Labor Day Weekend Recap

A while back, we bought a Travelzoo deal for The Wit, a trendy little hotel in the Loop.  Between its blackout dates and our schedule, there was just one day we could use it: September 4th. So we went back down to Chicago on Sunday.  We were only on the 6th floor, but we had a corner room, which was nice and a view of the Chicago theatre sign. I like the blue, pink and red color scheme and the chandelier lamp.

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We went up to the roof-top bar, aptly named Roof. It was pretty busy for a Sunday afternoon, but we managed to find a seat facing a wall. I ordered a French 27 and H had a drink called the Lonely Polygamist, which was pretty good; it has a nice basil flavor.

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For dinner, we were going to go to Frontera Grill. We left early, around 6:00, because we figured we would have to wait a couple hours for a seat. Well, they are closed on Sundays, so we went across the street to the very not crowded Roka Akor.  We were seated immediately.


I still ordered a margarita – blood orange flavored with chili salt. It was a little watered down, but the chili salt was great.


To eat I had the Burnt Tomato Salad with Grilled Eggplant and Soy Vinagrette. The dressing was delicious.


The Organic Vegetable Roll, without mayo. It’s nothing special, but it’s more vegetable variety than you can get in Woodstock.


And the Japanese Wild Mushroom Rice Hot Pot without butter (since when did the Japanese start using butter in their dishes?) It is served in this fun hot pot, but the dish is rather bland. Maybe I should have ordered it with black truffle, but that was $14 more and I was not sure it would be worth it.

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On Monday, I put on my new Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11 and went out to the lake front path. I switched back to Brooks, because I like the effort it puts into green technology.  These shoes use BioMoGo, the world’s first-ever biodegradable midsole for running shoes. It was so windy that morning. Lake Michigan looked like an ocean with the big waves. I finally turned around when the wind was blowing sand against my legs. It was so great to be out there again.

Then we went to the newest Native Foods in Lakeview. It offered a special labor day chimichurri burger, thinly sliced seitan, topped with warm grilled zucchini slaices, sweet roasted peppers, caramelized onions and freshly blended chimichurri sauce and served with garlic fries. It was incredible!


I tried a beer from Two Brothers, which was good.


H ordered the bacon cheeseburger, which he loved. The “cheese” was very believable. The sweet potatoes were a little better than my garlic fries.


For dessert we had a cardamon rose cupcake. Maybe I was just too full, but I didn’t think it was that good. The vanilla and chocolate were better. It is definitely prettier though.

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I might have to buy the cookbook the next time I go in. I need to know how you make seitan like that!

Native Food Cafe is now open in Chicago

California-based Native Food Cafe opened its first Chicago location this month in Wicker Park and there are two more Chicago locations coming.  The Lakeview cafe will open at the end of the month and the Loop location will open just a block away from the federal courthouse in October. The more delicious vegan food in Chicago, the better!

There were so many awesome sounding things on the menu, but I decided on the Baja Surf Tacos, crispy battered Tempeh, homemade surfer sauce, salsa fresca, shredded cabbage and
guacamole. So good!

H had the special, Chicken Run Ranch Burger with seasoned fries.

He really enjoyed it and said we should come back the next time we’re in Chicago (Labor Day, can’t wait!).  One of us will be getting the bacon cheeseburger. H also ordered the lavender lemonade, which was quite refreshing. He got the watermelon fresca as a refill, which is fresh watermelon and a touch of mint, sweetened with organic agave. The lemonade was good, the watermelon was better.

And finally, dessert. Chocolate & vanilla cupcakes piled high with frosting.

After lunch, we went back downtown to shop at the soon to be closed Borders and get our bags. I got four vegan books, including Babycakes (looking forward to improving my gluten-free baking) and the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (vegan brie? Yes, please!)

Atwood Cafe at Hotel Burnham

We are back in the city this weekend for a goodbye party of some friends who are moving to California on Monday. Rather than taking the midnight train back to Woodstock, we decided to stay downtown again. We’re at Hotel Burnham, which has my favorite post-shopping lunch spot, Atwood Cafe. It has an amazing veggie burger. I love the decor and the silverware (it was the inspiration for our fancy silverware). This was the first time I had dinner there and I prefer lunch there. But dinner was good and our server was very knowledgeable about what was vegan on the menu.

I had the grapefruit mixed greens to start.


The picture does not do it justice. It was light and the apple was cut very thin for just enough texture and flavor.

For my main course I had the stuffed leeks.

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Two were stuffed with quinoa and tofu and one was stuffed with barley. It was served over spinach and tomato sauce. My only complaint is that the leek was hard to cut, so I ate the stuffing and only three bites had leek.

Again, our server was great. When telling us what the soup of the day was, he stated that it had a vegetable and tomato broth base. I thought about getting it, but first had to make sure that there were no chunks of tomato in the soup (texture thing). I said “I have a question about the soup” and he said “yes, it’s vegan.” Unfortunately, it had chunks of tomato, so I went with the salad. He also brought out olive oil with the bread, because the bread is served with a tomato butter (um, yum! Tomato Earth Balance might be in my near future). He also only brought one dessert menu for H (thanks for not making me read the descriptions of all the delicious things I can’t eat). However, he did tell me there was lemon sorbet that I could eat. We just had espresso and coffee and went out to the party.

Federal Plaza Farmers Market

On Tuesday, I had to go to court in Chicago, which meant that I would miss the Woodstock Farmers Market. I was pleasantly surprised to see a market right across the street from the courthouse. The Federal Plaza Farmers Market is every Tuesday from 7 a.m. -3 p.m. There was a lot of good stuff. I bought two bunches of basil and two bunches of kale, onions, green beans, zucchini, and berries.

Wednesday’s dinner revolved around kale, the poster vegetable of veganism.

(On a cart return at Whole Foods in Birmingham, AL)

Curry Lentils with Kale

Serves 4

  • 1 bunch of kale, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups of lentils
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 box brown rice couscous

Steam kale for 3-5 minutes, remove from hot water and soak in an ice bath. Toast seeds in cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Stir constantly to avoid burning. Add a teaspoon of olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until onions are tender. Stir in lentils and remaining spices. Add kale. Cook until lentils are hot.

Serve over brown rice couscous.

I also made some Spicy Kale Chips for the first time. Kale chips are everywhere and for good reason. These are some tasty treats.

Tonight was all about the basil. I made a big batch of walnut-basil pesto and served it over brown rice noodles and green beans. Sometimes when I get an idea for dinner, but have second thoughts over whether the combination in my head will translate to the plate, I do a search of foodgawker. Happily, someone else had made pesto with green beans. She also used black olives. I had kalamata olives, so I threw those in. It was good except for the green beans, but that was just a bad box of green beans, not the recipe’s fault.

Summer Weekends

I love summer! On Saturday, H and I went out on our bike to the Huntley-Union-Marengo (HUM) trail. It’s a nice trail and was not very crowded (except for the woman breastfeeding her three year old in the middle of the trail while the other 5 family members waited. Very strange). Unfortunately, it is just the UM trail now; the Huntley leg isn’t complete. It was only 3.5 miles (7 round trip), but a good distance for our first ride of the year.

Saturday evening we had sushi at Golden Rolls and played a round of mini golf (sushi & mini golf, a winning business plan!)

This is the third time we have played mini golf. The first time was at Navy Pier and H had a lucky streak of holes in one and came from behind to win. He never lets me forget that game. We also played at the resort we stayed at in the Dominican Republic. It was a terrible course. I won, but H said it doesn’t count because the  course was so bad (um, I also played on that terrible course! It counts!!) A lot was riding on this game.

I don’t understand why people play golf on wide open courses (so boring!) when they can play with castles and waterfalls.

It was a close game until the halfway point, but, as you can see, someone got his butt kicked.

We went inside to play arcade games. H soundly beat me at skee ball and some game where you jump on buttons when they light up, but he gave me all the prize coupons. I cashed them in for a Twizzler.

Then I rode the horsie. The last time I was on one of these things was somewhere outside of a Kmart when I was about five. It was not as fun as I remember.

There may or may not be video of this.

P.S. Notice how I chopped my hair off!

Today we went into the city to meet up with my friend Tira, her husband and little baby. We met when we were teaching English in Shenzhen, China 10 years ago! It was so great to see her again.

We went to Pheonix for dim sum and Joy Yee for bubble tea. I got the watermelon shave ice. Delicious and refreshing.


After bubble tea, H and I stopped at the Asian market for dumplings and I found an entire cooler of vegan items! New favorite store! Vegan shrimp, crab, pork fillet and dumplings.

Tira & Chris took us up to State Street. H bought some shirts from Macy’s and I bought a rolling pin from Anthropologie. My $2 one from IKEA finally bit the dust.

Now I need to make another pie!

i dream of falafel

I don’t know if I’ve ever dreamed about it, but I do like falafel and I love Mediterranean food! I have wanted to try I Dream of Falafel ever since I walked by on my way to the federal courthouse several months ago and saw the words “vegan-friendly” painted on the window. Unfortunately, a lot of my court calls are at 9 or 9:30, so I’m back on the train as it is opening. But today I had a 10:30 status, so as long as it went quickly, I could stop by IDOF, grab something to go, and be on the 11:30 train.

For once, everything went as planned. Our motions were granted and I was off to get falafel. I ordered the Vegan Platter, which is HUGE, and an Arabian tea, which they didn’t have (next time!). The vegan platter has hummus, falafel, Baba Ganoujeh, Jerusalem salad and,  I think, the last thing was Fattoush salad. Then you get to pick veggie toppings and a dressing (strongly recommend the spicy tomato!) This is seriously a lot of food; it was my breakfast and lunch and I still didn’t finish it all. It was kind of a mess when I got to the train. It tastes a lot better than it looks.

It comes with a piece of pita bread, so you can make your own sandwich.

You also get a punch card with your first purchase. After 10 visits, you get a free lunch. Hopefully, there isn’t a time limitation, because with my schedule, it might take me a couple years to go to IDOF 10 times.

Chinatown Dim Sum

To be honest, I am not a huge fan of dim sum, but H loves it and it’s much better for him to go with a group, so he can get more dishes. Every time we go into the city, he tries to get a group of friends together for dim sum in Chinatown. Phoenix is one of my favorite places because it has steamed dumplings (a lot of places just have fried spring rolls) and it will let you order off the menu if you are vegetarian. The managers can be pretty rude if you try to do that with dim sum dishes.  I ordered the vegetable dumplings, which I kept all to myself.


And the crispy tofu with spicy salt, which I shared with everyone. After yesterday’s low protein intake, I needed to make sure I ate more than vegetables today.


Cité: Neurology Graduation

Even though H graduated from fellowship last year, we still went back for the graduation dinner at Cité Elegant Dining At The Top Of Lake Point Tower. It was one of the fanciest graduation dinners they have had.  The view at Cité is amazing!






Before dinner, I asked the hostesses if there was anything vegan. They showed me the menu and said if I got the salad and vegetable tasting without goat cheese and the mixed berries without chocolate, then the vegetarian options would be vegan. Wow, I even get dessert!

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Vegetable Tasting menu with portabella mushroom, spinach and asparagus. It was okay. I don’t really expect much at group dinners. I’m just happy there’s anything to eat.


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I miss the city. There is nothing like this in Woodstock, IL.


After dinner, we watched the Navy Pier fireworks.


Nashville – Day 2

I started the day with a 4 mile hilly run with 83 degree and sunny weather. So hot. This day was sure to be a scorcher. We had brunch at Fido’s. I went there the last time I was in town and had the bagel with hummus, which was good. It has a bunch of egg dishes on one side of its menu, but you can sub tofu for $1. I ordered the village burrito with tofu, no cheese or sour cream (to which the cashier said: “okay, vegan.” I love cities!). To drink, I had a soy latte. I haven’t eaten it yet, because I was too full, but I bought a vegan cookie – spicy hot chocolate. Sounds good.

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After brunch, we walked around and browsed through the little shops. We spent a lot of time in the bookstore. I bought a Neal Barnard cook book. I need another healthy one to go with Appetite for Reduction.


Next we went to the Parthenon. Yes, the Parthenon. There is a full size replica of the Parthenon in Nashville. It is quite impressive. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we couldn’t go inside to see the statue of Athena, but the outside is spectacular.


We were thirsty after walking around in the sun, so we went to the Hermitage House, Nashville’s fancy five-star hotel. H & April got martinis, but they came with blue cheese stuffed olives (awesome idea: cashew cheese stuffed olives! I’m trying that soon). I ordered a pear martini, which was refreshing.


Before we left, we checked out the men’s restroom. It’s green and black art deco and even has green toilet seats.

For our final stop, we went to Diana’s Sweet Shoppe, an old timey ice cream shop from Michigan that was bought up and moved to Nashville. There was no vegan ice cream, or even sorbet, so I ordered a lemonade. However, when I saw H’s milkshake and April’s ice cream, I went to the front and bought some fancy Nashville chocolate from Olive and Sinclair. I picked up three flavors because I couldn’t decide. I tried the salt and pepper bar. The pepper is subtle. It was very good.

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We went back to April’s to get cleaned up for dinner and headed out to Virago for sushi. There are no veggie rolls on the menu, but the server said they can make almost anything. I said just surprise me with two rolls (but not with mayo, because I’m vegan). There was a fair selection of veggie options on the appetizer and small plates page of the menu. We ordered the super special edamame with a spicy flavoring and soy glaze. The edamame was also a little charred. It was really good.

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After dinner, we went across the street to Whiskey Kitchen for a drink. We sat outside; it was such a great night. I love warm summer nights. CMT was filming some dating show inside, so look for me in the background.

Nashville – Day 1

Saturday’s agenda: Tennessee renaissance fair and honky tonkin’

I’m not sure how to describe the Ren Fair. People really get into costumes even if it’s not from the time period or area of the world Ren Fair celebrates. Or maybe there were belly dancers who wore tiny Victorian top hats with feathers in 15th Century Italy. I wasn’t there. There was also a lot of fantasy costumes – painted fairies and people with creepy elf ears.

We got some traditional renaissance food – a salted pretzel and fresh squeezed lemonade and got in the ridiculously long line to see the castle that the founder of the Tennessee Renaissance society lives in.

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This is allegedly a sword from the crusades that was once in the presence a Richard the Lionhearted.


Back at the fair, we walked around, saw an awful comedy show and a jousting tournament.

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The jousting was pretty impressive. These horses were huge and most of the guys were older. It was extremely hot and they were in full armor. After the tournament, we headed back to April’s house for a nap, so we’d be well rested for the honky tonks.

For dinner we went to Taco Mamacita, which has a separate vegan menu!


I ordered a salad with the vegan jerk taco (good, but a little too sweet with the plantain) and the freaking vegan taco (just as delicious as it is fun to order). Of course, we had to start with guacamole and margaritas.

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