Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chi-town Chow

Erin and I left Friday morning for Chicago to visit our friend Loretta sans children. We had a great time taking in some museums (I highly recommend the Hull-House Museum. How is it that I've never been there before?), walking, talking, and eating. Unfortunately, Erin and I didn't get to sit next to each other on the train, but I did chat with a gregarious man who apparently was riding the train home after five years in a minimum security jail. I learned all about his life, loves, children, jobs, crime, what it is like to do time, the legal system, etc. It was very interesting to talk politics and prison industrial complex to romantic relationship and rearing children. I love taking the train and while I am sure he is not reading this, my thoughts are with him and I wish him all the best in finding a job, reuniting with family, and getting back into life outside after five years in prison.
Loretta was a fabulous city guide for our weekend and made it a breeze to navigate around town. The weather was perfect for walking the city and eating our way through town. Our first bite to eat was just a few block from Union Station. Good thing since I was starving by the time we arrived. Native Foods has three locations in the Chicago area, but the one I'm most excited about is the location we stopped at since it is close to the train station I see this as being out first or last place to eat on more visits to Chicago. For those of you who haven't had the joy of eating at Native Foods, you order at the counter and take a number back to the tables and wait for your food. It is amazingly fast for such a large menu and the staff is very nice and quick to clear out your plate once you are finished or offer refills on your drinks.
Erin's Rockin' Moroccan Bowl at Native Foods
My Twister Wrap
Loretta's Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger
We went for some pre-dinner drinks at The Signature Lounge. It was so nice to sit down after walking around town all afternoon with our bags (luckily, we pack light). The view was wonderful, of course, and it was a place I'll probably not be able to visit with the kids. Parker has a slight fear of elevators so I had to text him while we were riding 96 floors up. He texted back "AHHHHHH!!!!!" The Signature Lounge is a great place for pictures and we were there just at the right time to see the sunset, but alas I didn't get any pictures except for a couple of Loretta and Erin looking into the sun.
The drinks were quite good (my Lakeshore Lemonade was perfect), but we only stayed for one since they also a tad expensive and we were getting hungry.

Dinner was at the Ethiopian Diamond since Erin is new to Ethiopian food. I didn't get a picture, but here is the vegetarian food from their website. We shared some tasty fried appetizers (the veg sampler has one sambusa filled with lentils, one filled with potatoes, and one with greens and they were all good) and we shared a two-person vegetarian dish like the one above. What I love about Ethiopian food is all the different flavors, sharing communal food, eating with my hands, and that no matter what it never looks like enough food for everyone but everyone leaves stuffed. It is magical. How I wish we had an Ethiopian restaurant less than a couple hours away.
We stayed up late talking and playing Qwirkle (Eric says she doesn't like games, but don't let her fool you, she has a hidden competitive side and is an awesome Qwirkle player) so breakfast was actually after noon brunch at Handlebar. Loretta and I slept late while Erin was up and at 'em running through the streets of Evanston as we snoozed. I started with some coffee with soy milk and the best bloody mary (Bloody Hammer?) I think I've ever had. It comes with a fried pickle!
My Pepita Scramble from Handlebar (Erin ordered this as well)

Loretta's scramble with artichokes (special)
Erin and Loretta swapped some food and said the artichoke scramble was better, but I was very happy with my meal. Rob has been the Handlebar with the kids before and we'll be going back again.
Sorry for declining quality of the photos (I'll blame it on the Bloody Hammer), but trust me the food looked great and tasted even better. We shared some special that was fried dough and fruit inside...'nuf said.

After all the eating we walked. This is why I LOVE the city. Great food, but loads of walking so I never felt uncomfortably full and I was always ready for our next meal. I couldn't go to Chicago without visiting our favorite toy store, Building Blocks, owned by our friend Katherine (her husband and son spent the weekend keeping my husband and kids company back in C-U). We didn't get to see Katherine or her newborn daughter, but I did pick up a little something for my kids...Smens (environmentally friendly scented pens). We walked to Bleeding Heart Bakery where I picked up some vegan donuts for them too (chocolate with peanut butter icing). They say I officially rock.
A half eaten (they were huge) chocolate and Bleeding Heart Bakery peanut butter donut after it sat in my purse for two days of walking around the city and the train ride home.
The donuts traveled with us to the Field Museum. Loretta and I checked out the Americas and Africa while Erin worked with some clients to take pictures on the museum campus. Stef met us at the museum and once Erin was finished snapping pics, we headed to Trader Joe's for some wine and then Urban Vegan for some grub.
My Yellow Curry with "Shrimp" from Urban Vegan (Stef ordered the same, but less spicy)
Erin's Cashew Nuts with "Chicken" from Urban Vegan
Loretta's Spicy Eggplant with "Fish" from Urban Vegan
Urban Vegan is tiny (seats 20?) so we had a wait, but the staff was very sweet and gave us edamame with we took up their entrance with four giggly women and three bottles of wine. The food definitely made up for the wait. I am fairly picky about Thai food, but I can't wait to take the family back to Urban Vegan. I love having an entire menu to choose from and when I ordered my yellow curry spicy it was quite spicy, but not overpowering. The shrimp was almost scary authentic, but I had to try it. You all know my love of brown, red, and black rice so I was super happy to see the rice. I am such a nerd, I had a small reusable to-go container for leftovers. I love the size because I can store it in my purse without taking up a bunch of room. You can buy one at Common Ground Co-op locally or online.
The to-go container a few weeks earlier at the library with treats for the kids.
I can't wait to take the family back to Urban Vegan.

We didn't get much sleep Saturday night after staying up late talking and then losing an hour for Daylight Saving Time so be all had a little treat we'd been saving from Bleeding Heart Bakery. I think Loretta and Erin had scones and I had a Blueberry Streusel Muffin. Then we headed out for brunch at Karyn's Cooked. We walked quite a bit and anticipated a wait when we arrived, but we were able to be seated immediately. We had a mimosa to get wet our appetite.
Erin's Potato Pancakes from Karyn's Cooked
Loretta's Scramble from Karyn's Cooked
My Tofu Quesadillas from Karyn's Cooked 
The food at Karyn's was excellent as usual. My quesadillas were spicy and the cheese sauces were perfect along with the veggies and avocado.
Erin and Me (I'm the short one) on a bridge on the way to Union Station.
Loretta and Me (again, the short one) on the same bridge. Picture by Erin D
It kept me satisfied through the walk to Union Station and the train ride home and after. Erin and I were able to sit next to each other on the train. She is a fascinating person and we don't get much time to talk one-on-one so this was a real treat for me. All week I've been pining for all the wonderful food we consumed in Chicago. When we eat out for a couple days I'm typically happy to eat at home for a long time after since I love the food we cook (and I did come home to some fabulous risotto with kale and olives Rob made while I was gone), but this time I'm trying to figure out how soon we can make another trip up to Chicago. It was so much fun to spend time with "the girls", but I was so happy to get home to the kids. Josie was so excited to see me that she said she was "circling me with a bubble of love" and the boys talked non-stop to me the mile walk home from the train station. It is nice to take some time for myself, but their sweet faces have never looked better to me. I'm just not completely happy without them around.


the sandwich life said...

you look particularly gorgeous in those pictures....glad it was a good getaway....

VeganLinda said...

Cynthia, you're so sweet! I felt like a tired hot mess. :-) It was very nice and super laid back. I don't think I've relaxed like that in years.

Loretta said...

Everything looks even better in your pictures! We definitely need to do this again sometime soon. Maybe after Richelle returns?