Spring Fever

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It happens every year: embarrassing and premature spring fever.  I blame it on J. Crew and the multiple copies of their structured and brightly-colored outfit suggestions that appear in my mailbox each month; one copy is addressed to me, one to the former tenant and one to “our friend at _____ Street.  Maybe it’s because J. Crew is always the FIRST publication to suggest a thin ballet flat in the dead of January (ahem, KNOW your audience) and maybe it’s because I really can’t resist colored leather, either way, I’m certainly not at a shortage for spring-inspired bathroom rea…..just plain old reading material.

Either way, given the past few days of late-February sunshine (and lack of context from which to judge what “kinda nice out” actually means anymore), there’s practically a guarantee that I will end up tomorrow wearing this outfit pulling the old “no, no…I don’t need gloves,” too-thin jacket wearing, “maybe these open-toes shoes will work,” it’s almost….warm….outside, trick.  Old habits die hard.

  1. Aerie Sweater – Open Knit
  2. J. Crew – Classic pavé link bracelet
  3. J. Crew – Miansai® rope bracelet
  4. Burberry Scarf
  5. Kelsi Dagger Shoes – Fanetta Lace Up Booties
  6. J. Crew – Edit Attaché Bag

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A Blessed Union

So… remember how I mentioned in last week’s Humpday Headlines how much I LOVE sharing great things with anyone who will listen? Well, this week everyone within earshot has fallen victim to this annoying character flaw of mine except seriously, this time I’m doing them a huge favor. This is not an article I’m indignant over or some random Diddy meme. (That’s coming later, if you’re anxiously awaiting my Humpday Headlines.) And now, I do the same for you :)

My friend Anna and I finally, finally tried Union Sushi + BBQ this weekend, and I cannot say enough good things about the experience. I’ll try my best, though, you know… since you asked.

There is absolutely nothing like this in Chicago, and for a city that prides itself on lots of restaurants… sometimes it feels more like there’s a lot of the same restaurants, you know? (See: Steakhouses) Not Union. The ambiance is insane. Huge graphic murals on the walls, metal mesh netting fixtures hanging from the ceiling and the absolute perfect volume of good music. I’d heard great things, and I was definitely not let down when I walked in the door.

Graffiti Wall at Union Sushi + BBQ

Graffiti Wall at Union Sushi + BBQ

From the second they answered the phone to try to accommodate my annoying same-day reservation, there was zero attitude. All of the cool factor, the clout they have right now – none of that came through in their service. Friendly without being phony, cheerful without being annoying, so attentive without being pushy. It was a packed house and the sushi rolls were flying down the line but each one was executed with ridiculous precision, came out looking gorgeous and somehow the chefs and waitstaff did this while chatting with all of the customers, smiling and recommending drinks. Its like everyone that worked there LOVED there job. Novel concept! Even if the food was awful, I’d go back just to hang out and have drinks.

Union Chicago Sushi + BBQ Skinny Geishas and Edamame

Skinny Geishas and Edamame

Speaking of the drinks! They posted the calorie counts of a few of them on the menu, which… how nice, right? I generally forgo the interesting cocktails because while I like to try fun drinks, I feel like if I’m going to have an awesome dinner, I can at least take it easy on the sugary drinks. We tried the Skinny Geisha per the recommendation of our waitress and were not disappointed; Citrus vodka, Hum liquor, Fresca and Yuzu at only 98 calories! The edamame came out as soon as we were seated, perfectly warm and with a light sprinkle of garlic. Now… yes, I could eat garlic on a PB&J sandwich so I may be the teeniest bit biased but I swear it was such a surprisingly great twist on the classic.

Union Sushi + BBQ Mushroom Salad

Mushroom Salad

I started with the mushroom salad: shiitake, oyster mushroom, baby arugula, tomato, onion, pickled onion, garlic-soy vinaigrette. Simple enough, but the crispy fried mushrooms were perfection with the spicy arugula… and the vinaigrette was just ridiculously good. If sushi restaurants had bread baskets, I would have soaked up every drop of that dressing. Instead, I just pushed it around sadly with my chopsticks after every bit of the salad was gone.

Union Sushi Rolls and Entrees

Sushi Rolls and Entrees

Huge stroke of brilliance: half rolls as an option for all of their sushi. THANK YOU, Union. Sushi is filling and since we knew we wanted to try food from the grill too, it was the perfect way to have our cake and eat it too. We went with the Hokkaido and the Chesapeake Bay, both on the recommendations of our new bestie, the waitress. While we loved both, I’m pretty sure I had a dream about my Chesapeake Bay roll last night. Fried oyster, black rice, red tobiko, green onion, avocado, garlic aoli+ wrapped in collard green. I never again want sushi with white rice or without being wrapped in collard greens.

I chose the Berkshire pork shoulder with mushrooms for my entree and it was fantastic, too. The smoky flavor from their 600 degree robata grill and the sweet coconut peanut sauce… I was genuinely depressed when it was over. I cried a little. Our entrees were off the Restaurant Week menu but they typically do the meats in skewers instead of the larger, more traditional entree-sized portions, which I think would actually be even better because duh – more food! More options, anyway. :)

Union Sushi + BBQ Ice Cream
Ice Cream Flight

Since I was a proud member of the Clean Platers Club for all of the above, I needed dessert like I needed a hole in my head. But hey, it came with the Restaurant Week deal and I’m not one to turn down a deal! We went simple with the ice cream flight – vanilla, red bean and green tea. I’ve had a long love affair with red bean ice cream so this was another huge win and fairy tale ending to a very happy dining experience.

Whew. So that’s it. We had later plans so we couldn’t stay to continue the fun upstairs in the cocktail lounge, but that is for sure an upcoming girls night. We left full, happily buzzed on Skinny Geishas and with huge smiles after such a great experience. At this point, I realize I sound like I was either paid by or am sleeping with someone that works there, but I swear – its just that good and I don’t want to selfishly keep this discovery to myself! Go, bring friends, bring a date, do whatever you need to do, but just get there soon.

>>View their menu, happy hour specials (!!!), location, etc. here, which is obviously where I got all of the detailed menu descriptions – blame the Skinny Geisha.

Good deeds

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Did you know there is a Good Deed Organisation? Seriously, Google it. Can my good deed for the day be ignoring the spelling of organization with an s? No? Fine.

Anyway, the GDO (which, if you didn’t know the original website name, would have some funny interpretations for that acronym. God Damn Onions.) is a user submitted act of good will and general coagulation of positivity. In it’s own words, the website intends to shine a spotlight on the “amazing good deeds that are taking place all over the world at this very instant.” Despite the fact that someone like me might question the “submit your own good deed” like – as, for the record, would anyone who has seen the Friends episode where Phoebe struggles to find a truly un-selfish good deed. For those of you who clearly live under a rock…err…I mean those people who were obviously too busy studying for college to watch the episode, Phoebe tasks herself with finding a selfless good deed which she finds difficult as every time she completes a good act, she gets a case of the warm and fuzzies. The reward of feeling so good afterward negated the selfless requirement. Can it be a good deed if it’s self-reported to a website? Who am I to judge.

Here are a few examples pulled directly from the GDO (the Glory Days Ophthalmologists).

11/10/11: Chicago Area

Went to my Doctor today and spent a few minutes asking how HE was doing. His fight against cancer months ago left him with a huge weight loss and difficult speech. It occurred to me that he listens to others ailments all day and few really want to listen to how he is doing. He really appreciated it.

The last time I asked my doctor how he was doing he bemoaned the invention of Halloween as the day his two grandson’s became “cracked-out” sugar fiends. You win, Chicago Area.

19/9/2011: Seattle.

I bought an anonymous muffin for my colleague on their last day of work.

Mythical date aside, did anyone catch that muffin’s name?

8/15/2011: Ontario

A few months ago my daughters and i were driving down a street in London, Ontario, where we live. we can to a very large and busy intersection and we were going left. i there were some people crossing and so i stopped and waited. when suddenly my 17 year old daughter said ‘mom, mom look’ what had her so excited was that this lady in her mid 20s to mid 30s was crossing with some grocery bags in her hand. she some how dropped one and her groceries were falling and rolling all over the crossing area of the street. some guy about her age two cars down waiting for the light to change got out of his car and helped her pick everything up and helped her cross the street with all her groceries. both my daughters left that area thinking that he was a hero.

Gentlemen, take note. Thank you, Cinderella of roly-poly groceries, for that awesome memory.

9/2/2011: Liverpool (is anyone else noticing a relatively un-American trend here?)

I went in the chemist for my lazy friend’s prescription, helped an old lady who dropped her handbag.

Anyone else wondering if Liverpool called out the old lady for being clumsy the way she did for the friend being lazy?

12/18/2009: Reading.

It was freezing this morning. I was wearing two tops and two jackets and I was still cold. I passed a homeless man selling the big issue and thought ‘he must be freezing, and he doesn’t have a warm place to go.’ So I stopped by a cafe and bought him a cup of tea.

Seriously. Who saw that going in a VERY different direction after the mention of TWO shirts and TWO jackets. It’s almost like Reading was dressed for two…

5/8/2008. London

My wondering friend tattie has just taken a huge weight off my shoulders by offering to sell my festival tickers on the internet for me as I just can’t figure it out…Fantastic, wonderful, glories friend of mine…”

Um. White people’s problems.

And the winner is….

4/12/2008: Wimbourne.

I put the television on mute when my mum calls.

Thank you, Wimbourne. Just…thank you.

Jokes aside, should you decide to check out the website – and perhaps use a less critical search parameter than I did (aka, don’t just look at the entries with funny pictures) you’ll see the pure range of good deeds, perceived or otherwise. Enjoy and pass it on. Pass on the goodness, not my snarky comments, of course.

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Sage lunchtime wisdom

 

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I’ve started the habit of making my lunches for work the night before.  No quickie sandwiches and bagged chips for me!  Since it’s said that breakfast and lunch are possibly the most important meals of the day, I’ve decided to treat my lunches as the largest meal of the day, leaving my post work, post work-out dinner as lighter fare.

To do this though, requires a bit of calculation.  It needs to be something portable, easy to assemble and of course, good left-over.  I’ve definitely had my share of lunchtime debacles that I’m not too proud of (including the infamous bean burrito incident of 2011), but I’m getting smarter as I go.

Tomorrow’s meal is my favorite type: the ol’ one-container dish.  Yes, that’s code for: I’m low on Gladware.  A base of mashed sweet potatoes , a small portion of grilled chicken breast with goat cheese and a heavy sprinkle of fried sage leaves on top.  The first time I had fried sage leaves was at The Florentine in the JW Marriott downtown.  The crispy leaves topped tiny pumpkin stuffed pasta shells swimming in brown butter.  I’ve been hooked since.  Frying the leaves completely mellows the texture and crisps them to a perfect crunch.  Seriously I could eat them whole.  Just pluck a few fresh leaves and cook them until slightly brown in a bit of butter.  Careful – once these guys heat up, they tend to burn quickly.  Trust me on this…it’s a garnish that tastes as delicious as it looks!

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Istanbul

I can’t say I ever thought much of Middle Eastern cuisine until a few days ago.  I’m sure this is mostly attributed to my own small mindedness, or perhaps just due to a lack of exposure.  In any case, the newest addition to my ever expanding collection of cooking how-to’s was chock full of fresh and flavorful recipes plucked from the busy streets and quiet alleys of Istanbul.  Poached eggs with yoghurt, cauliflower fritters, baked eggplant (great recipe!) and lamb kofta leapt off of the pages and into my imagination.

“Turkish cuisine…owes [it’s] enviable reputation to the culinary expertise developed in the grand houses and palaces centuries ago.  Here, a large number of chefs specialized in their own particular type of cooking and their skills were honed and passed down from generation to generation.”1

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Coincidentally, Alan Richman of GQ magazine holds a similar fascination with a cuisine deemed one of the foremost in the world as he tantalizingly describes in February 2012 issue.  A cultural menu ripe with vegetables and abundant with spiced and well-cooked meats, this particular palate is as much reverent to the culture as it is to the taste.  Richman manages to juxtapose the aromas and rich textures of traditional Ottoman-Empire era cooking with the modern hustle of a lively city.  Between my cookbook and this beautiful article, began what could only be called a superficial curiosity about a culture steeped in spice and texture.

Reading any number of articles or accounts will immediately impress upon you that food has embedded itself so much as part of the culture of socializing.  Meze, or a traditional selection of small dishes, is traditionally served at the beginning of a larger meal.  The small plates are designed to facilitate conversation and grand shows of hospitality.   Meze can range from hot dishes of baked eggplant with ripe texture and complex spices to sizzling lamb-meatballs served with a cooling yoghurt, accompanied by an assortment of fresh sheep or cow’s cheeses.  The wide variety of tastes and smells I’m sure can serve as an allegory for a country who lies half in Europe and half in Asia; an amalgamation of history and clashing ideologies.  Perhaps it’s just a way to please the most taste-buds.

I’m the first to admit that this brief article doesn’t serve justice for such a rich and diverse subject, but if you’re anything like me, sometimes it just takes a few paragraphs to pique your curiosity.

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Great reads:

Istanbul Street Food – Blog

Istanbul Food – Blog

The Guardian – Travel Food and Drink

Credits:  1, The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook, Bay Books 2008.

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Monday Motivation

It’s easy to have the Sunday blues.  Trust me, they’re common in my neck of the woods.  That slightly melancholy mix of sadness that the weekend is over and latent anxiety of the week to come. To combat that slippery slope, I’ve decided to start a weekly post I’ll call Monday motivation – a tidbit of optimism that helps me (and hopefully you!) start your week on the right foot.

Think what you will about motivational speakers, but if you’re not familiar with the teachings (or preachings) of Eric Thomas, you’re likely to become a convert after watching.  This clip of his thoughts on how success requires – demands – the utmost dedication is powerful.  Who knows, maybe I’m an optimist after all?

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Lazy Sundays

This print from Kismekate's Etsy shop sums up my day perfectly.

Happy Sunday! After a great dinner last night that I can’t wait to write about in more detail, today was spent doing absolutely nothing. I slept in, watched a marathon of The Voice (am now obsessed) and am now making dinner for JB and I while we flip back and forth between The Oscars and the Allstar game. This is a more than acceptable compromise as the Oscars have never really held my attention for long.

In the wise words of Miss Piggy -

“The Oscar – is that what they call it? – means nothing to me. After all, one does not labor to shape one’s craft just for some tacky statuette that looks like a hood ornament from an old DeSoto.”

Preach, Miss Piggy.

Weekends always feel like they go by way too fast, and I’m so glad I’ll head into what is looking to be a crazy week at work feeling rested and happy. I hope your Sunday was equally relaxing and enjoyable!

 

 

>>Link to Kismekate’s Etsy shop here

 

View from above

 

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I now believe that the hallmark of a great vacation is a lack of pictures.  Live in the moment!  Well, at least that’s my excuse for not taking more photos.  Sigh.  I must say that some of my finest vacation photography occurred at 38,000 feet and possibility in violation of FAA regulations.  In lieu of photos, all I can offer is my vacation by the numbers*.

  • 4:  nights in beautiful Puerto Morelos, Mexico
  • 17: lizards I spotted
  • 1:  number of lizards I names and possible counted 16 more times
  • 2: trips to the front desk to score our amazing room upgrade with a walk-out patio overlooking the view above
  • 45: seconds it took for the local character to convince us to hop on his idling boat for snorkeling
  • 3: amazing hours snorkeling in the world’s second largest coral reef.
    • 2: number of times I freaked and inhaled salt water because I felt one of my flippers brush my legs and was convinced it was a shark.
  • 1: sketchy batch of ceviche to turn me quickly back to my favorite resort dish: fire roasted plantains
  • 2: pink sunburned feet
  • 1.5: great books read under a thatch hut on the beach
  • 3: times I ate “divorced eggs” for breakfast.  Eggs sunny side up – one cooked in a spicy red tomato sauce and the other in a tangy tomatillo base and possibly the best “lost in translation” dish name ever.
  • 1 big thank you to Mexico for such a great break Smile

Air

 

* please note that certain numbers are missing from this chart – including namely, number of daiquiris drank (drunk?) – for reasons that have slipped the author’s mind.

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Hump Day Headlines

From designspiration.net

I’m the annoying person that will randomly fire off emails and texts with fun facts, videos and articles that I find throughout the day to anyone that I think might have the teeniest interest. In the interest of the sanity of my friends and fam, I decided I will collect these throughout the week and put them up here on Wednesdays (with an hour to spare tonight!)… lucky you!