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April 2007

Just a Few Things That Are Makin' Me Happy as a Clam Right Now~

Img_0967Well, first and foremost, I need to start this entry by saying that I just bought a 30' sailboat here in Chicago AND I got a star dock at Montrose Harbor (the best place to have a sailboat in Chicago).  This is very exciting news and one that makes me STONE-COLD delighted for summer to hurry up and get here.  But, there are indeed a slew of other things that are making me happy as can be right now.  Here's the short list:
1. Borani Badinjan--You have not tasted eggplant cooked up proper until you partake in this sinfully soft platter of eggplant at the Afghan Restaurant on Devon.  Toss it on a pile of rice and it is nothing short of nirvana.
2. Elf Owls--I downloaded the most pleasant ring tone of Elf owls calling from the endangered species list and it now makes me happy when my phone rings--as opposed to making me want to hurl the thing into Lake Michigan
3.  The new boat (currently named Free 'n' Easy)--but I think I will rename her Tennessee Gypsy.
4. The fact that my little condo is slammed from the sun on three sides and it's like living in a greenhouse/bird sanctuary right on the lake.  I also love the wind chimes tinkling, the tulips poppin' up on the walk to my front door and the fact that I can find parking directly in front of my place.
5.  I'm really delighted in all my recycling efforts and the fact that I've created a system that has not overtaken my kitchen and back porch.
6.  I am lovin' this pilates class I have been taking. Wish I could go more, for sure...but some is better than nada.
7.  Still WORSHIPING the cafe con leche at La Unica on Devon.  I have no words for the sensation of that very first, sugary sweet sip that I slurp down every AM.
8. Avocados.  Right now, I'm eating them with salt--just all by their lonesome.  Sometimes two a day. 
9. I am so happy that my little herbs are sprouting.  I just slung entire packs of seeds in some dirt in my window and already little buds of cilantro, chives and basil are poppin' up.  LOVE THEM.
10.  The friggin' boat.  I mean, I just gotta get real and comprehend that I live on Lake Michigan.  If that is the case, well then...a sailboat is a must.  She shall be put in soon, very soon~~~

Goin' Gluten-Free at Al Khaymeih

Img_1021I think I've been reading a little too much about food allergies lately. I say this because I've become convinced that I'm full-blown allergic to gluten. Why? It's real simple: If I eat wheat, my tummy hurts (read: expands three feet around, and I just wanna die). As a result, I've been exploring all these gluten-free websites, digging through gluten-free recipes and loading up on gluten-free food.

And, I guess it's working. By pretty much cutting out any wheat and white flour, I've been able to get a little friggin' control over my eating habits and establish a better relationship with my belly. I'm skipping the bread, taking a pass on the ketchup, denying myself the granola and oats and professing, "Hello, I don't eat gluten" every time my bread-lovin' pal Lisa tries to shove a tasty twirl of noodles in my face.

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Casa Ixchel, Isla Mujeres is Where it's at~

Img_0497Honest to God, what else is there to talk about, think about, daydream about, and obsess about than Mexico?  Man, I work like mad...and hardly ever have a day off, but you better believe when I get a minute at the end of my current know where I'm heading.  I really want to balls-out drive from Chicago to the Darien Gap, but since I will probably just have a four day weekend, I'll probably jam on back to Isla Mujeres.  To Casa Ixchel to be exact.  I totally adored this little hotel on my last visit to the island and can't wait to get back there, pick out my bicycle and cruise the island, swilling' margaritas the whole way.  Miguel the manager, is the sweetest thing ever and Jorge, the handyman, changed my favorite bikes tire so I could spend the day rolling about the island (bikes are free when you stay here).  Plus, my room was right by the pool and ocean and every night, I'd leave my windows open so I could fall asleep to the crashing surf.  That is the thing about Mexico. I forget everything--work, bills, responsibility, life as I know it.  Pure freedom, thru and thru. And who doesn't need more of that?  Barefoot and tanned with rum in hand is what IT is all about, si?

Grabbin' a Bite at the Georgian Bakery on Devon

Img_0725_3I 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.

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Nuevo Leon Pandaria in Pilsen~Hello Sweet Heaven!

Img_0828One 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!

Tikinxic...because I'm Loyal~

Img_0542I know I keep going back to Mexico, but it's because I'm loyal.  Really, I am.  I'm loyal to my family; loyal to my friends; loyal to my cafe con leche maker; loyal to my love of a country; and loyal to my joy in peasant food.  And tikinxic is Mexican peasant food at its finest.  It's as simple as this.  You troll around the Carib at the crack of dawn and catch a slippery fish.  You clean and gut fish.  You filet fish.  You slather fish with lime, salt, beer and some sort of funky red achiote mixture (annatto).  You toss fish on grill. You ignite 5' fire and char fish to succulent perfection. You devour fish with a Tecate chaser.  It is just that easy to live off the land (and sea) in Mexico and that is where my MAD respect for the country comes into play...over and over again.  It's pure tradition mixed with deep loyalty and it's the sort of thing that makes me happy.

Dolphin Cookies = Smiles all the way around

Img_0602Like most, I spend my days scheming about the future and in all my tropical fantasies, there is one thing I know for sure.  If I ever come to own a small cafe somewhere in Mexico, I will be serving sugar cookies shaped like dolphins with the house coffee.  What a happy treat, don't you think?  I ran across this tiny surprise at Elements of the Island cafe on Isla Mujeres and was immediately smitten.  I'd been searching out the yoga studio/cafe/rooms for rent establishment my entire time on the island (well, between frozen liquor-laced drinks) and finally found it my last morning there (of course, never bothered to ask a soul)...I was insistent on stumbling upon it.  With my crazy good granola, I had some organic coffee and this little dolphin cookie showed up all chirpy and cute.  So, yes!  Tack this one to the long list of to-do's for the future.  **Open cafe on beach...serve dolphin cookies with coffee.  Easy as pie~

Marigold: It's the Desserts that are GOLD~

Marigoldsalads_and_shrimp_appsI'm not a real big fan of fancy food. I like my cuisine unfussy and simple, more peasant-style than king's platter. And, as much as I love trying new places, I'm also a big stickler for the satisfaction-guaranteed spots that I frequent without hesitation.

That said, after hearing all the hubbub about Marigold, a new Indian restaurant in Uptown, I had to give it a go. The neighborhood's been on the upswing for quite some time, but now, more than ever, we're seeing an across-the-board transition, with new condos, bookstores, coffee shops and boutiques popping up left and right. There is nothing neater than walking into an upscale Indian storefront in a shoddy 'hood and witnessing a full throttle, spice-loving audience literally stampede through the front doors and pack the tiny, candle-lit dining room tight on a Wednesday night. "On the up-and-up" is an understatement, I'd say.

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