Sunday, June 26, 2011

More of the Same, but I Have a New Toy and All My Appendages

So, surprise!  This weekend, working in the garden and building retaining walls.  Who'd've thunk it.

We did have some firsts.  Something has been eating all the leaves off our potato plants.  Yes, potatoes come from plants.  Anyway, one of our potatoes was looking particularly dead so I pulled it and looked to see what, if anything, was home.  Pulled out a little red potato about the size of a marble.  But wait, what's that?  Digging a little deeper, I found THREE very nice red-skinned potatoes, ranging is size from racquet- to baseball-size.  This morning they met their maker, uh,  growers.  A little saute with some home grown Anaheim chiles and red onion.  The garlic was was from your basic grocery store, but the egg was from an actual chicken.  Denise gets them from some woman in Temecula.  I need to get my own chickens.


We have also started harvesting some of the fruit of our labor, namely the green plums and apricots.


Apricots are always the focus of a competition between sundry critters and ourselves.  For some reason birds and bugs really like to attack the apricots, but the green plums not so much.  I think the critters are all waiting for the plums to ripen, expecting some color besides green.

Jacob and I busied ourselves for the hot part of the weekend building a compost tumbler.  I had found some plans on the interweb and purchased a used pickle barrel for the project.  An important addition to our family farm, since what we grow best in our garden is compost.


While Jacob and I were busy building, Natalie was put to work weeding the vegetable garden.  The neighbors will be so happy.


Neither Natalie nor Leo appeared to be overly affected by the heat, Leo deciding at one point to play devil dog while Jacob chased him with the camera.







When it was cool enough, Jacob helped me with the retaining wall.  As of this evening, all of the railroad ties for the upper wall are installed, just a few more bolts to put in and some posts to be trimmed.  There's still a lot of work to do, but at least we're at a point where we can start working on restoring the lawn that Leo has destroyed.

Here we have Jacob putting some of the finishing touches on the ties.  I made a long overdue purchase this weekend; or rather, I had Denise make a long overdue purchase.  I have been struggling through this stupid retaining wall project, sawing the ties with a combination of circular and manual cross-cut saws.  The circular saw only cuts about 2.5 inches deep and the ties are about 7" x 9".  So, to cut through a time you need to run the circular saw around all four sides of the tie, then finish cutting through the remainder with a hand saw.  This is time consuming and exhausting.

So now that the project is nearly done I had Denise pick me up a chainsaw.  Cuts through ties like buttah.  I feel so manly.


Finally, this evening another first.  Harvested the first of my rhubarb and paired it up with some of the apricots in what I hope to be a pretty decent Rhubarb-Apricot Crisp (with Splenda for Denise).  Will have to let you know how it turns out.




Sunday, June 19, 2011

Braised Cabbage with Apples and Sopressata

We have been inundated with cabbages from the garden recently and I've been struggling to find applications for them all.  Did the Kung Pao Salad and the sauerkraut (which did not turn out well, sadly) and still have cabbage heads galore.

Denise had prepared a little picnic for our trip to the Jethro Tull concert last weekend and the menu included some Boar's Head Sopressata.  You can check out sopressata at the Boar's Head Digicatessen.


Anyway, we had a bit of leftover sopressata and all that cabbage, so I decided to use them up together.  The recipe is a knock-off of one that was originally made with pancetta, but I think I might like this version better.

Everyone into the pan
The Finished Product

Umm, tasty.  Now, what to do with the other half dozen cabbages?

You can check out my recipe at my recipe blog.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chicago, Chicago...

...what IS a Toddlin' Town?  

Extensive Internet research (five minutes) didn't shed much light.  One article suggests that "Toddlin'" doesn't really mean anything in the context of Chicago, but was chosen solely for the sake of alliteration.  Toddlin'!?  For some strange reason, the word conjures images of a PlaySkool Chicago, Weebles in Cubs hats wobbling off the "L" into Millenium Park, or Wrigley field, or the elevator to the Skydeck at Willis (Sears) Tower.

Anyway, last Friday, Denise and I wobbled off our respective Southwest flights, through the Midway terminal and onto the Orange Line for our trip into Chicago, toddlin' our bags along with us.  We successfully navigated the transfer from Orange to Red Line and the subsequent 1/2 mile hike from station to lodging at the Best Western Hawthorne Terrace.
Suite at the Best Western
The street view of the hotel on Google Earth did not do the neighborhood justice.  It looked a little seedy online, but turned out to be nice.  About equal distance from Wrigley field, the shoreline of Lake Michigan and De Paul University, it was a nice neighborhood of what seemed like hundreds of little shops, diners, bars and restaurants.

Also, the hotel was conveniently near one of the recommended destinations for Chicago-style pizza; Lou Malnatti's.   We wasted no time checking into our room and then walking the mile and a half to check out the pizza.  More on Malnatti's at Gumbilist.  

After Malnatti's, we jumped back on the Red Line down to the loop and a walk to Millenium Park.  (BTW, the hot tip for transportation was the CTA Unlimited Ride Pass.  Our 3-day passes offered unlimited bus and train trips (we only used the train) for 72 hours from the first scan of the pass.  Lasted us the entire trip.  I ordered them online at the CTA web site so we had them when we arrived.)  

Millenium Park was very nice.  I should have planned around a concert or something, but we just took a brief walking tour around the site.
Cloud Gate
Kind of a bad panorama of the Jay Pritzker Pavillion

Lurie Garden - I thought this looked a little like an impressionist painting
Headed back to the hotel relatively early; Denise was fairly wiped out from a short night's sleep, an early flight out of San Diego and schlepping luggage around the streets of Chicago.  I walked the half block to Treasure Island Foods, picked up a few staples and snacks for the kitchen and a six-pack of Goose Island IPA for myself.  Called it an early evening as we had an early start planned for...

Day Two: Saturday, June 4

Waiting for the Green Line to Harlem
Up somewhat early for a walk to the Red Line and from there to Oak Park and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour.  A slight miscalculation made us nearly late for the tour.  I reasoned that we should walk south on Broadway and cut over on Belmont to the Red Line station.  About the same distance as backtracking north to Addison, but I figured we'd be seeing some new neighborhoods by going to a different station.  Turns out that Chicago is not real consistent about placing street signs.  So, I walked right across Belmont without realizing it.  After a considerable amount of walking I realized we'd obviously missed our turn.  We ended up forging ahead to Fullerton station, a 1.7 mile hike, instead of the 0.7 mile trip that I'd planned.  

Eventually we got to the Red Line, from there to downtown, then transferred to the Green Line, out to the end of the line at Harlem and another 0.7 mile walk from the station to FLW.  It was hot and HUMID and we were sweating like glasses of beer by the time we reached the tour.  
En route to the FLW tour.  I could not resist.
Get a Chicago-style dog and your eyes checked?
Or glasses for weiners?
Naturally, the first part of the tour was a self-guided audio walking tour of the neighborhood.  Very beautiful, but more heat and humidity.




The tour of the home and studio was also nice and very interesting, but unfortunately no photography was allowed inside.
FLW Studio

FLW Home
Followed up with more Chicago-style pizza, this time at Giordano's.  (We had asked a pedicab driver for directions to Edwardo's Natural Pizza and he misdirected us to Giordano's.  Too hot and humid to back track the 6 or 8 blocks to where Edwardo's actually was, I made the executive decision to try Giordano's.) This one was good, but nothing to match the Malnatti's.

After lunch we headed back to the "L" and our hotel.  Got a small sampling of mid-western weather; transferring to the Red Line (which is a subway in downtown) the sun was still shining brightly.  When the trained popped up onto the elevated tracks a few stations later we were in a thunderstorm.

We relaxed at the hotel while the thunderstorm wore itself out and then went out for a light dinner at Wilde Bar and Restaurant, just down the street from our hotel.  We were seated in the "library," a raised area with leather bound chairs, loaded book shelves and a fireplace.  It had a very nice bar and would have been a fine place to while away the remaining evening, but instead we took another walk, this time to Lake Shore Drive and a supposed short stroll along the marina.

Boat at  marina
More boats
Nice Dog Beach
Still More Boats
A flooded pedestrian underpass prevented a direct route from the marina back to the hotel, so our short walk turned into a nearly three mile walk.
Day Three:  Sunday, June 5

A more leisurely start for a more leisurely day.  Had to be downtown by about 11:00 for our boat tour of Chicago architecture.  This seems to be the hot tip for getting a great view of the city.  Great views of the various skyscrapers and a full bar aboard the boat to boot.  Beats the heck out of walking.

A small sampling of pictures...
 Lots of interesting Chicago history, excellent views and a pretty good Bloody Mary.  What's not to like?

After the boat tour, lunch at the Walnut Room in Macy's.  We both had the chicken pot pie (good, but mine is better) which is I guess traditional.  Beautiful restaurant and nice views of downtown from our table at the window.


Then, on to the most touristy thing we did the whole trip; a ride to the Skydeck at the Sears, excuse me, Willis Tower.  This is somewhat pricey, $17/person for an elevator ride.  Fortunately, the crowds were small, so there wasn't much of any wait.  Still, a little crowded for my tastes.


Back on the street, it felt like time for a beverage.  Turns out that the Goose Island Brew Pub is easily accessible from the Red Line at Clybourne.

We had a little appetizer of the Charcuterie (salumi, pate, terrine, etc. all house made with locally sourced game) and a few beers.  Denise ordered a half glass of strawberry hefeweizen (of which she had only a few sips, since she's not supposed to drink) and I had a Green Line American-style pale ale and a Liquid Inspiration Stout.  This is a place I could have spent a long time drinking beer.  I should have tried for my MBA, Master of Beer Appreciation.



For dessert I tried something from a local distiller, Death's Door White Whiskey.  Pretty tasty and pricey, ten bucks on the menu, twelve on the receipt.  When I pointed out that discrepancy to the waitresses she pointed out that the extra $2 was because I ordered it "on the rocks."  That was a first, $2 for ice.  I should have ordered a shot and a glass of ice water.

Goose Island was just an appetizer, because we had big plans for later.  I had been trying to figure the best place for a Chicago-style dog.  As it turns out, exiting the Red Line station at Addison we were presented with this...
Sausagefest!
Score!  A couple co-workers made juvenile jokes about Ssausagefest being some sort of gay-porn festival and the Urban Dictionary defines sausagefest as a party of all guys.  I might have been worried if the Sausagefest was on Wacker Drive.  As it turns out, there were several different hot dog vendors, bands, beer trucks and all for a good cause, raising money for cancer research.  Denise and I shared several (OK, three) different dogs to get a small sampling of sausage.  






I would have really liked to get one of the "Best of the Wurst" T-shirts, but they weren't for sale.

Day Four:  Monday, June 6

Last day in town.  Sadly, the Cubbies were not in town and I think I would have been ostracized by just about everyone if I went to a White Sox game.  That didn't stop us from visiting 1060 West Addison. 

The tour was very entertaining and the class of fifth graders on the tour turned out to be very well behaved.
Sadly, we didn't have a lot of time after the tour, so we headed back to Midway without another stop for lunch in town.  Oh well, the pizza places all ship, so I can order more.  Managed to get back to the Red Line with a few minutes to spare on the 72 hours of our CTA passes.  Perfect timing.

All things considered it was an excellent, if somewhat hectic trip.  Crammed a lot of tourism into 72 hours.  I am not much of a city person, but I think Chicago really was my kind of town.  With or without the "toddlin'."

More photos (ad nauseum) at Picasa.