sex-addicted con-man who pays for his mother’s hospital bills by playing on the sympathies of others who rescue him as he repeatedly pretends to choke to death. Certainly not your standard Disney flick. I have no idea if I will like it, and will quite certainly find it immensely disturbing, but I do think the concept is intriguing and I’ve always wanted to get a taste of Palahniuk’s work.

Finally, I read an article in last week’s New Yorker which was essentially a review of the new film, The Women, a remake of the 1939 classic. The film’s reviews have been abysmal across the board, but what I found most interesting is how the article talked about the recent movies that have been targeted to females (think: Sex and the City, Mama Mia, and the Women.) Now don’t get me wrong, I love me a little Sex and the City, but it’s undoubtedly trashy and shallow, and what does it really say about the film industry’s perceptions of women when we’re being targeted with the shallow garbage that’s come out lately?

There's my two cents. So bring on the cold, and the heavily salted and buttered popcorn, but give me something with a little more thought and substance.

Blast From the Past

I just found out yesterday that my wonderful student worker, Chloe, has been selected for homecoming court at UW!! I am so happy, proud, and excited for Chloe. I remember my time on court in 2001 as among the best two weeks of my life. It was a whirlwind of excitement, new friends, service, school spirit, and great parties. It went by so fast, and left me unbelievably exhausted. But of course, it was an experience that I will remember forever. Congratulations to Chloe! She's definitely in for a wild ride :)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

San Marzano Tomato Sauce

Last night, I made myself a simple Italian fest—Fusilli noodles covered with San Marzano tomato sauce. I was recently introduced to canned San Marzano tomatoes through a friend of a friend. They are a variety of plum tomatoes that are considered by many chefs to be the best sauce tomatoes in the world.

The story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. The volcanic soil is believed to act as a filter for water impurities. Compared to the Roma Tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate. Because of their high quality and origins near Naples, San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for true Neapolitan Pizza.

I had been looking for a can of San Marzano “Whole Peeled Tomatoes” for a few months with no luck. They seem to only be sold at speciality food markets. Finally, over the weekend I found them at a small market in Door County for $3.99 per can, and so I stocked up with four. Last night, using the simple recipe featured on the back of the can, I whipped up a batch of tomato sauce. In addition to the tomatoes, sauce ingredients include butter, a small onion, and salt and pepper. I also added some fresh basil from my garden. The sauce was incredible. It was thick and chunky, and the flavor simple, yet complex. Definitely puts jarred varieties to shame. The small amout of work required is well worth the taste.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fish Boil and Other Door County Treats

White Gull Inn Fish Boil

Karen entering the White Gull Inn

Our Master Boiler, Tom Christianson

White Fish from Lake Michigan

Bringing in the cooked fish for dinner

Let's go eat!

Another one of my favorite parts of this past weekend was experiencing my first fish boil, which has been a Door County tradition for over a hundred years, pioneered by the early Scandinavian settlers of the Peninsula. Many of the local restaurants offer fish boils, but the White Gull Inn's is one of the oldest, and most famous.

A traditional Door County fish boil features freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish caught by local fishermen and cooked outside over an open fire. The fish is cut in chunks and cooked in boiling water with small red potatoes. Fish oils rise to the surface of the boiling cauldron, and when the fish is perfectly done, the Master Boiler tosses a small amount of kerosene on the flames under the pot. The great burst of flames causes the boilover, spilling the fish oils over the side of the pot and leaving the fish perfectly done, steaming hot and ready to serve.

I loved the fish boil. It was fun and entertaining to watch, and the fish and accompanying dishes were delicious. I love a good fish fry, but doubted that I would enjoy plain, boiled whitefish. But served with a little tarter sauce and a touch of butter, the stuff was to die for. The dinner was also an incredible deal. For $18.95 per person, our dinner included all-you-can-eat fish and potatoes, garden fresh coleslaw, homemade breads and homemade Door County cherry pie for dessert. Of course, there was also the entertainment factor of watching the cooking process and hearing the history first hand from our master boiler. On top of that, there was also a gentleman playing the accordion during dinner. I thought the fish boil would be a "one and done" experience for me, but I loved it and will definitely go back.

After the fish boil, we headed back to our camp site for a nice campfire before turning in for the night. Sunday morning we slept in a bit before heading out on a 14-mile run around the perimeter of the park. The run was very difficult, as most of it was spent in the bluffs of the park, climbing hill after hill. Karen reminded me that it was good training for the hills of the Twin Cities marathon, which we're scheduled to run next weekend. Along the way, we also stopped at the lookout tower, where we enjoyed phenomenal views of Lake Michigan from a very high platform. Towards the end of the run, I was struggling immensely, but pressed on. I was very tired and hungry for breakfast.

Afterwards I told Karen that I was going to eat all day long. She laughed and replied that's my mantra every day. True. Nonetheless, I was ready to eat breakfast. We decided on a cute little breakfast nook in Ephraim named "Good Eggs." Upon entering, I immediately fell in love with the place. They were playing Beck, my favorite musical artist, and their menu featured three simple versions of breakfast omelets, fruit smoothies, scones, and "mountain bars." I loved the vibe, and the food was great, too. Definitely a gem. And very cheap, too.

From there, we did a little shopping in Ephriam, Egg Harbor, and Sister Bay before starting our drive home. We stopped at Orchard Winery on our way out for a little wine tasting and to pick up a pie for the way home. Which, living up to my day's goal, I immediately dug into. It was some damn good apple pie!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Door County (Saturday, Continued)

We spent the rest of Saturday driving up the peninsula, visiting one harbor town after another, including Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay, Gills Rock, and Northport. One of my favorite stops was to Uncle Tom's Candies in Northport, which is a small candy shop in an old schoolhouse that I remember visiting as a child during our frequent family camping trips to Door County (we were one of those pop-up camper families). The memory of Uncle Tom's seemed so vivid to me, even though it's been over 20 years since I last visited. Uncle Tom, who owned the shop since the 1970's, passed away in 1997 and gave the store to his favorite employee, who later sold the store to the current owners upon her retirement. Uncle Tom's legacy remains, and remnants of his zany personality are everywhere. I ended up purchasing ungodly amounts of Uncle Tom's famous pancake batter and peanut brittle to get me through the winter, and to send to some very important people. After Uncle Tom's, we drove to Gill's Rock and considered taking the ferry to Washington Island, but decided to save it for another time.

We then drove back South along the peninsula, and stopped for a quick lunch of chili in Sister's Bay, followed by ice cream at Wilson's Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Ephraim, which has been a classic Door County icon since 1906. Interestingly, just in front of Wilson's, on the piers that jut out into Lake Michigan, is where I had a pretty good fall in the lake when I was approximately 5 or 6 years old. As the story goes, I was walking along the pier, tripped, and fell in frigid waters of Lake Michigan. My dad jumped into action, and reached down into the lake to grab and pull me out. We have a great picture of me warming up afterwards by a campfire. Perhaps this accident is what initiated my first swim lessons and subsequent career in competitive swimming...

Cana Island Lighthouse

Our Saturday in Door County was filled with an incredible amount of activity. Despite sleeping on slightly uneven terrain in the tent, I had a relatively restful night (but will definitely be adding a Thermarest to my Christmas list). Karen and I awoke to a quick burst of rain, which luckily only lasted for approximately 10 minutes. Afterwards, the overcast skies immediately cleared out and the sun poured in. At that point, we headed out on a 5 mile run on the Sunset Trail. It was one of those amazing fall runs that I look forward to and remember all year.

After our run, we cleaned up and headed to Bailey’s Harbor for their Autumnfest celebration. We perused the arts and craft vendors, and I purchased a small beautifully crafted wooden bud vase. We then walked around town, and ultimately decided Bailey’s Harbor was not all that exciting. Moving on, we drove to the nearby Cana Island Lighthouse, which is Door County’s most recognizable lighthouse. It was one of my favorite activities of the day, as I really enjoyed learning about the significance of the lighthouse in maritime history, and also about the day-to-day life of the lighthouse keepers and their families. I also liked touring the inside of the lighthouse and climbing up to the top for the incredible views. Actually, climbing to the top was not all that easy for me. I’m really shaky when it comes to heights, so I definitely struggled with the never ending twisting staircase. Amazingly, although the lighthouse was built in 1869, a guardrail was not installed until the early 1900’s!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Arriving in Door County

I think this past weekend was my favorite of the year thus far. It was as close to perfect as could be. I spent Friday through Sunday camping at Peninsula State Park in Door County. The weather was phenomenal—definitely an Indian Summer experience. The fall colors were just starting to pop, and the temperatures were extremely mild.

After a 3.5 hour drive to the Door County peninsula, Karen and I arrived at the park. We set up camp, and were happy to find our site in Tennison Bay, which was wooded, secluded, and along the shore of Lake Michigan. Despite my cluelessness upon making a reservation quite some time ago, apparently I had done good work. After situating ourselves, we went on a short bike ride along the Sunset Trail, and enjoyed breathtaking views of the expansive lake and surrounding islands and harbor towns.

After a quick rest, we drove through Fish Creek and headed to the Orchard Winery in Egg Harbor, the departure location for our 7pm “ghost tour” trolley ride, which promised “a scary, fun, and informative tour filled with tales of ghostly sunken ships, haunted lighthouses and mysterious happenings on the darker side of this spirited peninsula.” While I had done the same tour last fall, I really wanted Karen to experience it as well. We ended up having a great guide, who was a masterful story teller. We had a lot of fun and learned great historical tidbits about the peninsula. By the time the tour had ended, it was nearly 10pm. We ended up grabbing a pizza at Digger’s Pizza and Grill. Despite the name, the pizza was delicious. From there, we headed back to camp and slept in our little tent under the stars.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Camping Is In-Tents!

Tomorrow morning, I'm heading to Door County for a long weekend of camping at Peninsula State Park. My family camped there regularly when I was growing up, and I have many fond memories of the park and surrounding areas.

I am hoping for a weekend with beautiful weather and lots of outdoor fun. Planned activities include the following: a trolley ghost tour of Door County, a fish boil at White Gull Inn, a stop at Wilson's Ice Cream Parlor, a tour of Cana Island Lighthouse (pictured, above), a stop at Bailey's Harbor Autumnfest, a bike ride on the Sunset Trail at Peninsula State Park, and possible stops at one of the local wineries/orchards, Sweetie Pie's, and Uncle Tom's Newport School Candies in Ellison Bay.

I am so excited. I love camping, and I've been planning this trip for over 6 months, as sites at Peninsula State Park are hard to come by! The thought of camping also reminds me of my former student worker, Meghan, who also loved camping and frequently wore a t-shirt imprinted with the message "Camping Is In-Tents!" Good stuff. I still think I might need one of those.

The Great Pumpkin Bagel Returns!

Yesterday morning, Einstein's Bros. Bagels launched their classic fall flavors menu across the country. These seasonal favorites include the popular Pumpkin Bagel with double whipped Pumpkin Cream Cheese, the Pumpkin Muffin topped with cream cheese icing, and Autumn Roast coffee, a blend that features toasted chestnut.

I’ve said it before. I’m obsessed with Einstein’s pumpkin bagel with pumpkin cream cheese (I still refuse to call it “shmear” as Einstein’s commonly refers to cream cheese). I very much wish it were offered all year. But, alas, I can only stuff my belly with endless pumpkin bagels for a limited time. And so now, until Madison’s supply runs dry, I will savor every morsel and frequent Einstein’s as much as possible.

According to a press release offered by Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, the fall flavors will be available in stores thorough the end of November or while supplies last. According to Jim Hood, Chief Marketing Officer for Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, “All good things, the autumn season and the classic pumpkin flavors at Einstein Bros. included, must come to an end." And so with that, I will eat on until I am cut off.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The New "Bucky" Clock

Just recently, the five-story addition to Grainger Hall was completed, which now serves as home to Business graduate programs on the University of Wisconsin campus.

Part of the three year, $40 million dollar construction project included the demolition of a former bank and office building, and most notably, the removal of the widely celebrated “Bucky clock,” which hung on the old bank building (on the corner of University Avenue and Park Street) and served as a campus landmark for students and campus visitors. Bucky's arms always helped guide me to a timely arrival to classes at the adjacent School of Business.

In the last month, as part of the construction project, a new clock has been resurrected at the corner of University Avenue and Park Street. Meet the new "Bucky clock," sans Bucky. A new sleeker, modern, statuesque, perhaps phallic, campus icon. But still, I yearn for Bucky's sprightly limbs...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Down Time Up North

I spent a very relaxing weekend in northern Wisconsin at my family's cabin near Minocqua. Karen and I arrived late on Thursday evening. It was quite chilly the entire time we were there, although we did have nice, sunny skies on Friday. The rest of the time was overcast and damp, but we didn't really mind. Most of our time was spent napping, playing solitaire, reading, and eating. We did venture out a few times for antique shopping in town, a hike on the bear skin trail, and a long run--also on the bear skin trail. I love the bear skin trail. It's a beautiful, 17-mile trail from Harshaw to Minocqua, along an old railroad route, complete with trestles and all. I was amazed at how the colors are already beginning to show in the trees around the area. While the trees are mostly still green, some vibrant yellows and reds really stood out.

And is it even possible that I had never in my life played Solitaire before this weekend? Karen taught me and I have become obsessed. It's all I want to do. Solitaire anyone? For a beginner, I'm quite good :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Cookbook Library

For me, the definition of “friends with benefits” or “friends in high places” is friends with retail jobs. Just recently, through a friend who works at Williams-Sonoma, I have had the opportunity to borrow cookbooks of choice from the store’s extensive library. Essentially, I check-out a book and peruse the recipes/try out a few, and decide if I’d like to buy it. The problem, of course, is that I end up wanting to buy each one I borrow. I love cookbooks. My latest loaner is Giada De Laurentiis' "Everyday Pasta," which is her third and latest cookbook. Some of you might be familiar with Giada from the Food Network. As I have no cable access at home, I was not.

As soon as I borrowed the book, I spent an entire night curled up reading the fabulous recipes and admiring the beautiful pictures. The book is full of simple and completely unpretentious pasta dishes. Giada clearly knows Italian, and explains the recipes in a very clear way. She also seems very fun and approachable. I love the collection, and will be making my way through the recipes this month. Stay tuned! Who said the carbo loading needs to end post-Ironman?

Just a Few More Pics...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Race Day Pics