Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Peasantry

James knows that the way to my heart is through my stomach, so when we take a trip somewhere, we almost always make a stop at what is (or should be) a destination for food lovers. Like any big city, Chicago has a lot to offer in that respect, so we narrowed our search with the following criteria: must have beer for James; must have interesting food and cocktails for Geneva; must be within walking distance of our AirBnB.

I toyed briefly with North Pond (the Michelin Star is hard to resist), but we ended up at The Peasantry, and I can't find the words to express how wonderful that experience was. From the very first sip of my very first cocktail, I regretted not bringing along my DSLR, but I want everyone to know about this place, so you'll have to put up with grainy iPhone photos.

I suppose I should start with the service. The owner himself handled our table and gave us the inside scoop on his favorite cocktails, beers, and menu items. Even on the rare occasions when we went against his recommendations, we were seriously impressed.

Old Fashioned and Bourbon Beer

We had spent the evening before at the Signature Lounge, where the cocktails were fine, but nothing spectacular. The cocktails at the Peasantry were a revelation. I started with the French Orchard, which was perfectly balanced and fruity without falling into the trap of being too sweet. It was easily one of the best cocktails I have ever had, but I went ahead and branched out to a smooth, mellow Old Fashioned for the next round. Meanwhile, James enjoyed a selection of draft beers and sampled his first Barley Wine.

Beet Salad at the Peasantry
Rabbit at the Peasantry

James chose to order two small plates for his dinner -- the beet salad and the rabbit. I tried a bite of each, for the sake of journalism. ;) I didn't care much for the salad, but that is due entirely to my hereditary aversion to beets. The rabbit was sublime -- crispy on the outside, gamey and flavorful on the inside, on a bed of perfectly cooked risotto.

Steak Frites at the Peasantry

I ordered the steak frites, and I'm still in raptures about it. The triple truffle fries (that's truffle butter, truffle oil, and truffle salt) are also available as a side order, and I insist that you get them even if you don't get the steak. You will not have leftovers; you may have to cross knives over the last one. They are that good. The steak is also worth fighting over -- a wonderful char on the outside, served with a brandy peppercorn sauce. It is the platonic ideal of steak. Fortunately, James doesn't like red meat as much as I do, and I wasn't compelled to share more than a bite or two.

PB&J at the Peasantry
Mayan Chocolate at the Peasantry

Moving on to dessert: above you can see the PB&J -- a sort of deconstructed desserty version of the childhood favorite, with peanut butter mousse, a grape gelee, and a kind of sweet tahini crisp in place of the bread. It came with whole grapes, peanuts lightly spiced with cayenne, and a pistachio puree. We were glad we ordered it, if only for the novelty, but we preferred the Mayan Chocolate (mousse, I guess, although that isn't how they put it on the menu, and it isn't on the website). The chocolate was enhanced by the subtle heat underneath, cut by the refreshingly tart raspberry coulis and the candied pistachios on top. It may not look like much, but it was certainly an A+, especially when paired with the Chenet.

I have thought about this meal at least once a day since we left Chicago, and I'm telling everyone I know to pay the Peasantry a visit. I can't wait to go back myself and give their award-winning Affogato a try! Next time you're in town, make sure you stop by for dinner during the week or brunch on Saturday and Sunday (they have a deal on mimosas!).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bold for Business

Bold Business Style

I might as well just come out and say it: I have a job offer!

That's about all I can tell you for now -- I still have to make a bunch of decisions -- but I'm looking at apartments and creating budgets and buying home goods, so you could say I'm well on my way.

Bold Business Style

With my upcoming re-entry into the land of business slacks and sheath dresses, I've had to dust off a few of my more professional pieces, and supplement them a little bit. This skirt is a new addition from Downeast Outfitters, a store I found in Utah. Not surprisingly, they cater mostly to Mormon Fashionistas, a category into which I do not fit. But more conservative hemlines are exactly what I need for the work place, and I fell in love with this skirt, hard. I don't have a lot of patterns in my closet, but this one is relatively subtle, just a little retro, and fits right in to my closet color palette. Between all that and the shape (anyone else sick of binding yourself into a pencil skirt?), my decision was made for me.

Bold Business Style

Perhaps you understand why I insisted on traveling to two different Downeast stores in the SLC area to track down the right size? No?

Bold Business Style

Fresh Water Pearl Drop Earrings: 2012 Christmas Gift//Scarf: Inherited//Shirt: Love Peace Hope//Skirt: Downeast Outfitters//Tights: Unknown//Heels: Franco Sarto.

Photos by James.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mediterranean Fish Stew

Fish Stew

I will admit to being skeptical of the concept of fish stew, just as I was a little suspicious of massaged kale. It's another winner, though (thanks again to James's mother for this one!).

This stew is insanely easy -- a quick, delicious, one-pot meal that requires little prep work and almost no attendance. It's also the perfect dish for the cold, early days of spring: warm and comforting, but light enough to function as a precursor to summer and swimsuit weather.

Fish Stew

We took the recipe from Eating Well, with almost no modifications. The original calls for mahi-mahi, swordfish, or halibut, but I think almost any white fish would work here. We used cod and it turned out really well. As with any stew, it's a recipe that you can tweak and substitute until the end of time and you'll still love the way it turns out. I hope you enjoy!

Fish Stew

Mediterranean Fish Stew
Slightly adapted from Eating Well.
28 oz canned tomatoes (ours were pre-diced)
2 stalks of celery
1/2 a red onion
1 cup pitted green olives
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups potatoes
1 1/4 pounds fish of choice
Salt and Pepper to taste

Dice the celery and the onion and toss them into a large pot with the canned tomatoes, olives, capers, olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

Slice the potatoes thinly and lay them over the tomato mixture to create a layer of potatoes. Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat, allowing it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not stir.

Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper as desired. When the potatoes have begun to soften, add the fish to the stew as a third layer on top of the potatoes. Cover again and continue cooking for another ten minutes or so, until the fish is fully cooked.

Serve immediately, with an optional garnish of parsley.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Day in Lincoln Park

We had only two full days in the Windy City, and decided to make the most of them by spending the first doing all the touristy downtown things and eating pizza. Since we stayed in an apartment in Lincoln Park, a part of the city I don't know as well, we spent our second day wandering around there, seeing what it had to offer.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

We started out the day walking through some light snow and sunshine (and cold, cold winds!) to the Lincoln Park Conservatory. This isn't the first time we've wandered around gardens on vacation. I like the flowers and James likes the smell of New Zealand. Plus, it's spectacular, it's free (though donations are encouraged), it's deserted during the day, and it is a warm, humid break from the wind/blizzard outside.

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Lincoln Park Conservatory

Staying warm in the windy city: fleece tights and ski socks underneath skinny jeans and thermal boots, a shell underneath a button-up underneath my warmest cardigan, all layered under an enormous coat (not pictured).

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Lincoln Park Conservatory

The Conservatory is right next to the Zoo. We hadn't initially planned to stop in, but we had the time, and I'm so glad we changed our minds! I had forgotten how much fun zoos can be, especially when you have them almost entirely to yourselves. As the only ones in the underground sea lion viewing area, we didn't have to worry about trampling little children to admire the animals. We got to have several conversations with volunteers and zoo employees -- in the lion house we met a woman who gave us the inside scoop on finding the snow leopard, camouflaged in his outdoor habitat. In the primate house, we overheard a long, thorough discussion amongst zoo keepers on the best way to rearrange and remodel one of the habitats. At our last stop, the bird house, we talked to a zoo employee at length about conservation and best practices for zoos.

Lincoln Park Zoo

As an animal lover, I know there are a lot of valid questions to raise about the ethics of holding wild animals captive. I also know that many zoos are making an enormous effort to overhaul their practices, to assist with conservation, and give both scientists and the general public a better understanding of the animals in their care. I believe the Lincoln Park Zoo falls firmly into this category.

By the time we finished mingling with the birds, we were nearing closing time at the zoo (it's much earlier during the off season). We decided to warm up with coffee and a chocolate snack at the Belgian chocolatier we had passed several times on our way to pick up groceries and catch the L.

Lincoln Park Belgian Chocolatier

As the only person on earth who doesn't care much for hazelnut flavored chocolate, I will admit to a certain frustration at its abundance in Belgian chocolates, but I will never let that keep me from enjoying a full plate of deliciousness. I can particularly recommend the champagne truffle! It was a wonderful prelude to that night's dinner, which deserves its own post later this week.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tiramisu

tiramisu

There are some people for whom cake just doesn't cut it. I will never be one of those people, but James always has, and probably always will be, even when I'm the one baking. His passion is tiramisu.

Don't get me wrong -- I like tiramisu pretty well, overall. I like it even more now that my palette has learned to appreciate things like coffee and alcohol, and even more than that when I had the chance to eat (a lot of) the real thing on my last trip to Italy. If you aren't getting gelato and/or tiramisu at least once a day in Italy, I'm afraid you'll have to start over, because you're just doing it wrong.

tiramisu

Anyway. Until I met James, I hadn't given much thought to the intricacies of tiramisu -- just as he hadn't considered at least half the possible uses for butter until I came into his life (he's so lucky he found me) -- but it turns out there are many. We've taste-tested a lot of tiramisu in our two and some years together, and it turns out that the secret is using an abundance of coffee and almost enough rum to get a little buzz on. The fact that I've never been carded when ordering it in a restaurant, though, is a testament to how difficult it is to find good tiramisu on this side of the Atlantic.

tiramisu

Our recipe is essentially the Barefoot Contessa's -- we changed the measurements a little bit to reflect the ingredients we had access to -- and it turned out beautifully. It has a surprisingly small ingredient list, which is good, since many of these items can be expensive and/or difficult to come by. The hunt for ladyfingers notwithstanding, it's an easier dish than expected, and packs a real punch. Now that I've got this test run out of the way, I'm looking forward to making it again for James's birthday next month.

Tiramisu
Slightly adapted from Ina Garten
6 large egg yolks
Scant 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark rum
1 1/4 cups espresso
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
24 ladyfingers
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, for dusting
12 coffee beans, to garnish (optional)

Notes
Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on high speed until thick and pale yellow. Lower the speed to medium and add the mascarpone, and 1/4 each of the rum and espresso.

Combine the remaining rum and espresso in a bowl and lightly submerge a third of the ladyfingers in the liquid before lining them up in the bottom of your desired serving dish -- we used a large glass bowl about 5 inches high and 10 inches in diameter, but Ina prefers a shallower, rectangular dish. Pour a third of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and distribute it evenly so they are all covered. Repeat twice, finishing with the final layer of mascarpone on top.

Cover the tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving, dust with cocoa powder and distribute the coffee beans. Serve with coffee, milk, or some kind of cream based liqueur.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Signature Lounge Review

Hancock Signature Lounge ReviewHancock Signature Lounge Review
Hancock Signature Lounge Review
Hancock Signature Lounge Review
Hancock Signature Lounge Review
Hancock Signature Lounge Review
Hancock Signature Lounge Review

Pears in Paris//ChiTown Pier Pale Ale//Downtown in the Snow//Moscow Mule//Enjoying the View//Chicago at Nightx2

The Signature Lounge is a great Chicago experience, especially for the tourist. There are so many reasons to go, it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the view, I guess, which is spectacular even in the midst of a big winter storm (see picture #3). It's only what you'd expect, being at the top of the Hancock Building. Then I guess we move on to how you get there -- taking an express elevator to the observation deck costs $19 per person. You take the same elevator to the lounge, only it doesn't cost patrons a thing, and actually takes you two floors above the deck.

The drinks are predictably over-priced, but still cheaper than a ticket, and well worth the view and service. James really enjoyed his beer and the Moscow Mule was fantastic, although my first drink, the Pears in Paris, was heavy-handed with the St. Germain and therefore a little underwhelming. I've read similar things about the food, but can't speak to its quality myself.

The Lounge gets crowded at night, but we went as a kind of cocktail hour, which allowed us to poach a table by the window and see what we could of the clouds and the city both before and after sunset. I imagine this kind of experience would be trickier on a weekend during the "on" season, or on a night with more visibility, but we were really happy with how our evening turned out.

We left the bar shortly after 6:00 and headed back to our apartment in the snow for a warm dinner under warm blankets to round of the second of three wonderful nights in the Windy City.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

DIY Blanket Cape

DIY Blanket Cape Style

I love capes in theory, but often not so much in practice. There are three problems: expense, practicality, and my own cowardice. Let's start with the latter. I have grown a little complacent in my fashion as I got older -- taking risks with my style came a lot easier to me as a teenager than it does as a college graduate, and that isn't a bad thing. But what I wear is for me, not for anyone else, and if I really love something, how much should I care if people in the grocery store are impressed/confused by it? One problem down.

DIY Blanket Cape Style

Now onto the hairier issues. Have you ever tried to put a cape underneath a coat? It's pretty damn uncomfortable. So to wear a lightweight cape as a kind of cardigan substitute/statement in the winter is inconvenient at best and at worst, cuts off circulation to the arms. So any cape would have to be heavy enough to wear on its own on the milder days at the beginning and end of winter.

DIY Blanket Cape Style

Finally, being a more specialized/less popular item, I have yet to see a cute cape I could afford. Enter this tutorial. Michigan is a lot colder than Hong Kong, so I used flannel instead of a jersey, and I had no interest in it fraying all over the place, so I hemmed 1/2 an inch it all around with a zig-zag stitch. My fabric also came in a slightly strange dimension, so I ended up sewing a couple yards together to make a square. Still a very simple solution.

DIY Blanket Cape Style

Readers of my Halloween post may notice a resemblance between this outfit and this costume. Let me assure you that the thought hadn't even crossed my mind until I first put it on, at which point it was more of a hot damn, guilty as charged! sort of reaction. Yes, it was a terrible movie, but it should not surprise anyone that I really vibe on over-the-top costumes and hairstyles of the Star Wars variety. Carry on.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Chicago on a Budget

Strawberries and Champagne
Home cooked steak dinner
Home cooked steak dinner

James and I officially hit two years together back in February! It's awesome. You know what sucks about it? 19 months of those two years have been at distances of varying lengths. We never seem to be on our own, whether it comes to roommates or our families. I think in the future we'll be perfectly happy to cook a nice dinner in and spend some quality time for our anniversary celebration, but since that's literally impossible right now, we have traveled instead. Last year, we spent time in the Hudson River Valley; this year, we went to Chicago.

I spent so much time in Chicago as a kid that at one point it felt like a second home to me -- a second home that was actually a hotel, kind of like Eloise. It had been a couple years since my last visit, though, and this was James' first time in Chicago, assuming we exclude O'Hare and Midway.

I plan to post in more detail about some of the things we did in the next couple of weeks, but for now, here's an overview of our trip and some of the things we did to make it affordable:

We stayed at an AirBnB in Lincoln Park, which I highly recommend. When we take trips together we almost always do AirBnB -- it allows us to bring and cook some excellent meals, it gives us more space than a typical hotel room, and it's often more affordable. 

We traveled during the off-season. Chicago's weather is far from pleasant in February, but we both know how to handle the cold. That's not to say that it wasn't a little frustrating wandering around the Lincoln Park Zoo in a blizzard, but I'd definitely take that over paying two to three times as much for lodging. We also went during the week, which made crowds at tourist stops virtually non-existent and reservations unnecessary.

We ate at a couple of restaurants and coffee shops (and got a deep-dish pizza at Giordano's), but brought all our breakfast food and two of our three dinners from home -- the first of which is pictured above, and was fantastic. A combination of easy-to-prepare and good-the-next-day dishes as well as a few snacks got us through nicely, and meant that we could splurge on a night or two out without feeling too guilty. More on that later, though.

We did some typical tourist things -- Millenium Park; the Cultural Center; Lincoln Park; the Magnificent Mile. We also did some wandering and window shopping and pointing out of things I remember from my childhood. And of course, we spent some quality time at Trader Joe's and in our apartment because that's what anniversaries are for!

It was a fantastic visit and I can't wait to tell you more over the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

DIY Sweatshirt Embellishment

DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment
DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment

I feel bad about this, because I finished this wonderful piece of clothing back in December and I've worn it nonstop since. It's a little unfair how long it has taken me to get it up here. The good news is, it isn't as complicated as the directions might imply, and although the fabric doesn't quite scream spring, the style certainly does. I may have worn it all winter, but I'm confident it will transition well with the season, and I'm looking forward to styling it with some warmer-weather pieces.

Supplies:
1 plain sweatshirt (I got a sort of off-white/gray one from the thrift store)
A pencil
Scissors
A sewing machine or a lot of patience
A ruler
A couple yards of ribbon
Several handfuls of beads
A needle and thread for the hand sewing

Notes:
First, you need to sketch your cut-outs. I wanted an open back with ribbons criss-crossing it, so I started by tracing a triangle. To do this, I laid the sweatshirt flat on a board with the back facing up, and used a ruler to trace a straight line from the lowest part of the neck hole to the point level with it on each shoulder. Then, I traced a perpendicular line about 15 inches down the back of the shirt, starting at the low point in the neck. Finally, I traced a line from the end points on the shoulders to the end of the 15 inch line down the back to finish the equilateral triangle. (In the picture below, you can see how this worked, as well as the first trial, which I decided wasn't quite dramatic enough. Yours should only have one shape!

DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment

Once you've finished your triangle, turn the shirt over and create a complementary triangle on the front. Use the same top anchor points at the shoulders as you did on the back, and measure a much more shallow V (mine was only a couple inches, because the neck dropped lower in the front than in the back).

Next, cut out the shapes you made and pin them back about a half inch all the way around to form a hem, though note that your hems should narrow to nothing as you reach the bottom of each V.

DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment

Now it's time to sew. You could do this by hand if forced, but it's a lot easier to do with a wide zigzag stitch on the machine. Hem the shirt all the way around to secure and prevent fraying.

The shirt is now ready to decorate! I loved the idea of the criss cross with a slouchy, over-sized look that would be comfortable to lounge in, so I laid the sweatshirt flat again to measure the lengths and spaces for my ribbons. Each side of the V was about 17 inches long, and I decided it would look best with 3 Xs going across. I divided 17 by 6 and measured for anchor points about every 2.75-2.8 inches, beginning at the shoulder point, and marked them with pins.

For the ribbons, I had to measure one more time -- the distance between the top-most anchor on the right and the second-highest anchor on the left, and vice versa, then the distance between the third point on one side and the fourth on the other, etc., until I had 3 different lengths. I added an inch to each measurement (so I would have overlap to sew) and then cut two lengths of ribbon for each one.

DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment

I anchored the ribbons with pins and sewed them into the hemline by hand. I also used Fraycheck to make sure they stayed put, but any kind of fabric glue would work, and it's an optional (though sensible) step.

DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment

At this point, I liked the shirt, but I wanted it to make a little more of a statement. My sewing machine had also had a few issues with the hem (use a bigger-than-average needle when sewing heavy material!), and although they weren't that noticeable, I figured I might as well cover them up. Enter several hundred gold glass beads, hand sewn around the hem while I watched Borgia.

DIY Sweatshirt Loungewear Embellishment

I love this sweatshirt. It has become a staple, and the best kind of loungewear -- the kind that is comfortable and warm enough to actually wear around the house, but cute enough to take to the grocery store or even on a lunch date, when paired with some nice skinny jeans. It's the dream.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blueberry Chocolate Crumble

Blueberry Chocolate Crumble
Blueberry Chocolate Crumble

Do you love the Smitten Kitchen? I do. I love the way Deb writes so much that I read her posts religiously, whether or not I want to make the recipe at the end (which is always the case if the title includes mushrooms, pork, or shellfish). Every once in a while, one of her recipes just screams at me, though, and this is one of them.

See, I don't care much for crumbles. Overall, I think the average fruit is better off between two pie crusts (assuming I'm the one in the kitchen). Oh, and why are we debating the merits of pies and crumbles when I could be mixing up some cake batter or a mousse?

This crumble is different, though, because chocolate. This is such an obvious solution to the boring crumble issue that I can't believe it didn't occur to me independently, but there we are. You can find Deb's recipe here, but I've tweaked it a little bit to suit my needs. Firstly, I wanted more than three servings. Secondly, I planned to use only one kind of (very juicy) fruit, and to add it frozen, so I needed a thickener for the filling. And thirdly, I have never been able to leave well enough alone when it come to extra flavorings. The resulting recipe has a few more ingredients than the original, but I don't hear anyone complaining.

I literally made this recipe the day I read it, and again a week later when we had people over for dinner and needed a quick fix for dessert. Assuming you, like us, always have fruit in the freezer, you can whip up a warm, comforting, and unique crumble with about ten minutes of active cooking time and minimal clean-up. It is an excellent dessert.

Blueberry Chocolate Crumble
Inspired by the Smitten Kitchen, who was in turn inspired by Nigel Slater's EAT.
Ingredients
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Scant 1/4 cup sugar
3-4 cups blueberries (they cook down more when frozen, so take that into account)
2 tablespoons flour
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used Ghirardelli 60%)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 pinch of salt
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to taste

Blueberry Chocolate Crumble
Blueberry Chocolate Crumble

Notes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large cast iron (or similar oven safe) skillet over medium heat, then add the sugar. Stir until combined and the mixture turns a light caramel color.

Throw in the blueberries (or another fruit of your choice), and toss to coat. Turn down the heat a little and allow the fruit to get soft. The length of this step will vary depending on the kind of fruit and whether it is fresh or frozen, but short of burning it, you can't really go wrong.

Stir in the vanilla, then add in the flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir until the flour has combined with and thickened the sauce, then turn off the heat.

Blueberry Chocolate Crumble
Blueberry Chocolate Crumble

In a separate bowl, combine the oats, chocolate chips (as always, I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao), salt, and maple syrup. Spread as evenly over the top of the fruit as you can and bake the skillet for 20-25 minutes until the chocolate is melted and the oats are golden brown.

Best served warm with abundant unsweetened whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream in a pinch.

Blueberry Chocolate Crumble