Thursday, August 29, 2013

Paper Goods

Well this past year flew by....and I have to say that as crafty as I am, it was nice to not spend the summer tethered to my project table making these:
Bob and I celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary this past weekend by taking a stroll through Millennium Park and the site of our engagement, exploring exhibits in The Art Institute and grabbing dinner at an old favorite from my days of living in Lincoln Park.

First up was homemade blueberry buttermilk pancakes that Bob whipped up while I slept in, having gotten back the evening before from a work trip to Toronto. 

We exchanged gifts, both staying true to the "paper" tradition of a first anniversary.

Bob got me the graphic novel, Building Stories. If you haven't seen this in stores, it is an absolutely intriguing concept. Coming in a box that reminds you of a board game or giant puzzle, there are at least a dozen mediums of delivery for the novel's stories that can be read in any order.
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I decided to take a different route on the paper trail and get us a couple tickets to a show. I started to do a search of fall shows and landed on The Daily Show's John Oliver, making an appearance at the Chicago Theatre on October 11. He's done well this summer taking over for Mr. Stewart, hasn't he folks?
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I had to laugh while walking past the Chicago Theatre on the way to buy the tickets - Earth, Wind and Fire will actually be here on the 21st of September to sing, "Do you remember? The 21st night of September?" My favorite song of all time.
What other ideas are out there to celebrate the paper anniversary? I know I can't wait to celebrate Tinfinity come Year 10.
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We headed downtown to check out the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernism exhibit, which was a great attraction, but there were two areas of the Art Institute that really held our attention. 
First up, the Thorne Miniatures Room. I don't know how long this has been a part of the museum, but it is the first time we had ventured downstairs to check it out. So you might be wondering, could a room full of miniatures actually be cool or just a bit creepy to see everything in such a small scale?
The answer is: yes, these 68 tiny rooms representing different cultures and timeframes were absolutely amazing. The attention to detail in each room to the point of looking in at any angle and seeing a complete outside landscape, the furnishings of the neighboring room of the house and replicas of dinnerware and bedding that you can tell were painstakingly created.
You might think these photos of are normal sized rooms if not for the faint reflection of my picture-taking self.
Next up, a photography exhibit called, "The Universe Next Door" by our new favorite, Abelardo Morell. One day we will have a large scale original print of his on our walls. His speciality is in ordinary objects seen in amazing ways. One series of camera obscura photographs has Times Square living in a hotel room, the Brooklyn Bridge shown on a bedroom wall and a plaza taking up office space.
Our favorite involved his shots dedicated to money. You know, moolah, dollars, greenbacks.... Piranesi, Metropolis. Look closely and you'll see the cut out cash creating a towering castle. Love.
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And then he really won me over after I spied a series of photos created with original Alice in Wonderland illustrations. 
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After the museum, we walked through the park and had a quick stop at the bench where the big proposal went down two years ago.
Us back then. So young.
After a lovely Sunday, we headed out on Monday evening to have dinner with some of Bob's relatives, two of which were celebrating an anniversary of their own: 65 years! Now that's amazing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Upgraded French Toast

For a quick treat last Saturday morning, Bob turned to a recipe he had just seen on the Cooking Channel: Mozzarella in Corozza. Or, in layman's terms: Cheesy French Toast. If you are anything like me, you know Debi Mazar from a slew of 90s movies and her role on Entourage. I think I first heard of her after her role in So I Married an Axe Murderer, but will always associate her with Empire Records. She now hosts the show "Extra Virgin" with her Italian husband on the Cooking Channel and serves up gems like this one.

We made a run to the neighborhood farmer's market (luckily just a 15 minute walk away from our house), where we managed to spend $34 on heirloom tomatoes, garlic cheese baguettes and organic muffins. The goal of the trip was fresh mozzarella, and we picked up two bins containing 3 medium sized balls of mozz each. Our plan was to eat caprese-style the rest of the weekend (hence, $10 worth of giant tomatoes!).
Bob sliced the crusts off of white bread, lined them with sliced cheese, dusted them with flour and dipped them in a mixture of 3 eggs, 1/2 cup milk and a dash of salt and pepper. 
We heated a pan with oil and cooked each side until a golden brown and the cheese was nice and melty. Yes, melty is a technical term.
When done, transfer to a plate and slice into 2 triangles. Everything tastes better in triangle form. Our "side dish" was a selection of cherry tomatoes from our friend's city garden. Yum-o!
This is what happens when we lazily turn on The Food Network or The Cooking Channel in bed while still trying to wake up. Good things come of it!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Go Clubbin'

I'm the first one to say I would rather come home straight after work to veg on the couch or make dinner at home as opposed to filling my weekday evenings with activities, but lately I have found more and more excuses to keep myself busy. And that's a good thing. Of course, in my old age I don't have a lot of interest in all of those activities involving going out to the bar until all hours (yes, I'm aware I sound about 30 years older than I actually am.)

It is a balance though. The weeks where I find myself unable to have one night at home leave me a bit stressed. It means I've eaten out one too many meals, possibly drank one too many drinks and generally stayed up one too many extra hours. 

My favorite part is that all of these activities involve different groupings of friends, which means I get to see all of my friends on a regular basis. Quite the feat nowadays as we spread out further, travel for work or even start to have families that keep us busy.

Book Club
Meeting about every six weeks, I've been a part of my book club for 7 years now. And they were together for years ahead of my joining. We've seen some turnover in the last few years, mostly due to big moves, but have enjoyed bringing new folks into the fold. I wrote about book club early in this blog's life, check it out here.

Of course, our big joke within Book Club is creating its own blog. Which I actually finally did one day, but we have not kept it up at all (Pie in the Sky idea: throw up recipes, book ideas and more. . .). Everytime we can't remember whose turn it is to host or what book we read six months ago we blame it on the blog. 

I recently hosted discussion on Beautiful Ruins - complete with antipasto kebabs echoing the Italian themes to match. I had made these at our housewarming party and the quick-to-make treats were too easy to pass up.
Bunco Club
We have had a few Bunco get togethers so far and intend on picking them back up this fall, after a busy summer. If you don't know bunco,  you are missing out on the easiest game this side of the Mississippi. 8 players. 2 sets of dice. Barely any math skills needed. And a bell.

Rather than provide potentially confusing directions, I'll point you to the World Bunco Association for the rules and regs. They recommend 12 players, but that can be a tall order for a monthly get together, so we work with 2 tables of 8. Short a player when I hosted, a stuffed bear managed to successfully fill in. Bear actually came pretty close to winning it all!  
The players each put in $5 which is then split amongst the winners, so a bit of incentive to play beyond simple wine drinking and gossip. The host also provides a little prize to the lowest scorer, so never fear - even losers come out ahead in this game.

Dinner Club
Starting with a visit to Sepia during Restaurant Week, our foursome of ladies have spent the summer sampling fine dining throughout Chicago. Usually with a Groupon in tow (hey, why not?), we've stuffed our faces at RPM (Bill and Guiliana Rancic's italian baby) and Geja's Cafe (dubbed the most romantic restaurant in Chicago - table for 4, please!). 

Geja's Cafe was certainly a different experience, as it is a fondue restaurant. We started off with a cheese fondue and moved on to cooking our own main courses of scallops, chicken and vegetables before ending the night with roasting marshmallows over a flaming chocolate fondue. I am quite curious how many tables accidentally start on fire at this joint.
I'm due to pick next and have had my sights on a little french restaurant called Chez Moi. Just need to pull the trigger and pick a date!

Writing Class
Okay, this one's a little more formal than a club, but it has been the activity that keeps me out of the house on Tuesday nights these last 8 weeks. For my birthday, Bob and my sister went in on a Second City writing class for me! I spent the last 2 months learning basics in comedy writing and building a couple sketches.
It has been nice to focus on creativity and writing after a long day at work, so much so that I've signed up for Writing 2, starting in a couple weeks! Of course, I'm kicking myself for not taking advantage of these classes when I first moved to Chicago 9 years ago like I've always said I was going to. . .it took a gift to get me in, but I could be hooked!

Volunteering with Chicago Cares
My two favorite volunteer opportunities fall on Tuesday nights, now in conflict with the Second City class which means I'll need to start searching for alternative projects! One opportunity I used to take advantage of during the school year was library maintenance. We head to the Disney Magnet School right by my house to help re-shelve books, label spines and general upkeep to assist the librarians. It only takes two hours out of your evening, is quiet (it is a library after all) and hearkens me back to my library job through college!

The second opportunity is Read-With-Me-Junior, wherein we spend a couple hours wrangling 3 year olds with books and activities. The kids are part of a safe place and healing center for victims of domestic violence, so Chicago Cares provides support to help watch the kids during some evenings. Most are good to get through one book and then decide to do their own thing until it is activity time. I started volunteering with this project before my nieces were born and it was certainly good practice for someone like me with little toddler experience!

That wraps up the main clubs and activities that keep me busy! There are always the random bowling nights (like this past Wednesday where I managed to get a 112, a simply amazing score for this girl), happy hours and dates with the husband, but these regular activities give me a little something to look forward to with each month.

How about you?