Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ready, set...!

Whoo-whee! Hit the ground running, I have! Got some stuff to catch up on, and some news to share. But first...a little administrative work.

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I don't want to take credit where it's not due, and I've been wanting to let you all know that that firefly picture several posts back was not mine. In fact, I don't even think it's a photograph. Believe me, I am flattered that you consider me capable of such a cool shot, but I'm not quite up to that level yet. I simply found that picture on the I did the one above.

On the other hand, I did recently learn--from a 13-year old--that my camera has a close-up setting. Whoa, watch out flowers, here I come!

I also want to let you all know that Miss Chef was responsible for most of the skyline pictures in my Chicago slideshow. And neither of us remembers taking the elephant picture, so I don't know who to give credit to on that one...

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Ok, now I did want to blog a bit more about Chicago, particularly some of the meals we had. (Joanna, careful what you ask for!!) I see Claire has been to Tru--which kind of surprised me, because you're the only person besides one friend in Chicago who's even heard of it! And I never heard of it until Miss Chef put it on our schedule.

Claire, I have to admit you had a better time than I did. Not that it wasn't lovely, long and fabby...I was just intimidated by the service. A stupid thing to get hung up on, but there it is. I thought I was pretty much comfortable anywhere, but for some reason seeing that swath of silent, white-linened tables peppered with understated dark chairs made me feel like a kid that wandered into the Sanctum Sanctorum. Everyone on the service staff was cordial and helpful, but they kept appearing suddenly beside me when I didn't expect it, with a stool for my purse (!!), amuse-bouches and other fascinating services I'd never imagined.

But don't let me take away from the meal itself. We had the three-course prix fixe menu. Miss Chef had the beef tartare, complete with golden egg...and when they say golden, they ain't talkin' color. No, there was a gold-leafed egg yolk atop the carefully formed tartare--which tasted great.

I hesitantly ordered the foie gras, as I've had a few strongly-flavored experiences with it in the past. Not to fear, this was exquisitely rich and smooth, with a collection of garnishes that brought the flavor to its true height (salt, dried chives, and verjus, a concentrated grape pulp). I have to thank Miss Chef for instructing me in how to eat the dang thing; guess she learned a thing or two at that culinary school, huh?

Our main courses were salt & cocoa-crusted venison--complete with tableside carving--and suckling pig with a licorice sauce and tempura-fried mini pattipan squash. If nothing else, Tru made me enjoy flavors I normally don't like, such as foie gras and licorice. We skipped the cheese course, as we were both still exhausted from our early flight that morning, and getting a bit full. So we opted for dessert; Miss Chef for something called a chocolate "bar," me something I can't remember the name of, but which involved a buttermilk cake, a cinnamon custard and raspberry/blueberry sorbet.

But that wasn't all we were served...there were at least 3 amuse-bouches, a rolling "bar" of bonbons, chocolate-encased liquid truffles, and housemade rootbeer floats. I regret that I had to leave that last one half-eaten, as I had absolutely reached my limit. As we headed out the door, the maître d' handed us each a buttery pastry "for breakfast tomorrow, to enjoy with your coffee." Miss Chef and I were both relieved we didn't have to eat them before leaving!

Oh dear, I've only half-described one meal, and I'm way further down the page than I expected. Ok, well, we were much less intimidated at our other restaurants. We both loved Avec, where I could not believe how much I loved the shaved brussels sprouts. I enjoyed Topolobampo more than Miss Chef did, though it may be because the server's wine suggestions came across as too pushy. The sauces on my two dishes really amazed me; one was a pumpkinseed and one a thin but lush bean sauce.

We also enjoyed a couple of good local brunch places, a gastro pub where two of my college friends joined us for an early dinner, our hosts' favorite Chicago-style pizza place, and a surprisingly good little Mexican place right under our el stop.

Beyond food, we had a very enjoyable evening at Second City, a must-see for me on every trip. My first two trips to Chicago were with my college improv troupe, to do workshops with Second City and other professional groups. I haven't done any improv for a good 15 years, but it's still fun to see a good sketch comedy group in action. The actual improv portion I found a little disappointing, but I'm not sure if it was them or my idealized memories of what good improv is. Regardless, we laughed our butts off and went home happy--and slightly buzzed, after those 20-ounce beers.

We also visited Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum, for the Real Life Pirates exhibit. Both were much larger than we had imagined, and we ended up scooting by plenty of interesting displays as our time and attentiveness dwindled. You've seen pictures of our architecture boat ride, though not so much of our stroll afterwards up a busy Michigan Avenue.

The only shopping we did on the Magnificent Mile was at the Borders, and the Hershey's store I didn't even know was there. Most of our shopping happened on N. Wells street, in Old Town. Miss Chef had found a shop called the Spice House while looking for an online source for citric acid. When she saw it was in Chicago, she wrote it into the schedule. It was everything she'd hoped for, and along with her citric acid, she got two kinds of cinnamon, three kinds of salt, fresh peppercorns and some other stuff I can't remember. She also got the roasted garlic powder I've been looking for everywhere, and some good-quality vanilla extract I made all cute for, so she couldn't resist.

Right next door was Old Town Oil, where, after tasting some intriguing combinations of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Miss Chef managed to limit herself to a lemon oil and a lime oil. I think. I got a little overwhelmed, I have to admit. We managed to stay out of the Fudge Pot, but returned on our way back to the Second City show to stock up on cookies at Twisted Sister Bakery--the guy at the oil store had praised the snickerdoodles there, and I have to say, they were nearly as good as Miss Chef's! (She does read this blog, so, y'know, I have to watch my language here, lol!)

There was even more I just can't go into, since I've got to share my little news...suffice it to say that when we got to the airport, our shared suitcase was 25 lbs overweight. We desperately stuffed every cranny of our carry ons, and somehow got it down below the limit. But I don't get it...we just carried all that removed weight into the cabin of the same plane. What's the point??

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Now, some of you may recall an allusion I made in my Award Awards post about teaching. Have I ever told you that I am supposed to be a French teacher? My graduate degree is in French linguistics, and I actually taught for about 10 years, from graduate school through two different high schools. However, I do not have certification, so when we moved to Charlotte, it was extra difficult to find a teaching job in a field that's not in very high demand to start with.

Well, after five years, I'm finally stepping back into the classroom. The Art Institute of Charlotte, where Miss Chef got her culinary degree, is expanding its electives to include foreign languages. At this point they only have one French course, requiring a part-time instructor available for two nights a week. Well, guess who is a) qualified, b) available, and c) friendly with several faculty members already? Bingo!

I am a little stressed about it, at least from a planning point of view. I only today found out what textbook has been chosen, and won't be able to get my hands on it until tomorrow. From the little I've been able to glean on the Amazon site, it looks pretty....dreadful. Ugh. Does not suit my teaching style at all. Oh, and did I mention that class starts next Monday?? Sigh. That's ok, once I get settled and started, it'll start to flow as it used to. I'll just have to supplement with lots of handouts and activities, and smile a lot.

I don't know how much time I'll have for blogging, unfortunately. Maybe I'll be able to manage it once a week; maybe more as I get more comfortable with my new schedule. I know that I'll have lots that I'll want to share, but as with this week, it may be hard to find the time. I will, however, be checking in on your blogs, never fear! And I just know I'll have some interesting tales and/or insights as I get back to where I once belonged.


  1. Once a week works for me - I mean, for my blog. I love your blog. It is an awesome blog. Praise be your blog!

  2. Exotic food and fast city doings is a vacation made in heaven. My epicurean vacation experiences were slightly different.

    PS: Did you visit the Navy Pier while you were in Chicago?

  3. Me semble que vous n'avait de grandes vacances. Je suis fier de vous.

    Have y'all been watching Master Chefs on TV?
    Watching the chefs on TV is as broad as my horizons get but I really enjoy it.
    Last night one of their challenges was to cook an egg (with one hand tied behind their back).

  4. Wow - what a vacation! But I'm here to congratulate you on doing something you've always wanted to do. I intended to be an English teacher, but my career screamed off in another direction. I'm glad you've found an opportunity to put your expertise to use again!

    Nancy in Atlanta (for 3 more weeks)

  5. C'est pas vrai! Je ne savais pas! T'es bilingue! Tres bien! Il faut que tu fasses ton "blog" en francais de temps en temps! C'est rare que j'ai l'opportunite de parler en francais ces jours ci.

    My friend that I meet in Chicago lives in Canada, and she and I only manage to get together every 2-3 years, so Tru is a big treat for us both. We are unashamed foodies and until law school, I used to subscribe to Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Cooks Illustrated, Fine Cooking, etc, and once counted 18 food mag subscriptions in my name. Tru is featured with some regularity in those mags, so we had identified it as a "must try" place! Now I only get a couple of cooking magazines, but I'm still a foodie. I agree though, the service can be a little intimidating, but once you get used to the idea of being waited on hand-and-foot, it's quite delightful! LOL!

  6. A restaurant that give you "..a buttery pastry for breakfast tomorrow..." is absolute perfection to me!!!!! LOVE THAT! I'll have to check Tru out the next time I'm in Chicago. YUM.

    And congratulations on the new gig! I am very excited for you. It's a lot happening fast but I'm sure the students will love you and you'll have a great time.

    Cheering you on from California! xo

  7. Wow! I was wiping my chin as I read about your restaurant experiences. Yummy! So many interesting flavors and so much food!
    I was starting to think you were going to say between the two of you, you had gained an extra 25 lbs and had to pay extra for your seats! lol!
    I'm relieved to hear it was just your luggage and not your waists that expanded. hehe!

    Exciting stuff concerning the French class position. I hope it goes well and is fun for you.



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