Category Archives: Trainspotting

Short trips to cool places on the Metra

Tour the Chicago Theater

Standard

Just a short walk a few blocks east of the Ogilvie Metra Station is the theater district. Our destination yesterday was The Chicago Theater.    We were going to see Straight No Chaser, so we planned ahead to do a tour of the theater earlier in the day.  The tour lasts over an hour and visitors get to really appreciate the architecture since the building is empty.  Below is just a few of the thousands of light bulbs in the front of this theater.  How many people does it take to change these light bulbs?  …sounds like a joke I’ve heard about a million times, but this would be a real job!

Below the bulbs are all lit….still can’t imagine how long it takes to change these babies.

The Chicago Theater opened in 1921 as a movie house and was the first of its kind.  It was a model for other theaters that followed.  For 40 years the theater was known for movies and live entertainment.  But from the 70’s until the mid 80’s the theater business hit a lull and the theater was eventually closed in 1985.  In 1986, the theater was purchased and saved from demolition.  (Are you starting to see a pattern here?  People love to knock things over.  It doesn’t end in childhood.  Thank goodness for the other little kids who yell …nooooo, I’m gonna tell Mom!!)  The theater was saved, refurbished and reopened in 1986 with Frank Sinatra as a headliner.

To marvel at the workmanship, is an understatement in this building. It was covered and remodeled in the 50’s with Formica and other trends at the time, but they were smart enough just to cover the details.  All of it was preserved underneath to appreciate today.

At just .25 for the ticket, this was an event, not just a movie.  Even the entrance to the men’s restrooms is elegant.  This is where the men would lounge and have a pipe or cigar with the guys.


Elegance and opulence was the intention.  The ceilings of today just don’t seem to get this much attention…

Treat yourself to this grand dame of a building.   A Christmas Story, the Musical, is here for the rest of December. Next time you are there for a concert or musical, try to take a tour ahead of time and take time to look around…there is so much to see from days gone by.

Straight No Chaser is still in town, by the way, at The Rosemont Theater tonight (Dec 4) at 7:30. Run to the phone if you want to get tickets.  Both shows were sold out yesterday.  They were OUTstanding. Or get some of their music, you will love it.

The Chicago Theater

The Rosemont Theater

Ogilvie Metra Station

Won’t You Be …My Neighbor

Standard

Won’t you please,

Won’t you please…

Please won’t you be, my neighbor.

In the Chicago Tribune last weekend, there was an article about the attraction for retirees to live in a college town.  This is a secret that we have recently been privy to.  We chose Wheaton for easy Metra access for an inbound commute to Chicago for our college son, but we have been pleasantly surprised at the college atmosphere around us.  The beauty of the school is the first thing to notice.  It is a fabulous place for my 70 pound dog to walk me.  She LOVES the unbelievable amount of active, smart, taunting, college squirrels in all of these gorgeous trees. Me and my arm sockets…not so much.  The second perk is the amount of activity the college provides to the community.  This in turn is great for restaurants and business in general.

The school has a long history of excellence.  Wheaton College, known originally as Illinois Institute, was one of the first large occupiers of Wheaton, IL.  The first was the railroad…(I feel so connected).

Who wouldn’t want a neighbor that looks like this…

or this…

or this…

One of the main streets in Wheaton, Blanchard Street, was named for the first college president, Jonathan Blanchard.  He arrived just before the Civil War broke out.  Blanchard Hall, the photo below, is the original campus building.  It was patterned after buildings at Oxford University in England and was built entirely of limestone from Batavia, IL.

And one of their most recent additions is the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

Besides the typical concerts and sporting events, the best part of a college atmosphere is how active it makes the community feel.  I was in Noodles and Company last night and there was a small group of college kids, (they looked like football players), having a Bible group.  (Not typical in most college or non-college towns.)  There is always a young person running, rolling, or walking past me.  One morning while my dog was walking me, I felt like I accidentally stepped into a 5K…but it was just the number of people up early running.

So whether you are retired or not, living in a college town definitely has it’s advantages.  To check out a beautiful campus, local history or art exhibit, concert or sporting event just take the Metra UP-W to Wheaton College.

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

This college is…a great neighbor.

Death by Cocoa Bean

Standard

If you’ve gotta go, I can’t think of a more pleasant way.  I decided to “take one for the team” and register for a dessert class.  The Cocoa Bean in Geneva was referred to me by my friend, Julie, who reveres their cakes.  Each year on her birthday her sister gives her a whole cake to enjoy all by herself.  No sharing required, unless she wants to.  She does not want a new bag of the season, not a piece of jewelry, not a trip to Vegas, not even a dinner out at a five star restaurant.  She wants a cake.  A whole cake and nothing but the cake.  On second thought, I don’t want to speak for her.  I am sure she would never turn down any of those other aforementioned things, (ahem…Kyle), but this cake must be gooood.

So after hearing this, I knew I had to check it out.  While reading the website I noticed on Sunday afternoons they offer classes, so I jumped on the UP-W line and headed west to Geneva.  It is a little walk when arriving, but Geneva is so beautiful that it is not a sacrifice….and I was going to a dessert class, for heaven’s sake, I could stand to burn a few before and after.  Best surprise of the day…another French Market at the train station!  More on that in the Spring, since this was the last one of the season.

Could this weather be better? I think not. And neither did the gazillion other people enjoying 3rd Street in Geneva.  This street alone could keep this blog going indefinitely.  So many people were out and about loving the weather and the shops and restaurants.

Our class started at 12:00 in the working kitchen of the bakery. For a person like me, that was a great place to be sitting.  Surrounded by ovens, a marble slab counter, small, medium and giant mixers, and every whisk, spatula and gadget imaginable.

We dove right in with a pumpkin mousse and sponge cake roulade.

Think: dessert rolled like a giant Hostess Ho Ho. (I loved peeling and eating those when I was young…I would still love peeling and eating those if it wasn’t culinarily incorrect, which is like politically incorrect only referring to bad stuff we can no longer openly buy in a grocery store and put into our bodies without guilt…shame…and transfats…WHAT? There are no transfats in Ho Ho’s???…putting that on the grocery list for next time.)

This homemade Ho Ho was made with vanilla cake with pumpkin mousse cream filling.  Pastry Chef Paul (owner) made it two ways; layered with a chocolate ganache and also layered with raspberry. Obviously, this was the raspberry.  Dessert #1 in the stomach….this could get crazy.

Next, he made a simple pumpkin bar with homemade cream cheese frosting. Simple and common, but the techniques we learned were very helpful.  How to prevent bubbles, or dense cake, or ugly cutting.

 Dessert #2 in the stomach… Starting to worry.

Next on the list, a pecan torte in a chocolate crust.  I had to stop.  I just could not make myself take a bite of another dessert.  No matter how much the people around me raved…I had to stop.  But you don’t think I just skipped it, do you?  They said at the beginning they would give us boxes to take things home…I am always planning ahead.

Lastly, he made crème brulee in a roasted pumpkin shell.  The presentation was gorgeous, daarling.  Love learning the tricks of the trade.  Roasting the pumpkins with cinnamon and sugar, learning about real vanilla, when to use tempering, and hot water baths.  (Not with bubbles and lavender, silly, as a cooking method.)

The class was informative and filling…need to go run a 5K.   (I should have run the Hot Chocolate 5K in Chicago yesterday, but that might have defeated the purpose since there was hot chocolate,  chocolate fountains and fondue after.)

We were all sent home with boxes of goodies.  This was in the box.  Can you imagine making these thin layers??  There were croissants and pastries from the storefront, samples of what we saw Chef Paul make, a pumpkin with crème brulee, and a serious sugar high.   That won’t deter me from going again, though.  I am much tougher than that.

Their website has the schedule for the rest of the holiday season.  Mark this in your calendar for a must do, just make sure to eat lots of vegetables a for few days before.  It’s all in the training.

Greetings, Canadians!

Standard

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.

2 Hoots for 2 Toots

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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!