Focusing on happier times, lets take a look at last weekend.
As Chicago geared up for an arctic plunge (refuse to use the p-v-phrase, the one that rhymes with molar cortex) we spent the past weekend out and about without wearing hats, as one should do before the temperatures plunge and everything becomes frozen. Friday evening was spent just enjoying doing nothing other than recalculating our grocery budget after Gracie ate three breakfasts, two lunches, a hearty snack and two dinners, but otherwise uneventful. I made these beef/blue cheese/au jous/crispy shallot sandwiches in the crockpot and both adults in the house declared them a huge success (we paired them with roasted brussels sprouts/Gracie had her own separate dinner before the sandwiches were done, opting for two huge portions of smoked salmon + sides) for a chilly night, and we sat around in the living room watching television and being lazy sloths. Saturday morning, after a delightful breakfast (two full size waffles and a piece of bacon for Gracie, which she paired with a large cup of milk and another of water) we bundled up in our finest maize and blue and drove up to Evanston for some football.
This was Gracie’s first college football game, and while we had a great time, general consensus is: not again, until she is old enough to sit in her seat for more than 32 seconds. We picked up my cousin (attending Northwestern), parked, and hit up a tailgate where Gracie ate her weight in pretzels and tried her very first Doritos (big fan). Then we loaded her up in the Tula and went into the stadium where she was happy and content to do anything except sit in our seats. We gave up only 7 minutes into the game and instead spent the half wandering the concourse, yelling “Go Blue”, trying out some of the stadium fare (pretty delicious/upscale) and watching Michigan return to the locker room for half time. Although we didn’t watch much of the game, we did have a lot of fun and even got Gracie a certificate commemorating her first college football game (thanks Northwestern)! At this point we had a no-napper on our hands and we decided to beat the crowds and cold, pick up barbecue from Hecky’s and head on home. Gracie had a stick that she carried around all day (found while tailgating), jumped in leaves, watched the crowds and was pretty enthralled by it all. B wore his Michigan “themed” Loudmouth golf pants (his very favorite pants ever) and I got to tailgate, which is one of my very favorite hobbies (if one can call it that). All in all: November Saturday success, especially after we came home to see Tulane win and Notre Dame lose (not, uh, in the same game obviously). We even found time to watch Good Morning Vietnam, a Robin Williams movie I hadn’t seen but wanted to. It was worth staying up for!
On Sunday morning we got our grocery shopping out of the way so we could hit up the “Fall French Market” at the French International school in Chicago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but they promised kid activities and crepes, so we decided to check it out. Unfortunately the kid area was for those who were potty trained, so we meandered as much as Gracie could stand (a lot of no-touching booths), sampled some crepes and cookies, and bought some raffle tickets (the school is fundraising as they move to their new campus/oh wait schools are always fundraising, ha ha ha), and prevented Gracie from stealing decorations from the walls/lockers. Sometimes in a big city (with no family roots) it can be hard to find a sense of community, and attending something like a school market makes you feel like the city is just a little bit smaller. Despite not meeting pre-conceived expectations we had a good time and made it home in time for Gracie to eat a huge bowl of yogurt, with a side of salmon, before she took a (much needed) afternoon nap. I made a practice pie for Thanksgiving (man, pie skills….not my thing…) and B and I read with football on in the background. After a family supper (grilled flank steak, asparagus, mashed potatoes) we put Gracie down and spent the evening reading while keeping one eye on the shellacking of the Chicago Bears. It was one of those nice weekends with lots to do but plenty of downtime. Here is hoping for another one this weekend (and maybe Gracie’s eye will open up a little?)
On Tuesday I took the day off of work to hang out with Gracie. Daycare was closed and after watching the Today Show for a little bit I had grand plans of a long walk with the dog, perhaps a trip to the zoo (Gracie had been asking to visit the monkeys), and while she napped, an episode of Serial while I wrote a blog post about our fun weekend. As we came back from our walk it started to sprinkle and I started to hustle to get us all inside (so much for the zoo).
We live in a traditional Chicago style building with an elaborate front porch, about 5 steps from the sidewalk up. I got the stroller up the stairs from the sidewalk, and then, as I rushed, I must have let go without putting the brake on. I’ll question this 3 second window for the rest of my life, but in that moment, as it began raining harder, I dropped and then tripped over the dog leash. I then spent a moment picking myself up, getting the leash, grabbing the now wet dog, the wind was gusting, and then I turned back to get the stroller, except it wasn’t right there anymore and it was near the sidewalk. I have never felt such fear as I ran down, and as soon as I saw Gracie’s scrapes (she was conscious and just starting to wail) and the lump on her head, I just went into auto pilot. In the next few minutes I got us up 3 flights of stairs (I thought I left the stroller in the middle of the lobby, but turns out, I folded it up and tossed it in a corner), grabbed the diaper bag, and ran back out the back of our house to our car. She was awake but angry, and I wasn’t taking any chances with a head injury.
I called B, and made my way in the pouring rain to the Children’s Hospital. Gracie alternated between crying and trying to sleep, which terrified me. I was on the edge of hysteria but I just kept focusing on getting us there, parked. Once we parked I scooped her up out of her car seat and ran, through the rain, into the lobby, where a nurse took one look at us and began writing out a wrist band for Gracie. I just sort of half cried/yelled “My daughter fell down the stairs, help” and they whisked us back into a room.
We spent a long day at the hospital. The first attempt at a CT scan was a bust (she wouldn’t hold still) and she wasn’t perking up at all, so they ordered a sedated CT scan. While we waited we watched an endless loop of Disney movies on the in-room entertainment channels, Gracie on my chest, her not wanting anyone to come near us.
After her CT scan (which was awful, as she fought the sedation, and B and I stood in a cold hallway near the supply storage and just cried along with her), she was given pain medicine and a cup of milk, which was the beginning of her bounce back. We eventually learned she had no bleeding (yay!) but she had some small fractures in her eye socket. These types of fractures are evaluated by surgeons (although she does not need surgery) so we met with trauma, facial, and plastic surgeons along with ophthalmologists. Her eyes were dilated and revealed no internal damage. Her broken eye is swollen shut (and will be for awhile) and she’s pretty bruised. B and I felt a lot of love and support from our family and close friends (thank goodness for text messaging and hospital wifi) while we spent those long hours waiting.
Gracie perking up was really the only thing that made us feel better, and in the last few hours as the doctors debated an overnight observational stay she returned to her usual ways- asking for crackers, coloring, playing with blocks and bubbles (the child life team was amazing) and telling me “No Pozen, no Brave” (no Frozen, no Brave, i.e. I just want to play Mom) and saying hello to everyone who came in to see her. The doctors decided we could go home, although we have a lot of follow up visits in our future, to make sure everything is healing the right way. Our sweet friend Elizabeth ordered take out to be delivered at our house, so we even had a (very late) hot meal at the end of the day.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so terrible and guilty as I did in those hours at the hospital, and I’m still struggling with the idea that my absent minded/dumb/idiot/whatever you want to call it move led to something so serious. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse, but I’m aghast that it even happened. I’ve had a lot of smart people assure me it was just an accident – my Dad reminded me of a pretty fantastic home movie we have of him accidentally dropping me onto my head when I was about 3- and while I know it was accidental, it was still dumb and led to something terrible.
So now we wait for the swelling to go down (maybe a week?) and the bruising to fade (much, much longer) and we schedule doctors appointments and decide how many weeks to keep her out of gymnastics.
I didn’t really want to write about this, this terrible accident, but it also felt important to write the words out, admit that I made a mistake, reaffirm that the doctors did a great job and the prognosis is excellent. Writing is a way of working through things (both good and bad) and while I don’t think I ever want to re-read this, I’m hoping this is another step in forgiving myself for letting go of that handle.
B and I recently set a goal of making it to the new year without relying on take out or delivery food. While we both know an occasional pizza night or order of pho might make its way through, we are trying to cut back on needless calories and spending, due in large part to the fact that the pizza man was over so often he was on the verge of making our Christmas card address list. I try to be realistic when I menu plan and there are a few nights of the week that I know I need something easy or else it isn’t happening. I thought I’d share some of our “old faithful” meals that I always have the items on hand for and was hoping maybe you’d share a few of yours……
1. Pasta with homemade sauce and meatballs. We always, always have a bag or two of Trader Joes frozen meatballs in the freezer, and my pantry always has a few large cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes. These items, combined with the even more staple-staples of pasta, butter and an onion mean I can toss together a batch of Smitten Kitchen’s simple tomato sauce, throw some meatballs in the oven, and boil water for pasta. Voila, dinner.
2. Easy Chinese. This is a freezer meal we always come back to, and while we grab our items at Trader Joes, most grocers have a pretty decent Chinese food freezer section. A bag of Trader Joes orange chicken, another bag of their fried rice (we stick to veggie), and when we are feeling fancy, some frozen egg rolls. I can get the chicken (and egg rolls) in the oven, make the fried rice with a splash of sesame oil, and when I’m feeling particularly grand, a second pan with fried eggs (I recommend Smitten Kitchen’s crispy egg, because of course I do) to top the rice – and boom, Chinese food without delivery. Bonus if you remember to buy soy sauce and siracha.
3. Soup and grilled cheese. Ok this one is cheating because it isn’t pantry staples, but our local grocer has an awesome hot soup bar and an excellent cheese department. Rather than stopping to pick up take out, B can stop and grab us soup and some fancy cheese for an old classic….the other night we had tomato bisque with sandwiches made from aged cheddar. It took me ten minutes to put together and it cost half of an inexpensive pizza delivery.
What about you? What are you easy meals that you always have the items on hand for and can toss together on a moments notice?
I’m often asked questions about visiting Chicago, which is something that makes me happy. I love nothing more than sharing bits and bobs of the city I love so much, and I want all of its visitors to have an amazing time at not-Navy-Pier and want to come back a million times over. Also, please buy lots of things at our 10% sales tax rate and help make our schools better. Or something. For posterity sake I thought I’d put a list together of Daisy’s Chicago Suggestions. This is by no means definitive, or an all-inclusive list of all the great places in Chicago. What I think it does is highlight places that are awesome and not-repeatable elsewhere (you’ll notice the lack of traditional steak houses on my restaurant guide, we have many wonderful ones….like lots of other great cities…) or quintessential Chicago. Except hotels, sorry, sometimes you gotta stick to a chain. Lets do it.
Accommodations: for the family or couple that has a budget (as many of us do) and can’t shell out $500 a night and wants to stay “in the heart of it all” I always recommend the Hilton Garden Inn on Grand Avenue or the Doubletree on Ohio. Both are clean, well located, and make public transportation a breeze. For people looking for a little something extra, I direct you to The Peninsula, The Drake, The Langham or the Trump.
Seeing the sites: Chicago has so many awesome museums, parks and general amusement. If you are coming for a few days and think that some of the more well-known attractions are musts on your list, I really recommend getting the City Pass. It gives you 5 admission passes from a list of seven popular attractions. It isn’t cheap at $94 for an adult, but it is much less than buying 3 or more admission tickets. My other Chicago “must” is taking an architectural river boat tour. There are quite a few companies that offer them, I’ve gone 7 times during all 4 seasons in the year, and I loved it every time. It is such a cool way to see the city, learn about its history and cover a lot of ground. I also like the double decker bus tour (it lets you get on and off at stops all over the city) but if you have to choose between the two, definitely take the boat tour. And if you go in the summer and sit on the top deck, wear sunscreen. You will thank me.
Shopping more than the Magnificent Mile: Chicago, like New York, has a lot of distinct neighborhoods. If you want to shop more than the Magnificent Mile and the accompanying Oak Street/Rush area, some of my favorite places to send people are the general Armitage and Halsted area in Lincoln Park (boutiques, pubs, a wine bar or two), Clark Street in Andersonville (boutiques, lots of cool furniture and antique shops, good restaurants), or Lincoln Street in Lincoln Square (small shops, German food abounds). Wicker Park and Bucktown also have some great stretches, but I confess I am less familiar with the area.
Where to eat…this is always the popular question and frankly, I could never capture all the best places in the city in just one blog post. There are books and blogs dedicated to eating in Chicago, but I’ll give you my recommendations that make me and my guests happy.
Chicago style pizza: I like Uno’s downtown for its ambiance and longevity (it isn’t the same Uno’s pizza as is served in the chain around the country), or Lou Malnati’s. There are many places to eat Chicago style pizza, but these are the ones I stick to when I’m in the mood.
Breakfast and brunch: Yolk and Bongo Room are probably my two favorite spots for an array of awesome choices (pancakes a million ways, omelets of fascinating combinations, everything is delicious) that include lunch options as well. Both of these places will have a huge line by 9:30 in the morning, so try to get there earlier rather than later. Brunch in the city is popular and there are tons of good options (especially on Saturdays and Sundays) but these are two that never disappoint. Bongo Room in the South Loop is also very convenient as the launch pad for a day at the museums.
Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch/Dinner: you know those spots that just serve good food all day long? I highly recommend Eleven City Diner (a great lunch after a morning at the museums, or the Lincoln Park Zoo, as it has 2 convenient locations) for numerous options including awesome bagels and lox, sandwiches, pancakes, salads and burgers. Think upscale diner. Similarly, Little Goat Diner (a cousin of the ever popular The Girl and the Goat from Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard) has an eclectic and fantastic menu that will tantalize you no matter what time of day it is. Summer House in Lincoln Park is also known for great brunches and dinners.
Good spots to know about: Sometimes you need something convenient and delicious. RJ Grunts is another choice near the Lincoln Park Zoo (we almost always hit them up after a morning of zoo-ing with friends) that will make kids and adults very happy, please be sure to order the stack of onion rings. If you find yourself in need of lunch on Michigan Avenue and Cheesecake Factory isn’t doing it for you, head down to Bandera. It overlooks Michigan Avenue, has great food and sometimes has live jazz music. It is a little pricey for lunch but it is splurge worthy. Similarly, downtown there is a new outpost of Do-Rite Donuts (consistently ranked on America’s Top Doughnut lists) which also serves chicken sandwiches that are to die for. Don’t leave without trying an old fashioned doughnut, get the Nutella coffee. Another great spot for many needs is Eataly, a Mario Batali outpost that can take care of you for just a quick coffee and gelato (also has a Nutella bar), a pizza lunch, or a pricier, awesome dinner. Small spots abound where you can taste wine, eat appetizers or peruse the merchandise. Hopleaf, which is way up North (if you hit up Andersonville shopping, please hit up Hopleaf) has an amazing beer list and fantastic food (and no kids allowed, sorry).
Dinner: assuming you can’t break the bank every night but you want an awesome dinner for under or around $100 for two, there are plenty of great options. Maude’s Liquor Bar is a French restaurant that will make you cry tears of joy (and can be more expensive if you get fancy with your ordering), Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Lincoln Park has wonderful sangria and tapas. Rosebud is an iconic Chicago Italian joint, if you can make it to the original location on Taylor Street you should, if you can’t the downtown location on Rush will be just fine (get the rigatoni ala vodka). Quartino’s is one of my favorite spots in city – small plates Italian- where you can eat more cheese than you ever imagined and dessert is worth saving room for. Rick Bayless has three restaurants, and while Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are worthy of their prices, if you want to try his fare for less, look no further than Xoco, one of my favorite spots in city. The tortas are to die for, the limeade makes me sing, and the churros and ice cream offerings are sublime. It has a new location in Wicker Park as well! Sable Kitchen and Bar (which can get pricey depending on how you order) is wonderful and run by a Top Chef winner if that is your thing.
Willing to spend: there are Michelin stars aplenty in Chicago, and while I could recite every award winning spot, I would prefer to point you to places that have tickled my fancy and are worth saving up your pennies. The Cape Cod Room in the Drake Hotel oozes old Chicago ambiance (classic seafood) and has wonderful views of Lake Michigan. Hugo’s Frog Bar is an iconic Chicago joint – fresh seafood aplenty and lots of eye candy or people watching while you eat- and it shares a kitchen with Gibson’s Steakhouse (another Chicago icon) so you can make carnivores and fish lovers happy in one go. Schwa, which is next to impossible to get a reservation at, is perhaps the best meal I’ve ever eaten (and is still BYOB so, uh, plan that into the mix). Coast Sushi is out of this world, and Tru is quite an experience if you are into that sort of thing. Publican is fantastic, but very meat heavy, so I’d probably avoid it if there were vegetarians in my party.
Whew. I know I’m missing 80% of the great spots in Chicago, but there is never time to do it all (or eat everywhere) so I’m sticking to places I can give my Daisy-Stamp-of-Approval and have made family and friends equally happy when they’ve been there.