Thursday, August 29, 2013

Waited All Year. Joy!

 
Image from Adam Turman
 
Curds, prontos, walleye.
An annual ritual
With my oldest friend.
 
And coming soon, Fair 2013! Eeeeeeee!
 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Clearing


I’ve been trying to create more space in my life for creativity and openness to change. I’m doing lots of things that I think contribute to this goal, and a major one is rearranging the house to reflect how we want to live.

We moved our primary living space out of our living room and into the dining room. The dining room table went out into the shed for now as we try this out. Our dining room really is the most pleasant room in the house with lots of bright natural light, a cozy fireplace and it opens up to the backyard and views of the Jemez mountains (somewhat obscured, but we’ll take what we can get). It’s a lovely place to hang out and relax. I’m sitting in here right now typing and watching the sunset. We also moved the television to this room. I hated that when you walked in the house, the first thing you saw was a big, ugly television. So now it’s tucked away in the back of the house where you don’t see it unless you want to.

Our living room is fairly big, and we’re transforming it into our creative room for working on projects. I think if we create more space in our life for creativity, we’ll be more creative. Andrew is building us a big table that we’re going to use as a desk, and I’m planning to hang a big cork board for real life pinning. We’ll be able to use the big table as a dining table when we have guests over, and when it is just the two of us, we can eat at the small table in the kitchen.

We’ve moved the furniture, and we were getting ready to set up our new project room. We told ourselves that repainting would be too much work for now, and we should try this out before we go to all that trouble. But, then as we looked around the empty room ready for our new table and cork boards, we realized it really does make sense to paint now. In addition to being practical, I don’t think we can spark creativity in a room with a color that drains our energy and spirit. After reading Andrea’s post about making a clearing in your life in order to make your dreams happen, I decided that getting rid of the blue is going to be my clearing. I’m so excited to be able to walk into the house and be greeted by an inspiring room rather than the blue room, which feels stifling and literally sucks positive energy from us.

Out of all the colors that the previous owners had, the blue is by far the worst. After painting our bedroom, and absolutely loving the results, I was feeling much more confident about repainting the rest of the house. Honestly, we’ve hated the colors since we first looked at this house, but I was just never ready to start painting. It wasn’t really an option when we first moved in because we were too busy planning our wedding, and after the wedding, I just never felt ready to paint. That sounds a little weird when I read it, but I think that’s a good way to describe it. I was feeling stuck and I couldn’t unstick myself enough to commit to paint colors. Because the living room, kitchen and dining room are all connected and you see all three when you enter the house, I want all of the rooms to go together and look cohesive. Picking three colors and figuring out how to transition between the rooms without any right angles or clear delineations from one room to the next was daunting. Even this summer, the bedroom was one thing, but the whole rest of the house was another beast that I wasn’t really sure I was ready to tackle.

Thinking about it as a clearing makes it easy to feel motivated. I want that blue gone! We’ve spent the weekend sampling colors. Unlike the bedroom, the living room is proving to be difficult to pick a color for because even when a paint sample looks good on one wall, it looks terrible on the adjacent wall. Paint chips and samples that look lovely in the hallway or next to the fireplace look terrible next to the door or window. After a little hand wringing, we’ve settled on a color called sea marsh. The name of the color doesn’t sound very inspiring to me, but Andrew pointed out that we had a great day of fishing in a sea marsh on our honeymoon in Tulum so I’ll maybe I’ll think of that day when I see the walls from now on. The color is a sage-y gray-ish color. I had wanted a color called garden glade that was absolutely perfect until we put the sample up and it looked way too yellow. The color we picked is nicer, but still I would have preferred if garden glade had worked out. So good on paper but it just wasn’t what I was expecting or wanting in person. It just couldn’t be the color I wanted it to be in real life. I told Andrew it is kind of like dating! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ba-ba-ba Bab-Ganoush

The scene in our kitchen last Thursday night:

Meghan: I just love this Baba Ganoush recipe! So creamy and smoky. I can’t get enough.

Andrew: Baba Ganoush? You mean...

Ba-ba-baaa, Ba-ba-baaa, Bab-Ga-Nouuuuush!
Ba-ba-bab-gnouuuuush!
You got me rockin’ and a rollin’, rockin’ and a reelin’, Bab-Gnoush. Ba-ba-bab-gnoush!
(sung to the tune of Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys)

A: Or how about

BA. BA. BA. BA Gnoush.
BA. BA. BA. BA Gnoush.
BA. BA. BA. BA Gnoush.
Nothing can stop me now ‘Cause I’m the Bab Gnouuuuush.
(sung to the tune of Duke of Earl by Gene Chandler)

M: thinking silently to myself, I just fell even MORE in love with my husband!

Warning: just try singing these tunes to yourself and then stopping. Impossible! I woke up Saturday morning singing about Baba Ganoush to Andrew in bed.

******

Some people really seem to shy away from eggplant, but I can’t get enough of it. I could eat eggplant every day and be happy. So, I don’t know why or how I got it in my head a few years ago that Baba Ganoush was fussy or difficult to make. I can’t believe I’ve been denying myself this pleasure for so long. Seriously, this is some major awesomeness.

I first made this recipe the night of the Yotam fest. (I was making so many new recipes that I wanted to make sure I had a lot of food in case any of them were a total flop. And, you know, being the good Midwesterner that I am, I certainly didn’t want to run out of food. Gasp!)

I made it again last week and was even more smitten. Make this! Seriously, make this and enjoy!

Baba Ganoush
Slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen* via The Arugula Files

2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large globe, 5 medium Italian, or 12 medium Japanese)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small clove garlic , minced
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil , plus extra for serving
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat gas grill on high until temperature reaches 400 degrees. Poke eggplants with a fork evenly all over surface to prevent bursting. Set eggplants on grill rack toward the back where the grill is hottest. Grill until skins darken and wrinkle on all sides and eggplants are uniformly soft when pressed with tongs. Turn eggplants every 5 minutes and reverse direction of the eggplants on the grill with each turn. Total grilling time is about 25-30 minutes for large globe eggplants, 20 minutes for Italian eggplants, and 15 minutes for Japanese eggplants.

Transfer eggplants to rimmed baking sheet and cool for 5 minutes. Trim the top and bottom off each eggplant and slit lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop the hot pulp from the skins and place the pulp in a colander to drain. Discard skins. Let pulp drain 5 minutes.

Transfer pulp to the food processor. Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Pulse until the mixture has a coarse, choppy texture (about eight 1-second pulses). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap flush with surface of the dip. Refrigerate for 45-60 minutes. To serve, use a spoon to make a trough in the center of the dip and spoon olive oil into it. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

* I know you’re probably thinking why in the world would someone adapt from America’s Test Kitchen when they test the heck out of their recipes to perfect them. I used a gas grill because that’s what we have at the house. See the original link for instructions to use a charcoal grill, which is recommended by one Mr. Kimball.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

72 Hours in and around Portland, OR

Cyclopedia Exhibit at the Portland Art Museum

We visited Andrew's parents who live in Washougal, Washington across the Columbia River from Portland. It was a quick trip, but we packed a lot in.

We arrived late Friday night after a harrowing trip to the airport involving a massive monsoon with whiteout conditions on the Interstate, roads that turned to arroyos and hoping we didn't wash away (literally), a broken axle, frantic calls to AAA and a tow ride to the airport parking lot. We ran to our gate and made our flight. When we finally got to their house that night, we were still feeling a little frazzled. We had a glass of wine and some Cougar cheese, which I had never heard of before. Not the best tasting cheese, but it's fun to have something that you can't get at home and that is special to Washington.

On Saturday we swung by the St. Honoré bakery in Portland to pick up lunch and headed to the coast. Bakeries like that make me long to live in a real city! We visited Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark wintered. We watched the movie at the interpretive center where I learned that among the specimens they collected was a live prairie dog that they sent back east. Poor guy. I was surprised at how spacious the quarters in the fort seem compared to Spanish Colonial residences I've visited in New Mexico.


In the afternoon, we went to Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock in search of seeing sea stars and anemones. We even saw an octopus hiding under one of the rocks in a tide pool. We had dinner at Sweet Basil's where I was reunited with one of my great loves - Dungeness Crab Cakes. The crab cakes at Sweet Basil's were better than any I had when we were in Seattle last year. They were filled with a lot more big chunks of tasty crab meat, and the sauce was served on the side of the plate instead of drizzled over so I could really focus on the taste of the crab cakes. Delish! This place was definitely a star. (As a side note, Andrew overheard two chefs on the ferry once from Bainbridge discussing crab cakes. One chef gave the other, younger chef the advice of putting crab cakes on his menu because they are real money makers because you can fill them with lots of other stuff and minimize the expense of the crab. Harumph!)

On Sunday, I was treated to a fancy pedicure with my mother-in-law at the River's Edge Spa. We had lunch at Kenny and Zuke's Deli before heading to the main event of the day - Cyclopedia at the Portland Art Museum. The exhibit on iconic bicycle design was gorgeous.

my favorite

For dinner we had a classic family dinner chez Andrew - King salmon with roasted asparagus and green salad.

On Monday, we had big plans to get out of the house early and have lunch at Mount Hood, but we were on vacation so we slept in and ate Burgerville for breakfast - Tilamook cheeseburgers, sweet Walla Walla onion rings and raspberry shakes. Yes!!! I normally don't eat fast food, but Burgerville is too good to pass up!

Laughing the afternoon away
Dog friendly!

We went wine tasting at Marchesi near Hood River, and it was so pleasant that we ended up spending the whole afternoon hanging out on their patio drinking wine. We drove back to Portland on the Historic Columbia River Highway, admiring the falls and beautiful scenery. I worked on preserving and restoring the historic highway when I was intern several years ago so it was fun to see the projects that have been completed.

And then, a short three days after arriving, we boarded a flight home where we had to deal with being towed back to Santa Fe.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Family Values


When I started graduate school in community and regional planning, one of my first assignments in our communications studio was to write about my family name, its origins, its meaning, its story. We were asked to share the story of our name with the person sitting next to us. Luckily, I was sitting next to Andrew - lucky because I had a big crush on him at the time (it was before we started dating) and lucky because it was the first time I realized how much we are on the same page.

We both focused on food and told the stories of our names through our culinary experiences shared with family. He told me about the barbecue he ate in Memphis when they visited his grandmother and the barbecue he ate in Texas when they visited his dad’s family. Two families that take barbecue very seriously. He told me about the strict Southern rules of etiquette they followed at the table growing up. He told me about the Zabar’s dinners with excellent cheese and charcuterie his family likes to eat even though they haven’t lived in New York in over thirty years.

I told him about the buttered noodles my grandmother fed us and the cookie drawer she stocked for the grandkids. The pantries she kept full of canned goods and the hoarded sugar packets slyly taken from the table at Perkins or Baker’s Square and arranged in little stacks on the kitchen table. A freezer full of various uneaten meals - a handful of peas wrapped in plastic or a half eaten pork chop saved for a future time. She had a fear of lack so strong that was born out of a time when her family had nothing to eat. Despite this deep rooted fear, she also had a full hearted sense of abundance for the grandkids. She fed us whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, and if we didn’t eat our food, she’d finish it for us while we foraged through the cookie drawer. On my dad’s side there was the minced meat pie at Christmas, and my dad’s stories of liver and onions every Tuesday night growing up. When we were kids we were often reminded how lucky we had it to be able to eat spaghetti instead of liver and onions.

For both of us, growing up, cooking, eating and spending time at the table was how we knew our families, and it’s how we both chose to tell the stories of our family names. I remember feeling a little mortified at the time that he would think I wasn’t very serious if I framed my story with food as the backdrop, but once he started telling me his story, my heart leapt a little.

Our history with food and our stories are very different, but for both of us, so much of how we were raised manifests itself in our choices now about food - not just what we eat but how we prepare it and how we eat it.

A couple of years ago, a female friend remarked to me how impressed she was with Andrew because he had a barbecue at our house while I was out of town, and he set the table beautifully with a tablecloth and everything. She told me this as if I should be proud that my influence on him is so strong that he even sets the table when I’m out of town. The truth is that his influence and his family’s influence are why we set the table so nicely each night - nothing fancy but thoughtful and respectful of the experience of our nightly ritual.

One time I was telling my mother-in-law a story about Andrew and how thoughtful he is when it comes to food, and she turned to me and said, “That doesn’t surprise me one bit. It is one of our family values. Our boys learned to like and appreciate good food from a young age.”

This is a value that Andrew and I have cultivated for our family, and I feel lucky to be on such the same page about this, among many other things. I really don’t think I could share my life with someone who wasn’t as excited and passionate about good eating as I am.

Good, high quality ingredients, prepared thoughtfully, eaten with great joy, and shared with dear ones is pretty much my perfect experience and one that is so enriched by sharing it with my husband.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Party Nails


Fuchsia * Orange * Plum * Blue * Pink  ***  Lilac * Geranium * Turquoise * Purple * Celeste

I couldn't resist snapping these shots of my nails. My office lighting is terrible, but you get the idea - ten glorious nail colors!! It was my birthday this week, and I wanted something festive. I think these are just adorable!!

When I wrote about the simple pleasure of painted nails last year, Kelsey commented that when she looks down at her nails typing away on the computer she thinks, "Who's that sophisticated working gal?!" I always think this now too when I see my cute nails tap, tap, tapping away on my keyboard. This isn't the most sophisticated look, but it sure is darn cute!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Basil Cashew Pesto


A couple of years ago, I had the unfortunate luck of getting pine mouth from eating a salad with toasted pine nuts at a local restaurant. A few days after I ate the salad, everything started tasting metallic. After a few days, I was convinced I had a brain tumor or something terrible. I started googling and realized that I had pine mouth. It lasted for about two weeks, but from what I’ve read online, it can last up to a month for some people. Even drinking water tasted bitter. Although I really liked pine nuts before that experience, I’ve had to cut them out of my diet for fear that I will get it again.

I was disappointed about this development, but I haven’t been missing pine nuts too badly because I’ve found that I can substitute other nuts and get very good results.

When we were on Corn Island in Nicaragua we stayed at Farm Peace Love. The owner is Italian, and she served us pasta with pesto one night. We inquired about the availability of pine nuts on the small island, and she informed us that she substitutes cashews, which are readily available in Nicaragua.

Cashews work beautifully, and this is a rich, creamy pesto. You can adapt the recipe below by changing the herbs or nuts. I love basil walnut pesto, and the other day I had a lot of parsley and pecans around so I made a parsley pecan pesto - not as good as a basil pesto in my opinion, but quick and easy to whip up for dinner. Feel free to experiment.

I like to make big batches of this and freeze it so we can have it all winter. If you are going to freeze the pesto, omit the cheese. Divide pesto into mason jars or freezer containers and freeze without the cheese. Add the cheese after it is thawed and you are ready to eat it.


Basil Cashew Pesto 
Recipe from Kiss My Spatula (original recipe is basil walnut pesto) 

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cashews
4 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
big squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

In your food processor, pulse together basil and cashews. Add garlic and olive oil and pulse again. Add cheese, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until just blended. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl with a spatula and pulse a few more times.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. You can add a little more olive oil when serving if it is taken straight from the fridge or you want a thinner pesto. Sometimes I mix in a little pasta water before tossing with hot pasta.

This recipe is very easily doubled or tripled for big batches.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Trusting in the Small Steps


I am a bit of a perfectionist. I have incredibly high standards for myself, and I expect a lot out of others too. I like to do things right, at least what I consider the right way - the thorough, well thought out and just way. I don’t like shortcuts or easy solutions. I want the best solution regardless of how hard it is.

This quality has led to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted when making plans for the next big thing. I want to do all the research and know all the answers NOW. Right now, please! But, there are a lot of questions I don’t know yet, and there’s no way to know all the answers anyway.

I have to trust in myself and us. I have to trust that we are smart, highly capable people and we will be ok. I know this is true. I also need to trust in the small steps. I know that in order to accomplish big goals, I need to string together a series of small steps. This is basically what I do professionally and I’m good at it, but I’m having a hard time wholeheartedly committing to it in my own life.

It’s so easy to see someone else’s success and think that it happened overnight. It’s easy to focus on the end result and feel overwhelmed and helpless because how could I possibly ever make it there? It’s easy to wish for luck and chance to line up and deliver what I’m looking for.

This isn’t revolutionary of course, but what makes sense for other people doesn’t always make sense in our own lives until we come to the conclusion on our own.This is a lesson I need to remind myself about often. I need to trust the small steps and they will lead me to something great.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

In the Kitchen Lately


We had a bit of a Yotam Ottolenghi fest at our house. For a dinner party the other night, I made this pasta that Molly wrote about, his hummus and these stuffed portobellos. The mushrooms are the only things I took a photo of because we were too busy eating the rest of it. It was all so good, and this guy has been on my mind a lot lately. So much so that I actually dreamed that I met him.

We’ve started making our own pasta. It is SO MUCH fun! And I love that it is something we both enjoy doing in the kitchen. Also, it’s nice to be able to delegate the kneading to an eager assistant. Thank you, Andrew! Our dough was so silky and smooth. We started with one of my favorite pasta dishes ever - beet ravioli - and we also made a mushroom ravioli. The beet ravioli is so bright and pretty, and I love the flavor. It is earthy with a bit of sweetness. It is one of those dishes that will make your friends turn to your partner and tell him or her how lucky they are to get to eat your food everyday. We made our first batch of pasta on a Sunday evening, and by 10:00 am on Monday morning, Andrew had already called me to tell me he couldn’t stop thinking about what kind we would make next.

Speaking of Andrew in the kitchen, he started reading the River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years, but I’ve only ever used it for reference and just skimmed the manifesto part. Andrew has been delving into it and reading me passages, and I really like this philosophy about meat. It is a topic that we’re exploring at our house, and I think it will take some time to work out what choices we make. In the meantime, we’ve started eating vegetarian. So far, the part that is sticking with me the most is the question, Is the meat you're eating good enough to bring you pleasure every time you eat it? Could it, should it, be better?

The other day, a coworker asked me what kinds of food I don’t like because she is planning a menu for a work party. This got me to thinking that in order to be a better cook, I may want to try to like some of these foods. I made two lists: foods I don’t like that I want to like and foods I don’t like that I’m ok not liking.

First List: Foods I want to Like 
Endive
Radicchio
Anchovies
Liver
Dates
Chocolate and fruit, such as chocolate and orange, chocolate and cherry, etc.

Second List: Foods I don’t want to learn to Like 
Brains
Tongue
Aspic
Bugs of any kind

I think I can like all of the things on the first list if I try. I mean I’m surely missing out on some good stuff, and if I set my mind to it, I can make it happen. There was a time when I didn’t like dark chocolate, red wine, bourbon, camembert, oysters, sushi, and lots of other food that I now consider to be amazingly delicious. Sooo, I’ll start with endives. Should be easy enough, huh? If you have any ideas about the best ways to prepare endives, or any of the items on the first list, please let know.

Continuing with more lists, I’m also making a list of cooking challenges for myself. I want to try at least two new things a month. This month was pasta, and this weekend I’m going to make Eggs Benedict with homemade English muffins and hollandaise. I’m not sure what kind of benny to make, but I think I’ll check the menu from Snooze for inspiration.

I haven’t been able to find veggie cream cheese that is veggie enough so I’ve started making a batch every week to eat on our morning bagels. Easy, peasy and much better than store bought.

Veggie Cream Cheese 

2 packs cream cheese, at room temperature
3 celery stalks
2 radishes
3 carrots
2 green onions
½ red bell pepper
Freshly ground pepper to season

Coarsely chop veggies and put in food processor. Pulse until veggies are desired consistency. Mix in a large bowl with cream cheese. Season with pepper.

So, what's been going on in your kitchen lately?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An Unexpected Star in the Chicago Airport

via

I read one of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs during my trip to Indianapolis and really enjoyed it. I love memoirs in particular, and when you throw in some talk of good food, I’ll almost always love it.

Reading about the life of a restaurant critic, I thought to myself how lucky I was to be able to eat out every night for a week while traveling and reading the book. She’ll probably inspire me to think differently about the food I’m eating at restaurants and maybe even want to write a review of one of the restaurants, I thought to myself.

I already have a fairly critical approach to eating at restaurants (what I like to call discerning taste). Andrew is probably rolling his eyes as he reads this and thinking well, this is an understatement. The thing about me and restaurants is that I’m a tough audience with high standards. I have what Andrew calls a Star/No Star system. You know how most ratings have a range that gives the recipient of the information a choice as to how low or high they are willing to go? Well, mine doesn’t.

Star = a restaurant that has won me over and I’ll delight in eating at it again. A restaurant that can stand on its own – it could be in any city and still be a star. None of this business about it being so good for such and such of a town. Some towns just don’t have any stars.

No star = a restaurant that has not only not won me over but a restaurant that has committed an unforgivable affront on my extremely high standards.

Overcooked, undercooked, and/or improperly seasoned food? No star.

Poorly planned menu with odd flavors that don’t go together? No star.

Rude or negligent service? No star.

Unpleasant atmosphere? No star. (Although if the food is good, this can be overcome by takeout.)

Just fine food? No star.

Some people, like my husband, are willing to overlook some of these sins and give offending restaurants another chance. I know I’m not the only one who feels the same way. I discovered a kindred spirit in my oldest friend Rosie’s mom, Pat, who has similar discerning tastes and high standards.

I remember once when I was in junior high going to the Dairy Queen with Rosie and her mom. As we sat in the long line at the drive-in (God only knows why we didn’t just park and walk-in. I mean if downtown St. Anthony, Minnesota has one thing, it’s ample parking), we speculated about what could possibly be taking so long to fill the orders of all the folks in front of us. When it was our turn to order, it became clear that the problem was the staff who were having trouble getting the orders straight and actually making any frozen treats. I distinctly remember Pat scoffing, pushing her hair back, and declaring, “Well, it’s the blind leading the blind in there!” No wonder they couldn’t fill our orders!

I haven’t gone back to that Dairy Queen (at least I don’t think I have and certainly not in recent memory. It has to have been at least twenty years since this happened) since this incident. This commitment was made quite a bit easier when my sister worked there for three days while she was in high school. She came home on the third day, told us she had quit, and that she was never eating at a DQ again after seeing how they make their food. I guess she wasn’t blind enough to be cut out for work at the DQ.

Anyway, all this to say, I’ve known from early on that I was not going to put up with shoddy service or sub-par food. As you know, I don’t like to waste a meal, and I have no time or appetite for mediocre food. We like to eat out, and once in a while, Andrew will mention that I should write some restaurant reviews for my blog, and I always respond that I don’t want people to think that I’m some horrible negative nelly jerk face who is impossible to please. Although, I know I’m not impossible to please. I loved the restaurants in Seattle. I loved the restaurants in Paris and Barcelona. If I’m going to write about restaurants, I think it’s best for me to stick with the stars and stay positive around these parts.

I was hoping to find a restaurant in Indianapolis to write about, but I did not love the restaurants in Indianapolis. In fairness to Indianapolis, I was staying downtown, and almost everything was a chain. Surely, there are some wonderful restaurants around Indianapolis if only you venture farther than a mile from your downtown hotel. That was my fault. I did explore what downtown Indianapolis had to offer, and I had some fine meals at two restaurants that are not chains as far as I can tell and two restaurants that were the least chain-y of the chains. Nothing that warranted a star though. A week of restaurant meals and zero stars. I was disappointed.

I figured I’d continue my no star streak on my four-hour layover in the Chicago O’Hare airport. I checked the airport directory for the list of restaurants scanning for something that looked interesting. Nothing caught my eye. I texted my sister to see which would be better – Macaroni Grill or Chili’s. She texted back that she thought Macaroni Grill would be the least terrible, and at least they have wine! I sat down at the gate across from Macaroni Grill steeling myself to eat there, when I decided that surely a city the size of Chicago should have something good to eat at its airport, right? I started googling (thank you googly phone!), and I discovered that Rick Bayless had opened a place that was getting good reviews.

I don’t think too much of celebrity chefs in general, and I have a policy to avoid all things celebrity chef. In fairness to Mr. Bayless, I don’t know anything about him specifically, and I wouldn’t have even heard of him except for the fact that a few years ago while in Chicago for a conference, my coworkers dragged me across town to eat at his restaurant. It was fine – no star, mind you – the food was fine and the service was fine, but it wasn’t a memorable meal or even one that was worth schlepping across Chicago in February in the freezing cold. Also, as I type this, I’m remembering that another friend joined us and they wouldn’t let him sit with us because we had only made a reservation for five. With our extra friend we were six, which our table could accommodate, and they wouldn’t let him sit with us. Who does that? No star! Luckily I didn’t remember that detail until just now or I probably wouldn’t have tried Mr. Bayless’ new restaurant and would have been stuck at the Macaroni Grill.

So, the big news is that Tortas Fronteras by Rick Bayless in the Chicago O’Hare airport has received an enthusiastic star! My meal was the best airport food I’ve ever had, but because it received a star, you know it can stand on its own. It’s not just good for airport food, it’s just plain good. Excellent, really. I was wishing that I wasn't traveling alone so I could have someone to exclaim with as I took each bite.


I had the Milanesa Torta - a Mexican griddle-baked sandwich with chicken, black beans, pickled jalapenos, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro crema, avocado and arugula. It was served with a tomatillo cilantro salsa on the side. The sandwich was piping hot with moist chicken and a crunchy crust. The fresh, firm burst of flavor from the jalapenos really pushed this sandwich over the edge for me and left my lips tingling. It is so far above what you can get from other airport food. I was seriously impressed.

Everything on the menu looked really good, and I was so exhausted when I was ordering that I just picked something without paying attention to what was in it. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted at my choice, although everything that other diners around me were eating also looked really good. Not only was the food delicious, but they have a sign listing where all of the ingredients are sourced from - how great is that?

So, there you have it. A star in the Chicago airport! Who knew?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Watermelon Margaritas

Warning - these go down easy! That's a good thing.

My friend Marla made these for us the other night, and they are deeeelish! A perfect summer drink. They are refreshing and light. Plus, don't you always enjoy drinks with lots of fruit so they feel kinda healthy? I also like that the watermelon doesn't overpower the tequila. I like to taste the tequila in my margaritas and not just drown it out.

Enjoy some this weekend. Happy Friday!!

Serve these preferably in beach themed glasses!
Bad photo but you can still see the pretty color

Watermelon Margaritas

3 cups cubed watermelon
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup of sugar (original recipe calls for 1/3 cup)
1 cup of tequila 
1/2 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau
Ice and lime wedges for serving

In a blender or food processor, pulse watermelon and sugar until smooth. In a pitcher, combine watermelon, lime juice, tequila and Grand Marnier and stir to blend. Serve over ice and garnish with lime wedges. Original recipe is for a frozen margarita, and if you'd like to do that, you can just add 2 cups of ice to the blender in the first step. Makes 6 servings.
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