Category Archives: Elmhurst

Plan Ahead: Shop “Small Business Saturday” in a Local Downtown

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Next Saturday, after all of the crazy Black Friday shopping is over, there is a call to arms to head downtown.  (Not “The Downtown” as in the o.b.v.i.o.u.s.l.y. cool phrase for downtown Chicago to make it sound like it is the only downtown you know.)  Not THAT downtown, but head to your local Main-Street-USA downtown and support a local business owner.

Support your neighbor.

You may not have been in a small American downtown in a while, and if not, you don’t know what you’re missing.  You might only shop at Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Nordstrom’s, Kohls…or Walgreens.  (It’s probably best not to tell your beloved that you got their gift at Walgreens though.)

So this Saturday, pick a downtown.  Local if you can, but if you are visiting relatives, go to their downtown. Find a new downtown.  Head West, young man!   Jump on the UP-W and shop Oak Park or River Forest, Elmhurst, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, West Chicago, or Geneva.  Meet the owner and thank them for being there before they thank you for the business.  And support them with your hard earned cash; don’t just eat the free food they’re serving.  We would never want our downtowns to be ghost towns.   They are the best slice of Americana there is.

And if you really want a hometown experience, head south 1 hour over the Mason Dixon Line in Illinois (Interstate 80) to Morris. (Take your passport if you feel the need.) Morris has a fabulous downtown.  Make a day of it.  Have lunch, shop, have dinner and stay for one of the live bands that the bars or restaurants schedule on any given weekend. …55 South to 80 West, you can’t miss it.  Scroll down to see just a few (ok, more than a few) of the shops in this great little town.

American Express is even helping you out with a $25 advance to spend locally.  You just have to “like” them on Facebook and pledge to shop small and they will gift your card.

https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday

Now get out there and do your civic duty!  Get out of your Big Box Store rut!  No need to “Occupy Anything”.   Black Friday sounds like drudgery, but Small Business Saturday sounds like fun and you don’t even have to go at 3am.   Plan ahead…  shop small, but BUY BIG, and maybe you will find that for the rest of the year you will choose to support these stores, too.

Count the number of times I used the word “downtown” and you could be a winner.  I said “you could”, but probably not. There is actually nothing to win.

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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!

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.