Monthly Archives: October 2011

Greetings, Canadians!

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Although I have lived 1 hour from Chicago my entire life, I usually have only done the normal touristy stuff.  Sears Tower and Water Tower as a kid, Wrigley and old Comiskey as a teen, musicals and plays as a young married, museums as a new parent and Michigan Ave and restaurants as a …what am I now?  not sure…dare I say it…middle aged?  I even recently went to the Lyric for 2 seasons.  I was not middle aged there.  I felt YOUNG!  We have been to Venetian Night, 4th of July Fireworks, Air and Water Show, etc…but I have never really known the REAL city of Chicago.  So when we moved close to the Metra I was excited to get to know the city.  Chicago ~ Maureen,  Maureen ~ Chicago.

I found the Chicago Greeter website and did a little research about which tour would fit me.  Some tours require a 7-10 day window to match you with a greeter, but InstaGreeter is a lot more flexible and I just didn’t want to commit unless the weather was good.  (Yes, I am a fair weather fan for sports and everything else.)  This was how pretty the day was…

So I hopped on the UP-W line and headed in on the first nice day that was also a Friday, because Instagreeters only do weekends.   I arrived at the Chicago Cultural Center building on the corner of Michigan and Randolph in the late morning and found the counter inside easily enough.

The note on the counter said they would be back at 11:30.  The tours take a little over an hour so I had time to spare before and roamed around the building.  It really is a cool place.  (More on that later.)  There is a giant map on the wall and I decided to take the LOOP tour.

When the tour guide came back ready to give another tour, we had to fill out a short form to say where we were from.  There was only 1 other woman waiting with me for the tour.  She wrote down Vancouver, Canada.  I wrote Wheaton, IL.  The greeter raised her eyebrows, tipped her chin down and said…”You’re from Wheaton?”

Have you ever had an imaginary conversation in a matter of a second?  In the time it took her to raise her eyebrows and tip her chin, here is what we said…in my imagination, that is…

Her: You’re from Wheaton?

Me:  Yes, why?

Her: Why do you need a tour? You’re from Wheaton.

Me:  Because I’ve only lived there 2 months. And before that I lived in Morris…you’re right, I probably should have written Morris, since that is south of the Mason Dixon Line.  One hour is muuuuch different that 45 minutes.  And actually the story is complicated and I kind of still live in both…

Her: I guess you can walk along, but I probably won’t address you .  I will only talk to this worthy tourist from Canada.

Me:  But …but I’ve never seen the REAL Chicago.  The real working Loop.  I still get lost sometimes on the one-way streets. I am worthy…I am worthy…I am worthy…

Her: Well OK, whatever…

Me:  Ugh.

I know that seemed like a lot of silent communicating in one second, but that really is what the brain is capable of when someone raises their eyebrows and lowers their chin.  She did chill out after I proved myself to be a good listener and question asker.  Next time I am going to say I am from Canada.

So we headed toward the Thompson Center.  I have never been inside before…

It is surprising to think that the inside looks like this,

when the outside looks like this.

We hit lots of landmarks and just regular office buildings and banks.  Here is one that the inside looks like this…

The whole ceiling is lined in gold foiling…really gorgeous.

We visited City Hall and the County Building (same building – different entrances).

We walked to the Board of Trade  (that building right at the end of the street…See? I can be a real tourist?? I can stand in the street while a taxi is coming right at me and take a picture….worthy, I tell you.)

and the Rookery

This was all remodeled because it was so dark at one time, but they left one column open on one side to see the original intricate wood work from yester-year.  The remodel was a Frank Lloyd Wright creation.

We saw a church I had never noticed before…Yes, that is a church on top of that skyscraper.

This is the beautiful entrance.

…and the Chicago Loop Synagogue, which after going to their website, I wish I had seen the stained glass after dark.  Chicago seems to have been built as a very religious city.  There are lots of evidence of faith in the obvious and not so obvious places.

And also lots of beautiful artwork where you least expect it.

I loved seeing the part of the city, known as The Financial District, which doesn’t technically serve as a tourist destination, (There was no cotton candy or lemon shake-ups to be found.) but more of a work destination.  The architecture is beautiful and the interior details had to cost a fortune at the time.  To replace any of it today would be a Bill Gates’ fortune.

I have never worked in the city so I had no real reason for going to this area to explore.  My brother was at the Board of Trade for a while, but I have no idea how we got there.  Now I know.  You will, too, if you take a tour with an Instagreeter.  So be brave, be proud…explore the city and write down where you are really from……Canada.

To Market, To Market…

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Where to start?  Farmers Markets and French Markets have popped up in many locations in the last decade.  The city has them and the suburbs have them. Some are known for their homemade crafts, others for antiques, but the Wheaton French Market has got to be one of the best for food, a topic close to my heart.  The Wheaton Market is located right on the train tracks in downtownWheaton.  An easy walk from either the College Avenue Metra Station or the Wheaton Metra Station. From theCollege Ave location the Prairie Path provides a scenic and direct route.

It was a gorgeous day for one of the last markets of the year.  It runs through November 5th so you still have two more weekends to get there.

Pictures are worth a thousand words so enjoy the tour…

Homemade Cake Donuts

A bounty of Michigan fruit

Coffeeeeee! (samples and whole cups)

Locally Harvested Honey

Apples and Mushrooms

Homemade Chili

Caramel Apples

Freshly Baked Bread


Cinnamon Rolls and Croissants

Multicolored Vegetables

Chocolates

Flowers

Clothing

Handmade Quilts

And a wedding party!!?

Now that’s creative photography…everyone loves the Wheaton Market and you will too. Catch it while you can in the next two weeks because it won’t be back until next Spring!   Saturdays 8am – 2pm until November 5th.

http://www.wheaton.il.us/news/announcements/detail.aspx?id=6223

2 Hoots for 2 Toots

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Calling all kids or kids at heart…come in close so “they” can’t hear.  I have a really great idea for your parents or grandparents to do with you…shhh…I’ll do the talkin’….just stay quiet….and try to look cute.

If you have a kiddo who really loves trains or has never been on a train, I have a trip for you.  While I was in Elmhurst the other day there was a young couple, their little child, and grandpa heading 5 minutes to Glen Ellyn for lunch at the  2 Toots Train Whistle Grill.   I made a mental note to check it out for you.


See this map below??  Ignore this map below.  The Google location is not correct if you frequently use that method for directions.

It is straight west of the Metra stop on the north side of the tracks.  Just walk across Main Street and you are there.  It is a delicious burger joint that delivers your food on a train.  There is counter seating and booth seating and all of the tables are on the train track that encircles the restaurant.  The food is kid friendly, but tasty for grown ups too, plus there are options for vegetarians if that is what you prefer.  (There is a veggie burger, tuna salad, egg salad, Spring garden salad, grilled cheese and PB & J.)

The hand-packed hamburgers are made the old fashioned way.  They are made using Bill Kurtis’ Tallgrass Beef .  (As you may know, Bill Kurtis, CBS Anchorman and founder and Chairman of Tallgrass Beef, owns a ranch in Sedan, Kansas and raises grass fed cattle.)  The burgers and fries and delicious desserts are perfectly complimented by the 50’s music and casual family atmosphere. They are known for their burgers, but a source close to me at the counter said they have great milkshakes!  The kids can also get a train whistle in the top of their homemade cupcake, which your grown-up ears may or may not consider as a bonus.

The Ryan Family from Glen Ellyn enjoy the restaurant and appreciate that they have a fun place to take the boys right in their own hometown.  Their oldest son is able to request 2 Toots as his choice for lunch already and his parents commented that they are glad that Glen Ellyn has a vibrant downtown and are happy to support it.


The servers were genuinely friendly and paid the kids plenty of attention.  They said that it is busy almost everyday and I can attest to that.  By 12:00 on a Monday, almost all of the seats were filled.  The tables and counter are first come-first served.  The website follows if you would like to check out the menu before heading out.
http://www.2toots.com/

To make your little ones happy, just take the UP-West Metra line to Glen Ellyn.

And for my “southern” friends:

(That would be anyone south of Interstate 80 or what I like to think of as the Mason Dixon line in Illinois,…do ya’ll have accents down there?)

A great idea would be to go to Elburn by taking 47 N,  jumping on the UP-W Metra line there and taking a little ride to Glen Ellyn.   This accomplishes two things.  You and your young ones get to ride on a train and you also get to have a fun lunch.  The ride is scenic from Elburn to Geneva and then suburban through West Chicago, Winfield, Wheaton and Glen Ellyn. Of course it would be faster to drive straight to the restaurant, but that would be missing out on the train ride, duh.

If you are unfamiliar with riding the train, they announce your stops so you will know when you are getting close.  You can buy a “10 ride”  ticket if you have 5 or less in your party.  It is a little cheaper that way  OR  if you are travelling on the weekend, you can buy a “weekend pass”  and get unlimited stops on the train and get off and on as much as you want. You could continue all the way into Chicago if you want a fun-filled train day.  On a beautiful weather day, it would be a great way to enjoy it.  No parking fees, no traffic, and a good walk for your legs.  Let me know if you need any help, I would be glad to assist.  Also, I have found that the conductors on the train are extremely helpful if you ask.

Download one of my favorite apps, the QikRide App, for your phone for times…

or here is the Metra website

Ok kids, how did we do? …Let me know if they take you.  All aboard!!



Cafe Amano

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Birthday months are the best.  Yes, I said months. Not just a day, but the feeling you have when it is THE month of your birthday.  The WHOLE month. Then each time you do something fun in that month you just chalk it up to a birthday celebration.  Every time you buy something you can just think…well, this is for my birthday.

Birthdays are also a checkpoint.  It makes you think about whether or not you have accomplished what you wanted to this year or made sure you have seen friends you want to make a point of seeing. Unfortunately, the month is not long enough to see all of the friends with which I would like to catch up…that is a good problem to have…not the not-enough-time problem, but that I have more friends than I have time for.  It is like the saying “May your house be too small to hold all of your friends.”  That is the glass is half-full theory.  (Don’t focus on the size of your house, but on all of the friends that you have.)  That is the blessing…  and actually small houses are faster to clean.

My long-time friend, Trudy, and I use birthdays as an excuse to do something a little out of the ordinary/everyday together.  It is an event, not just a gift, because after all, the gift is in the time spent.  We have been doing this for years.  This time for my birthday we went to Elmhurst to Cafe Amano.  It is a great little Italian Restaurant that offers a cooking demonstration once a month.  On their website it is called a cooking class, but I say demonstration because it is really not a class where you get your hands messy cooking.  It is more like a demonstration in the dining room. Everyone is seated at tables around the dining room while Chef Marco explains what we are going to eat and how he prepares it.

The photo below is actually of the Amano Butcher and Market next door.

(This photographer took a picture of the wrong doorway, ooops! but you get the idea.  It is just as cool.)

During the demonstration, everyone is welcome to ask questions while the chef cooks and also comment on the food and food preparation.  It also sparks ideas of other dishes that people make with the ingredients.  I am sure depending on whether the group is shy or outgoing changes the atmosphere and dictates how the evening goes. We had a short discussion on pasteurization and homogenization…Trudy, the 5th grade teacher in the room, really knows her stuff.  That show  “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”  should be …”So You Think You are Smarter than a 5th Grade Teacher?  HA.  No way, they know everything.”  (Hey Trudy, how was my puctuation on that?) 

Our first taste was a bean salad…hmm….be brave, Maureen…(not a bean fan)…but surprise, surprise, I really did like them.  They were tossed in apple cider vinegar and a little olive oil and sugar.


The appetizer was super simple (and not your typical pig in a blanket)…it was fresh figs stuffed with creamy Gorgonzola cheese and then wrapped in prosciutto.  It is a house specialty and the chef said he goes through many many many figs.  He even has a fig tree outside that represents his love for this fruit.

Next was a butternut squash and apple soup drizzled with Blackstrap Molasses. I died.  It was delicious and unfortunately the only recipe held back from us all night.  The Chef said it is a restaurant specialty and they don’t give that one out. I am imagining myself sneaking into the kitchen with dark glasses and a trench coat later for this one…

The salad course was next followed by chicken picatta with artichokes, shitake mushrooms, and capers in a white wine sauce which I forgot to photograph because my fork started moving before I remembered to take a photo.

And then finally BANANAS FOSTER!!  One of my favorites.

The evening is very leisurely. Don’t go if you want to eat and get out quickly.  The cost is $35 for a five course meal and includes wine, soft drinks and coffee.   They send you home with printed recipes and a full stomach.

And as always, it was really close to the Elmhurst Metra stop.

If you want to try this evening…click here…  http://www.cafeamano.com/calendar.php

If you really like cooking classes, here are two that I have loved that are not on the UP-W twain twacks…

http://www.fullerssecondfloor.com/classes/  This is above Fuller’s Ace Hardware in Hinsdale.  LOVE this place.  Nicest hardware store I’ve ever been in. If you go, you need to invite me.  Did I say I love this place?

http://www.countrygardencuisine.com/  This one is in St. Charles.  We went to a honey themed cooking class. Learned all about bees and honey and cooking with honey. Such a cute place.  It is an old farm house and has outbuildings that have been really nicely restored and maintained.

Happy Birthday to anyone in October!  I have many many friends who have birthdays during this month. Go do something out of the ordinary to celebrate!

Bike the Lake

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My train trip today took me back to Chicago.  It is like a magnetic force.  I can’t stay away on a gorgeous day.  After walking through Millenium Park (on the day that it was all mine), I saw the McDonald’s Cycle Center.  The center rents so many bikes and I made a note-to-self to come back to do it.  For $30 I was able to rent a bike and ride the beautiful lake front. I met a friend and we hit the pavement.

http://www.chicagobikestation.com/

This is the first thing I saw when I crossed Lake Shore Drive.

I only had two hours to ride since motherhood was calling my name after school.  We headed north to Navy Pier and then past Oak Street Beach and Belmont Harbor.  I desperately needed to stop for a bottle of water.  When I was buying the water I asked (pointing to an old structure near the lake), “Hey, what is that over there?”  And he said, “Restrooms.”  I said, ” That huge old building is just restrooms??”  He said…”Yep.”

So we had to venture over to see the fanciest restrooms with the best view in the city.

We were so surprised to come upon this.

Ok, so they weren’t restrooms.  It was a golf course!  It is called the Sydney R. Marovitz Park District Course.

The Clubhouse/Clock Tower was so neat and very old.

The stone walls look Scottish and the view is spectacular.

(Although in Scotland they didn’t use mortar and the walls are still standing hundreds of years later.)

This is an original rendering of the clock tower.

That’s “constructed in 1931”.

We got all wrapped up in this unexpected find when we realized we had to be back to return the bike and book it to the train station so we rode like the wind, …oh wait, I meant we rode against the wind all the way back until our legs were burning.  We made it back with time to spare so I could take more pictures of, you guessed it, …FOOD!!

These food trucks must be a new addition to Randolph St.  I don’t ever remember seeing these before.  I have seen really great ones in Portland, but never here.

(As you might notice, it has a new ad for the TV show “The Chew” on the side.)

And with 20 minutes to spare, I was so so so tempted to stop in and visit Patrick during his first week of school, just like when he went to preschool.  I had to resist running into the Sun Times Building and standing outside the classroom and waving through the window.

…how embarrassing would that be??

Hi Honey!! Mommy came to visit!! It makes me laugh just to imagine it.

So I stayed this far away.  No chance of embarrassment from here, right?

That building right next door is the Merchandise Mart.  It was at this very moment I decided I am glad I am not a window washer.

I was also early enough to try out a different food shop in the train station named LavAzza.

Pretty, huh?

I went with the giant chocolate chip cookie and an iced coffee.

It was the least I could do after that grueling 12 minute, I mean, 12 mile ride.   Another fun day on the UP-W line!


Chow!

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Life has gotten in the way of blogging lately.  So hopefully things will return to normal and I can start taking some more train trips for you.  Ok, who am I kidding…life never returns to normal.  Normal would be weird.  Patrick, my oldest,  started college today.  I know! Late start, huh?  First day of the rest of his career.  He will walk past that French Market in Chicago everyday now.  Maybe I will get lucky and get an item delivered once in a while.

This trip is also centered around food.  Big surprise, I know.  Some days I just can’t seem to think about it enough.  I have been wanting to take another “short” trip, so today was the day.  The name of the destination on this trip was just what the doctor ordered.  It is called CHOW and it is located just south of the Elmhurst Metra station.  If you are lucky enough to live close by or you have a college student in Elmhurst, give it a whirl…or if you don’t mind a short trip of your own, it is worth it.  The people who own CHOW are genius because it is THE perfect location for a commuter stop before or after work …(or if you live in Wheaton and love food very much).

http://www.chowtogo.com/

The shop was cozy and the employees were friendly and very willing to answer questions.  I talked for a few moments to the Chef and he was personable and seemed to love his job.  The food looked seasonally spectacular and not just because I was hungry, either.  The Baked Butternut Squash stuffed with granola and dried fruit was very tempting, but I had to plan ahead for my choosy family for dinner.  I went with the Crispy Panko Chicken which would go with our spaghetti tonight for a delicious Chicken Parmesan.


Lauren, the gal assisting me, was helpful in letting me know the best way to warm the chicken to keep it crispy and just warm enough instead of recooking it since everything is ready to go.

I then had to buy the frosted almond cookies for dessert.  The creamy Pumpkin Hummus and pasta salad were my choices for lunch.  I like hummus.  I don’t usually love hummus.  I generally like it mainly because it is better for me than regular dips, but I REALLY loved this pumpkin hummus simply because it was SO good.  It tastes like a pumpkin pie dip.  I ate it with pretzel chips.

SO GOOD.

Must.get.more.

Get a load of these pictures!!

I have a thing for chalkboards.  I love them.  These were painted right on the wall.

All of this is freshly made in the store.  Even those pot pies! I was very tempted to get the roasted vegetable mix of sweet potatoes and squashes, but I stuck to the plan.  I will just have to go back.

They cater, they bake, they freeze prepared dinners …like the vegetable lasagna, salmon in puff pastry or pork tenderloin with peach compote below.

There are fresh pies to take home to bake yourself…

…and they even offer a sit down dining experience every 6 weeks.

Here is their description taken from their website…seems like a special treat to me (as if you need an excuse).

“CHOW AFTER DARK…Our latest venture! Chow ‘retail’ is transformed into Chow ‘fine dining’ for a spectacular multi-course experience. European seating accommodates up to 26 guests. Call for details and round up your friends for a truly delicious evening. Saturday evenings, every 6 weeks.”

And did I mention they bake?

Chow…it’s what’s for dinner.

The other exciting thing about my trip today is I found tons of other places to travel to in downtown Elmhurst.  Great little downtown.  I also was eavesdropping on a family waiting for the train that were going to Glen Ellyn for lunch at a train restaurant.  So many places, so little time.  I need to keep up.  Watch for another blog soon.