I kid you not when I say that this jar was almost full 2 days ago. What happened? Well, I had some vino and proceeded to mow on handful after glorious handful of Wild Oats Blueberry Granola. You have never had granola like this...not even Milk & Honey or Bear Naked compares. It's got this caramely, cookie dough taste--with little hits of toasted oats, crunchy almonds, and sweet blueberries. When I was in the store the other day, I was ravenous, so I opened my small container (while choosing my wine, mind you) and ate almost the whole thing. I had to go back for a big container! I even let the stunned (but ultimately happy) cashier taste mine...I needed someone to understand my rapture at that moment. She felt it, I could tell. Get some at Wild Oats in Evanston...it's tucked on a small table over by the bakery.
I am always (re: desperately) on the hunt for the best cookies around. I might have found them. There is a super-cute bakery on Bryn Mawr called Flourish and I just so happened in there one day this week when I was at a real sugar low. They'd just brought out a batch of fresh baked cookies (everything from chocolate chip to oatmeal to peanut butter) and I promptly ordered up a choco chip and a squishy looking brownie to go. As I eagerly hurried across the street to my double-parked truck, I couldn't help but slyly dunk my hand in the sack and rip of a chunk of cookie...and brownie...oh, the bliss. The cookie, especially. It was exactly the way a real cookie should be...super soft with an ever so slight crisp around the edge. Both treats were washed down with ice water in a matter of minutes and I was happy as a clam and back on the move...mission accomplished and now, I feel sorry for every other cookie out there~
I have become somewhat obsessed with Discovery Channels' phenomenal new series Planet Earth. Filmed over the course of five years, this stunning television show has me completely captivated every Sunday night. I tend to perch gape-jawed on the edge of my seat (Mexican hot chocolate in hand), watching a ravenous pride of lions take down an ancient elephant or, even better, witnessing green grass grow at the iciest ends of the earth.
This past Sunday's episode featured so many segments with animals slaughtering other animals that I swear I don't know if I can ever touch meat again. Ever seen a wild wolf chow down on a fluffy, chirping baby goose? It's just so damn tragic.
That being said, I'm sticking to the basics from here on out, going with easy meals like the goodies at the Argo Georgian Bakery in Little India. This gem of a storefront, which looks centuries-old, has been a longtime favorite, so when I happened to stroll by it recently, I wandered in to see if anything had changed. Nope.
One of my favorite 'hoods in Chi is Pilsen and it has a lot to do with the panaderia's that populate every single vibrant street corner. You can barely walk down 18th St. without catching a whiff of bread baking, sweets cooling off or coffee brewing. Good lord at what those smells do to the mindframe. One of the very best is Nuevo Leon (not the restaurant, but the bakery), just a few doors down from Mundial Cocina Mestiza. The place is literally a palace of sugar. From creamy cheese and fruit stuffed pastries, to gigantic whipped topping covered chocolate cupcakes, every single item that lines the stack of trays toward the back looks like it came straight out of cake and cookie heaven. All items are cheap to boot (you won't find a $4 cupcake in this casa) and you'd do best to buy a giant sack of goodies every time you stop by. Trust me...they go down fast and furious!
This has been the most brutal winter spell of all time, I think. For the first time, I've finally been forced to drop hundreds of dollars on proper "extreme arctic weather" long johns and fleece pullovers. It's all about Patagonia in my world, because after loading up on a handful of their most high-tech goodies, I can happily say that I am properly insulated.
Now that I'm all toasty, I can once again stomach the idea of a walk along the lake. I can let my truck actually warm up instead of just starting it and taking off with a bleed-out of fumes because I can't handle the chill for two minutes. And, most excitedly, I can joyfully accept the idea of ice cream melting in my mouth again. We all know that ice cream = summer, which leaves me convinced that there's no better time than the dark, dreary depths of winter to experience the glorious notion that it will all end soon. I say, let there be ice cream all year round!
Strolling through Pilsen is one of my all-time favorite ways to kill some time. The quirky South Side neighborhood is always slinging up new shops and cafes, each with their own unique specialty (pork, sweets, beef, tamales, tortillas), and I haven't even rounded the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating out in this spirited, still-on-the-cheap-side 'hood.
Though I'm completely in love with the blaring Mexican music, the enticing scent of char-grilled meat wafting from open windows, the friendly hello in a stranger's eye and the simplicity of a real working class neighborhood, one of Pilsen's best features is BomBon.
I got an email (with lovely wrap party photos) today from Alaina, one of the best PA's I've ever had. She worked with me side-b y-side in Spain for almost 2 months and was my partner-in-crime when it came to my daily Paul Bakery runs. As soon as early afternoon hit, we'd know it was ready for a run to Paul, the best bakery in Barcelona. Thank God it was just around the corner from our hotel/production office--this chocolate treat (photo, right) was one of my favorites and I can honestly say that I tried every single sweet, baked good, tart, cake, and flaky breaded thingy in the case. At lunchtime, they would whip out these awesome salads and sandwiches and I'd get so excited every day to pick out a new round of desserts for the office---I promise, this is the last time I'm talking about Paul, but just, really---thanks, Alaina for the flashback...
It seems I always walk that very fine line between good and bad. I can go weeks and weeks on an internal high, created completely by aimless walks about town, white-hot yoga sessions, loads of smoothies and not an ounce of sugar in sight. Then I fall off the wagon and somehow manage to plow through vats of gooey cakes, cookies and candies like the curly-headed female version of Willy Wonka at the Chocolate Factory. Just like that, all my good intentions are out the door and I'm back to square one; a very fat and sassy square one, mind you.
Needless to say, after a week of smart eating and mad exercising, I was walking home from one of my sweaty Bikram yoga classes when I sashayed past a 7-11. I had noticed the last time I was in there that it was hawking some mighty fudgy brownies by the front register, and the image of that hulking piece of chocolate had seared itself into the back of my skull. Especially because the cost was a mere $1.39 and good ol' 7-11 is always open for late night cravings. I decided to give it a go.
Some folks love booze; some folks crave a salty bag of chips; and some folks jones for a long drag off a dirty cigarette. I'm the girl who can't say no to sweets. It doesn't matter how many Bikram yoga classes I sweat through, how many city blocks I traipse, or how many miles I pump away on my bike, I'm always gonna say yes to dessert.
Bridging the gap between my raging sweet tooth and my love for all things Mexican hasn't been the easiest. There are little pockets of Mexico splattered across town every which way you turn, but not many have the sort of sugar fix I crave. I'm not into the dry-as-sand buns that usually turn up in south-of-the-border bakeries. I'm into the soaking wet wonder known as tres leche cake and that genuinely perfect coffee dunker, the freshly baked, fruit-filled pastry.
Though I spent the entire weekend working, I somehow managed to eat more sweets in 48 hours than I have in all of 2006. I partook in no less that a half dozen croissants (some plain, a few glazed with sugar and my favorite, the ones stuffed with chocolate and sprinkled with powdered sugar); buttery crepes smeared with oodles of honey and a squeeze of lemon; double chocolate tart; sugar-sprinkled churros (fresh from the gigantic vat of oil bubbling in the background) AND bigger mama churros stuffed with dulce de leche; pistachio and coconut gelato with a little wafer cookie; and then the motherload that went down today--a giant brownie (with nuts and raisins) and creamy vanilla gelato. Man, I've gotta get a handle on this addiction and fortunately, I think I have totally OD'ed on the sugar. I was walking to get some dinner earlier and saw an apple pastry in a brightly lit window---I could have hurled. It's a new day, kids---it's a new day~