Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Pass on Pequods Pizza

After our South Africa Reunion on Saturday, several people headed over to Pequods for late-night Pizza.  I had really good intentions of continuing to hang out with the gang so Ernie and I walked over with the group.  We sat down for just a moment, looked at the menu full of pizza, smelled the bread baking in the oven and decided to leave.

Sometimes when I smell extremely yeasty-breads baking, I feel sick and slightly nauseaus. It's like I now have a bad association with that smell becuase I know it's going to really hurt my muscles and joints if I eat something with so much wheat. When I was younger, I used to LOVE the fragrance of bread baking in the oven (not that my Chinese mom ever baked bread). 

Now, the smell gives me a headache and my body sets off some survival signal that I shouldn't be eating whatever's nearby. Maybe it will be contaminated with Gluten.  I'm not usually THAT sensitive to gluten but sometimes I just get this way. 

Ernie and I headed back towards my place. When we were close, we decided on a nearby Taco shop.  Some creepy man seemed to be talking to himself but Ernie actually thought he was talking to me.  "What are you doing with that guy," he mumbled under his breath.  "This is just so weird, this is so weird..." he continued.  Wait? You think Ernie and I are weird? Shouldn't we be the ones thinking you are weird and cracked out?  The man next do you donned in full-on leather-straped pants seemed much more normal than you, sir.  Oh the joys of living in Wrigleyville.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Southern Africa: South Africa, Zambia & Botswana

Two years ago today, I returned from a two week jaunt around Southern Africa. I went with a Kellogg class called Global Initiatives in Management where you study a country and have a field visit to research your project of choice. My team chose a project focused on cause marketing and had the opportunity to work with wonderful companies like P&G, Kraft, SABMiller, Newell Rubbermaid, Sho Sho La Za Marketing, CIDA, TransUnion and DRAFT FCB. Other teams picked things like the FIFA 2010 World Cup, Corporate Social Responsibility and Black Economic Empowerment. The group of students grew to be great friends and gathered together this past Saturday to reunite.

I loved my trip to southern Africa. In 2008, 36 Kellogg Students, 2 Spouses, our Dean and his wife traveled to southern Africa for our 2 week field visit. Prior to our trip, we spent ten weeks learning about South Africa, Apartheid, the BEE, South African businesses and got a taste of its culture. This included various speakers, a visit to the South African consulate and a group dinner to a local South African Restaurant, Harambee. This was honestly is still the most rewarding global travel I’ve competed to date. I learned a tremendous amount of information and came to appreciate the culture and lifestyle of its local people.

Here are highlights of our trip:

Jo’Berg, South Africa 

We stayed in the Garden Court Hotel in Sandton by Nelson Mandela Square with nice clean rooms, although we spent the majority of our time at the hotel bar. The breakfast spread was huge with a mix of western and local foods and the pool (from what I hear) was nice for a hot afternoon. The gym is a bit small with two treadmills. It was here that I watched the fall of Bear Stearns on CNBC while running sprints one morning.

On our first free afternoon, a group of us went to Sterkfontein Caves also called “the cradle of humanity” where they believe the first human was found. A few of us took a private bus out to the caves. It was really interesting, kind of creepy but a nice little museum of how they believed the first humans came to be. Plus, our tour guide was really adorable.

We took a walking tour of Soweto Shanty Village – incredible. How can so many people live in such small huts built of corrugated metals? And have nice appliances and mobile phones? The whole village had one water source that was just a hose. Port-a-potties were located in the center of the village. One of the little boys running around stole my umbrella… he probably needed it more than me anyway.

The whole Kellogg group took a field trip to the Apartheid Museum. This is where we experienced load shedding at the museum and weren’t able to watch the short movie. Eskom, South Africa’s power supplier, had to enforce load shedding back in 2007 and expected to last for about 5 years. Load shedding occurs when there is insufficient power capacity to supply the demand. To avoid a national black-out, Eskom must increase the supply (running all power stations at max capacity) and reduce demand (electricity is reduced/interrupted for specific times). So, we walked the museum hallways in darkness with only the little light coming in from windows. Needless to say, we finished the museum much earlier than expected.

We were most adventurous on food in Johannesburg. The “Butcher Shop” serves lots of African meats. I tried Springbok which is a deer-like meat. On the menu was also ostrich and other gamey meats. In Nelson Mandela Square, we also ate at “8 at the Tower” which is Asian fusion and “Montego Bay” serving mostly seafood dishes. “Moyo” is very traditional African food, witha fantastic atmosphere. They painted our faces during dinner! “Wandies Restaurant” is famous but the food is terrible. I wouldn't suggest eating there unless you have no other options.

During our trip, my project team visited CIDA, the world's first completely free university. Taddy Blecher, the founder and president is one of the most inspirational men I've ever met in my whole life. If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, I highly suggest a visit to this unique university. I’ve got Taddy’s contact info if you have time to catch up with him.

Livingstone, Zambia

We only spent 1.5 days here which was actually enough if you want to cram everything into your visit. We had one really full day of extreme sports including canoeing, zip lining, gorge swinging, rappelling and of course bungee jumping!

The Zambezi Sun was where we stayed. It was a large complex with an outdoor bar and pool area. There are also a couple of restaurants on site – but beware of the monkeys! They will steal your food right off your plate! The grounds keepers carry sling shots and try to shoo away the monkeys.
Right as we arrived, we visited the Ebenezer Orphanage and School. It was so exciting to see all of the kids singing and dancing to welcome us to their school. We brought candy, t-shirts, pens, pencils and paper for their school supplies. Just about anything and everything is appreciated. These kids don't even have shoes and are all orphans due to AIDS. The couple that started the orphanage immigrated from India or Nepal, I can’t quite remember. They came for a visit and saw all of the children in need so they left their home country to do something that really impacts the world. I admire that and wish I was brave enough to make that type of decision.

On our first night, we walked over to Victoria Falls. There’s a bridge that goes into Zimbabwe that you can cross if you’re brave. Victoria Falls is massive though we only got to view a small section of the full falls from our vantage point. You can hear the loud roar of water with the mist rising in the sunlight to create rainbows.

If you have a chance, check out the craft market behind the hotel. You can trade pencils for jewelry - they'll take anything. Their kids don’t have pencils to write at schools and the merchants will literally take any writing utensil and trade it for things. I bartered for two elephant hair bracelets for the pens from our hotel.

The next day started with a canoe trip on the Zambezi. It was supposed to be a leisurely trip for about 4 hours… however, about halfway through we ran into a very angry hippo! The hippo had just fought the leader of the hippo school and apparently lost. The hippo was very mad jumping straight-up out of the water and rearing his enormous head. We stayed on the side of the river for 15-20 minutes waiting for him to calm down, which never happened. In the end, we picked up our canoes on the Zimbabwe side of the river and walked our canoes past the hippo to re-submerge into the river.

Four of us were brave enough to bungee jump over Vic falls. The plunge was about the length of 3 1/3 football fields – the tenth largest jump in the world. I wasn’t altogether scared of jumping; however, it can cause some major anxiety! The jump itself hurts your ankles where the towels are wrapped tightly around to secure the ropes. The view from the jump is unimaginable. The misty falls created a rainbow that appears as a circle parallel to the earth. When you’re bouncing from the jump, you head in and out of the circular rainbow and are amazed by the depth of the river’s valley. My arm got caught in the bungee cord during one of the bounces so it sent me spinning round-n-round. No videos or pictures can truly capture the undeniably beautiful site.

The afternoon was filled with adrenalin activities of zip lining, gorge swinging and rappelling. You have to check out the video of gorge swinging. Even after the bungee jump, the gorge swing was still scarier than a 1000 ft drop on a bungee cord. Plus, after the gorge swing you had to climb all the way back out of the ravine to the top of the cliff.

There’s a new hotel, The Royal Livingstone, that we hear has a beautiful sunset and is just down the street from the Zambezi Sun. Go early if you want to eat dinner and watch the sunset – or even stay there if you can! If you’re not tired after all of the adrenaline activities, stay out past midnight. That's when giraffes come out for a midnight snack and they'll get up really close to you!

Chobe, Botswana

Our hotel was the Mowana Safari Lodge. We had a nice pool where we stayed during the daytime, and a great buffet restaurant that overlooks the water into Namibia. You can catch the sunset into the west here where you’ll see the largest African sunsets. The lodge also arranged all of our safari trips. In total, we went on three land tours and one booze cruise. Our safari guide, Simon, was the best guide and took us to see just about all of the animals we could. Chobe is known for Elephants – and boy did we see a lot of elephants! We also caught a glimpse of lions but no cheetahs. The whole experience of a safari is unforgettable. The best way to describe our experience is through some pictures.

Capetown, South Africa

The totally nice, totally pricey hotel we stayed in was the Victoria Junction. We heard Gwyneth Paltrow was there while we were, but no one got a visual confirmation. Capetown is one of my favorite cities around the world. It’s a mix of Barcelona, San Francisco, wine-country Napa and still has a small town vibe. Here are some highlights from our visit to Capetown:

The Green Craft market is a fun bargaining adventure. You can definitely get products down 50-75%. Get as many $1 earrings as you can! I wish I had bought more since they are nice hard metals like gold/silver/bronze and designs that aren’t very common in other parts of the world.

Take the Cape Point Tour, but do NOT wear a dress/skirt. The whole tour is very windy and it will blow your skirt up! Trust me, I think I flashed the entire class when we were taking a picture by the merging of Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (See the pictures below to get a sense of the wind!) I also loved the penguin beach. All these little jackass penguins (really, they are called that!) run around and play. I could watch penguins for hours! They are so cute, kissing and chasing each other. Plus, the scenery by the beach is breathtaking.

Camp’s Bay is a great place with tons of restaurants and clubs. We ate at a local seafood restaurant after watching the sun set from the beach. Some of the girls were doing cartwheels in the sand. We went to one of the clubs called Karma– be sure to dress cute, but you will still feel like the only girl that is not a gorgeous model. We heard there was probably a swimsuit photo shoot on the beach earlier that day. This turned into a very late night for me and several other Kelloggers that ended in bad decision making.

We took busses to go to Stellenbosch for some wine tasting. Our group stopped for lunch at Volkskombuis (one person ended up with food poisoning) then went on to the wineries. Here are three recommendations: Rust en Vrede (highly recommended), Bergkelder and Morgenhof. All of them have excellent wine selections and I even carted back some honey desert wine for a special occasion. Rust en Vrede was my favorite of the three and has a nice back courtyard for the wine tasting. You can buy their wine at the local Binny’s.

The Fisherman’s Warf is a fun shopping area with a huge indoor craft market. We had good fun with the “teabag” art – I’m left with a coaster set souvenir just because we thought it was really funny to buy used teabags. The rest of the Warf area is not very unique to Africa with a Nike store and other main name brand chains. However, it’s something to do if you want to kill some time.

Two things I regret not having time for and/or planning better for are Table Mountain and Robbin Island. I wanted to hike Table Mountain but we just didn’t make enough time in our schedule. Several of our mornings were taken up with meetings for the class project. Sometimes, they close the top if it’s too foggy so I feel I really missed out. The other major miss was Robbin Island. It was closed while we were there because the one ferry was broken. We’ll know to book this far in advance since tickets sell out several weeks ahead of time.

As far as eating is concerned, “Savoy Cabbage” was hands down the best restaurant of the entire trip. They are famous for the tomato tarte which is quite delicious. However, if you don’t eat gluten, you will unfortunately have to pass on this treat. The prices were really reasonable as well. Each of us spent $30 for the meal inclusive of appetizers, main dish, deserts and lots of wine.

There’s an entire street with a bunch of bars. We spent most of our time at the Dubliner, unfortunately where our group ended up every night. You know it’s a very western bar when you run into a group of students from University of Chicago there too. One night, a group of us went over to Mama Africa for some genuine African music. We had a great time – Kristen and I even ended up meeting some German guys whom we later stiffed on our lunch date. On the very last night, the whole group went back to Mama Africa where Danny and Kristen had a little dance off.

All-in-all, Southern Africa is amazing. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be but we probably made smart choices and traveled as a group well. I wish there were more experiences where you had traditional tourism paired with service opportunities. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to visit CIDA and the orphanage, create a project on cause and charitable marketing, and really immerse in the cultures of the lands we visited.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Betty Crocker's Gluten-Free Cake Mix

To celebrate my completion of course requirements for Kellogg, Ernie baked me a gluten free cake with the help of Betty Crocker’s new Gluten Free Cake Mixes. Because I like chocolate, he made a devil’s food cake with a homemade mint icing – similar to the grasshopper cupcake at Swirlz. Check out the picture of the final product:

Ernie’s mom said he slaved over the cake and poured a lot of love into icing it. Do you like the guitar design? I don’t think this was the original design intention, but it was cute none-the-less.

The cake tasted very much like what I remember gluten cake mixes to taste like! The texture was moist and fluffy and didn’t at all taste gritty or crumbly like other mixes can. The mint frosting was an exceptional addition to the chocolate flavor, but you’ll have to ask Ernie for his recipe. You couldn’t tell that the cake was completely gluten-free and it was really worth the effort to make and ice. I ate just about the entire cake with the exception of the 2-3 slices I saved for Ernie.

It’s very exciting to see that traditional food manufacturers are starting to understand the challenges of living gluten-free and are providing solutions to make our lives easier. With the spreading awareness for our glutoid lifestyle, we’re finding more alternatives to the foods we’ve longed for.

Check back later for the review on Betty Crocker’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Oh, in case you missed it - I'M DONE WITH MY MBA!  So now I'm down with yet another one of my New Year's Resolutions!

Sushi Wabi

Last night my girlfriends and I indulged in a little celebration of sorts at Randolph’s Sushi Wabi. It was Christy and Aliy’s belated birthday celebrations and we also congratulated Megan on her recent engagement! Several of the girls are likely to get married in the next two years so Mary Ellen, the only already married one, proposed a toast that we would make sure to schedule our weddings so none of us pick the same weekend.

Sushi Wabi is located on Randolph Street amidst several trendy, upscale eateries including their sister restaurants of De Cero and Veerasway. You’ll notice the similarities among the three restaurants particularly in the dim-lit lights, long rectangular rooms with tables lined against the walls and a small bar area in the rear. Definitely check out the restrooms, as they are very contemporary with modern sink fixtures. Not quite as unique or interesting as Publican, but still worth a visit.

Our drink of choice was the Sakerita which is one of Sushi Wabi’s specialty drinks recommended by our server. It’s made with Patron Citronage, Sour, Cucumbers and Bicyuwajo sake which made for a nice light drink with a hint of cucumber. By the end of the night, most of us had ordered one – or two – of these summery drinks. Another favorite was the Pineapple Hii made with Japanese vodka and pineapple juice, garnished with chunks of pineapple.

To start, we ordered the shrimp special and edamame for the table. I’ve also had the seaweed salad before which I recommend for those who like seaweed; it’s incredibly fresh and delicious.

For dinner, we ordered 11 maki rolls to share with a mix of larger rolls and smaller rolls. The first three that showed up were the Caterpillar, Hot Daisy and Fire (pictured below from left to right). After tasting each of the three rolls, we all selected our favorite and it was a clear split: Aliy and Abby liked the Caterpillar, Christy and Megan preferred the Hot Daisy and Mary Ellen and I selected the Fire. It was a tough choice as they were all extremely tasty with a complex mix of flavors in each roll.

Then, the rest of the rolls started arriving…Two more specialty rolls: Godzilla and Tarantula. The Godzilla is mainly tempura shrimp with a light mayo sauce. It was another favorite of the table with a very balanced blend of flavors. Not too bland and not too spicy. The Tarantula is made from soft-shell crab and fresh crab. While I usually enjoy soft shell crab, and this crab was very fresh, there were just so many other flavorful rolls that this one fell by the way-side. Also, if you’re not into seeing the crab legs coming out of the ends of this roll, you can pass on this.

It was also a little bonus when the Ecuador roll showed up when it was misdelivered to our table. We were attacking the sushi with such hunger that no one noticed we didn’t even order the Ecuador Roll! It was a lucky break, because this roll was very light and green-leafy with the cilantro adding a unique twist to traditional sushi flavors.

Three more traditional (well, traditional in American Sushi Restaurants) that we ordered were the Caterpillar, Dragon and Rainbow. While these were all extremely delicious and perfect for the not-so-adventurous sushi eater, the specialty rolls are just so decadent that these too can be de-prioritized in your choices.

Lastly, we also had three types of smaller rolls which were the Spicy Shrimp, Spicy Tuna and Veggie Tempura (we ordered two of these). My favorite of the three is the Veggie Tempura. It’s served with the sweet potato still slightly warm and accompanied the other elaborate rolls quite nicely.

I adored the artful designs of the sushi, the quick and pleasant service particularly for a sushi restaurant and the fantastic recommendations by our server on both sushi and drinks. Though the total bill was quite pricy, this is a great location for celebrations or a special evening out. Be sure to make reservations in advance.

Sushi Wabi
842 W. Randolph Chicago IL. 60607
TEL: (312) 563-1224

Monday, March 22, 2010

Green Grocer Chicago

Back on the Clean Program

Ernie and I made it about 3 weeks back on regular food after our three week cleanse.  We feel like crap - fat has started to reappear on our tummies, mucus in our noses and general lethargy has re-entered our lives.

So, we're back on Clean, but with some modifications. We won't be as strict on the weekends when it's really tough to stick to the program (especially no drinking).  I'm also going to be eating corn and potatoes. I'm not too sure why you can't eat those veggies on the program.

I guess this is a good testament that the Clean Program actually can change your life. I highly recommend it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Element Bars

I met the founder of Element Bars at a Kellogg School Event when he came to talk about his experience on the hit TV Show, Shark Tank. Jonathon Miller took me on a tour of his factory and over to his office where we sat down to discuss entrepreneurship, starting up his business, and what to do to grow my business. It was a great and productive conversation and he even put me in touch with a couple of other entrepreneurs from Kellogg including Matt from http://www.excelsisproducts.com/.

The meeting went mostly well until the last 30 seconds. Let me digress for a moment. Lately, I’ve been really clumsy and have been misjudging my special awareness. For example, a couple of weeks ago I ran right into a filing cabinet. I was fresh out of a meeting with my director that completely got derailed and I got no answers that I needed. Still distracted from the meeting, I ran right into the edge of this filing cabinet near my desk. I had skinned my wrist and had a bruise so large it looked like I had a baseball growing out of my bone but I didn’t even notice til several hours later. Three days later, I was chopping up some veggies and I sliced about a quarter inch right into my finger, through the nail! I had to wear a band-aid on this for a week because it kept bleeding. I’ve been walking into door frames, walls and the foot of my bed for about two weeks because my mind is so pre-occupied with what I’m going to do about my job situation. This all started when I placed an open 1 liter water bottle into my bag, after forgetting to close the top, which subsequently flooded my bag and broke my cell phone.

So now, back to the story – I’m sitting at the meeting table with Jonathan at his office. We’d just finished our discussion and I was packing up to leave. As I put my notebook into my bag I perched up on the edge of the leather rolling chair. All of a sudden – WHOOOOSH – the chair completely rolls out under me, flips forward so the legs face behind me and hits a bookshelf with the momentum of the fall. I, of course, land right on my ass on the concrete floor, hitting my head on the back of the chair and was completely dumfounded. Awesome way to end a meeting with someone you just met. I stood up, wiped off my butt and walked out like nothing happened. Then, I proceeded to laugh at myself the whole drive home and again when I recounted the story to Ernie.

Now, onto the product review. While in the factory for Element Bars, which are custom made energy bars, he shared with me a bar made of a datey core, chocolate chips, nuts and whey protein. I waited until later that weekend to try the bar and share it with Ernie. It was really tasty! Unlike normal energy bars, this one is custom made, hand molded and packaged in custom wrappers all right in Chicago. There aren’t any preservatives and doesn’t taste chalky, chewy and dusty like many other bars do. I’d highly recommend going onto the site to build your own custom 12 bars where you can start off with the core, add fruits, nuts, sweets and then a boost. Within a few days, the bars will arrive to your doorstep.

Casa de la Empanadas

Usually my restaurant reviews are about moderately good to excellent restaurants. Well, I’m gonna shake things up a bit and tell you about a restaurant I would completely recommend against to anyone. We were up at Ernie’s and driving down to my place and decided to stop into one of the neighborhood joints for some dinner. There are a lot of restaurants between our places that look interesting.

We went to Casa de la empanadas, a small Chilean restaurant owned by a family who immigrated here maybe 10 years ago. We were seated by the owner and served by the owner’s mother-in-law.

Ernie had the empanadas to start. It was a pretty large empanada stuffed with ground beef and onions. Glutoids must avoid as the exterior of the empanada is made with flour. As an appetizer, you’re served homemade bread (made by mother-in-law) with salsa. I hear the bread was pretty good, tasted homemade but much better with the salsa piled on top.

As entrees, we asked the owner for recommendations and ended up with the Pastel de Choclo and the Paella. I have to say, neither of these were any good. The Pastel de Chocolo is like a little pot pie with chicken, olives and a few other surprises topped with a corn meal that was so thick and heavy that we probably gained a pound from the corn meal alone. The Paella was made with clams, mussels, shrimp while the salmon advertised on the menu was missing. Not only did the shrimp taste like the frozen jumbo-bag from Costco, the clams and mussels could have easily been in the kitchen for a couple of weeks. Nothing like seafood that’s not fresh. Plus, the rice was super salty and probably reheated in the microwave.

Aside from the food, we should have realized this may not have lived up to expectations since we were the only patrons in the restaurant. It’s cheap and cheesy decorations that were probably left over from whatever watering hole used to be there. You can see from the picture that a man and woman (complete with a coconut bra) are painted on top of a beach landscape next to the tiki-hut-turned-bar.

The only glimmer of hope is that Time Out Chicago 2006 said to try the Sandwiches with homemade bread. But not for us gluten-free gals.

Casa de la Empanadas
4009 N Elston Ave.

The last empanadas I had were in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. Yasmin and I happened upon the most amazing empanada shop with more choices you could ever imagine!!! If you’re ever wandering the streets of Uruguay wondering if you could get a good empanada, just check out the mini-flier below and find your way to the shop near Punta’s bus station!

And this is at my last empanada supper.  December 2008. Photo by Yasmin.

Dinner at Dunlays then desserts at Yoberri

It was such a nice day yesterday that we decided to walk down to Dunlays at Clark and Wrightwood. They have my favorite salad in the city – the Wrightwood salad. Sometimes I crave the salad on warm Sunday mornings when you can sit in the patio area and watch all of the Lincoln Park dog and stroller walkers go by. We sat outside briefly until we realized it wasn’t really warm enough to sit outside - right as a gust of wind carried our menus away.

Once inside in the dim-lit environs, I was disappointed to learn that the guacamole dish is only seasonal and wasn’t on the menu in this warm day in March. We opted for the spinach dip instead which was actually quite good. It also has artichoke mixed into the light cheesy sauce. It’s a healthy portion for two but we finished it anyway.

The Wrightwood salads are just as good as I remembered. The roasted chicken, corn and red peppers on top of a fresh spring salad mix with crumbled goat cheese, craisins and almonds tossed in a light vinaigrette is so delicious. If you’re gluten-free, you’ll have to ask the server to skip the four croutons that finish off the garnish.

On our walk back to the condo, we stopped in for a sweet treat at Yoberri. I was a really bad influence on Ernie yesterday who determined he was going back on the Clean program after how crummy we’ve been feeling about our bodies. I have been having a taste for frozen yogurt and ice cream so badly that we’ve eaten 4 servings in the last 5 days.

Yoberri is a cheap knockoff of Pinkberry that hasn’t yet made its way to the Midwest. I asked the lone man working the 500 sq foot location whether this was franchise or a single location. He affirmed it was a single location, yet when I googled it today, I found several other locations dotted along the west coast. Guess he didn’t know too much.

The minimalist décor and lack of other patrons made me wonder how well the store is doing, seeing as it still has yet to buy and mount a permanent sign for the façade. There are three tables that look like wooden shadowbox frames. In each table sits four bright pink and green fake gerbera daisies which add some brightness and color to the plain white walls. The frozen yogurt was sour at first bite. To add some sweetness, we added three toppings: mango, strawberry and mochi. The yoberri was pretty good, albeit it not nearly as good as Pinkberry. My favorite topping used to be the fruity pebbles – but since going gluten free, you gotta stick to the fruits instead of the cereals. At $4.70 for the small size, I’d rather walk the mile north to Cafe Latakia whose pistachio ice cream was so good that it was the best consolation for Ernie after he had two screws put into his tibia.

Dunlays on Clark
2600 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: 773-883-6000

2814 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 348-3762

Café Latakia
3204 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 929-6667

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A little MIA

Sorry readers, I've been a little MIA the last couple of weeks. I have a lot to catch you up on. Check back for more posts shortly...

Revolution Brewing

Ernie and I met up with Dan and Kelly for dinner at Revolution Brewing Company last Sunday. Don’t let the ‘blog-like’ website probably made on WordPress deter you from heading over to this brew house. You might think that brew houses wouldn’t be good for glutoids – but think again. This was exactly the same thought I had when Ernie pointed out the joint a few weeks ago and mentioned wanting to go there. My reaction, “I’m not going there. You can check it out with your friends.”

Good thing I was wrong, and good thing Dan and Kelly recommended to go here or I would have missed out.

The dining environment is very well planned and decorated. We sat in extra high wooden backed booths that made for an extremely private experience. The secluded feeling was probably better for the other patrons, as it certainly buffered our constant laughing and ridiculously non-adult story telling. Even though we were totally engrossed in our conversation, I did take the time to admire the detail of the décor. The ceiling is covered in beveled square panels which add much more texture to the lofted ceiling. The lights hang in metal orbs that you can kind of see in the picture to the right.  The beer glass bottle sculpture hanging over the front doorway is also an interesting addition to the brewery motif.

I wasn’t entirely hungry since we had just eaten at Aurelio’s Pizza (my favorite gluten-free pizza) just a few hours before. I did opt for the Goat cheese Croquette Salad. You have to ask for the goat cheese to be fresh and not formed into croquettes (which are breaded and fried). It’s served on arugula, fuji apples sliced like French fries, lightly candied pecans, sliced radishes and a delicious sherry mustard vinaigrette. I highly recommend this salad. As for other menu items, you could probably eat any of the sandwiches/burgers (no bun of course) which all looked equally delicious. If you’re gluten-free, you’ll have to avoid the pizzas, and all other breaded items like Ernie’s fish ‘n chips. I can’t say there are too many gluten-free options, but hey, it’s a brewery… At least you’ve become accustomed to asking for modifications to the menu and the friendly staff at Revolution Brewing is pleasantly willing to cater to your needs.

Revolution Brewing LLC
2323 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 227-BREW [2739]


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Gage Restaurant

I treated Ernie to a little celebration at The Gage for passing his Project Management Certification Exam last Saturday. He’s been studying diligently for several months so we took the moment to enjoy his achievements.

I made a reservation using Open Table which proves to be a pretty simple process and I’d recommend it if you prefer online reservations rather than calling in.

The décor of the restaurant is classy and simple with fine white linens, dim lit lights and dark furniture and very slippery floors. The waiters look like they are 50’s style paperboys with slicked comb-over hairdo’s. I suppose that our busboy was the only one who didn’t fit in. He had a mini-semi-mohawk where the hair was gelled up into the center line of his head but the hair wasn’t shaven down on the sides. I don’t know if that description even makes sense but I suppose it’s rather unimportant.

To start, we ordered the Mussels. This was the highlight of our meal! The menu says “vindaloo, toast”. The vindaloo is in reference for the delicious orange sauce that the mussels were served in. It tasted quite like the sauce on a chicken tiki masala but much thinner and seemingly healthier. The toast was this really long piece of bread they draped over the bowl of mussels. If you’re a glutoid, you probably want to ask for this on the side so the bread crumbs don’t fall into the bowl. It was inevitable – we drank the sauce with a spoon because it was simply so delicious.

For the main course, I had the caramelized lobster served on lemon quiona with basil and chili. It was a smaller portion (3 oz of lobster) but quite filling especially after the oysters. The lobster was fresh and tender. The quinoa had a little lemon zest. I’m not sure where thee chili comes into play because I didn’t really see it in the bowl – maybe it was a powder that they mixed into the quinoa. The best spoonfuls had a little caramelized lobster, a bite of quinoa and basil. This combination of flavors was the perfect savory and sweet bite.

For sides, we ordered Roasted Woodland Mushrooms and Crisp Potatoes with Brie. Both sides were served in small cast iron dishes. The mushrooms were extremely fresh and lightly roasted. The Crisp Potatoes were another highlight of our meal. The melted brie on Yukon potatoes was excellent. Be sure to eat them quickly because when the brie cools down, they’re not quite as delicious.

Ernie ordered the Door County Whitefish. It was pan-seared with cinnamon browned butter vinaigrette which gave it a slightly sweet flavor with the delicate whitefish. The fish was served on a bed of some mashed vegitable that we couldn’t place since it tasted lighter than potato, a hint of a butternut squash or maybe even pumpkin or yam. After asking the server we learned it was a pureed rutabaga. The sweetness of the cinnamon browned butter flowed into the pureed rutabaga and was a lovely compliment of flavors.

Even though were completely stuffed, we still went on to order the selection of ice cream. They serve three scoops in one bowl so of course we opted for three flavors. The homemade ice creams were well worth the calories. Today’s selection was strawberry (which looked more like a vanilla with fresh strawberry chunks), peanut butter caramel (whole on spoonfuls of yummy peanut butter) and dark Dutch chocolate that was so decadent and rich.

The Gage turned out to be the perfect place for a special meal.  However, I wouldn't go on any ole weekend since it is actually quite pricey.

The Gage
24 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago IL 60603
Tel: 312.372.4243

Monday, March 8, 2010

Velocity Diet vs. Clean Program

In the ring, we have VELOCITY diet from April 2008  and CLEAN program from February 2010   Ready, Set, Fight!!!

And the winner is… The Clean Program!

To give you a bit of a recap on the Velocity diet, I went on this back in April of 2008 to lose some stubborn fat around my stomach area. This was right after I returned from a two week jaunt around the southern part of Africa. I had been working out with my trainer Randy since January and we thought this was the time to push through those last five pounds.

The diet is basically 3-5 protein shakes per day. You can drink chicken broth and eat green veggies as well. Sometimes I made hot soups for lunch so you weren’t the weirdo only drinking a protein shake in the corner of the meeting. For a solid 4 weeks, you can only consume these protein shakes (I used the Metabolic Drive brand) and veggies. Once per week and only for ONE meal, you can have a balanced diet of protein and veggies. No fruits, grains, starches, alcohol, dairy, etc.

The diet gets old REALLY fast. In fact, I couldn't even make it through the full 4th week.  There are only so many combinations of Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla and Banana shakes that you can handle. I tried every combo you could think of. The best are Chocolate Banana, Strawberry Banana and Strawberry Vanilla. Each flavor is also fine on its own. If you’re hard core, you can use bovine protein (blood protein) for faster absorption and less work for your digestive system to really enhance the benefits of velocity diet. I will warn you; however, that bovine protein tastes and looks like you are drinking mucus. You really start missing solid foods, fruits and starches like rice and potatoes. 

The worst part is... if you think the first three days on CLEAN are bad... you have NO idea what's coming to you with the Velocity Diet.  After the 3rd day drinking shakes, your body basically expells anything that's been backed up in your digestive system.  For two solid says, you're on the pot and letting go of all that crap stored in your cells, any food still lagging in your intestines and your ability to function like a normal human being because you're always rushing to the bathroom.

On the upside, I did lose some weight – but the most significant weight loss was from Day 1 to Day 3. After that, no significant weight loss.  However sticking to the diet solidifies the weight loss. Additionally, you are trading up your fat to muscle so the actual number on the scale doesn’t matter. I did slim down significantly and increased my muscle mass. 

CLEAN (read my recap of CLEAN) still wins in the end. Since you’re able to eat a solid meal every day rather than just one day per week, this keeps you feeling full and allows you to feel like you’re still eating something. Plus, with the veggies, fruits and grains included in CLEAN, you feel like you’re getting a lot of the natural vitamins that you miss in the Velocity Diet (even though you’re taking tons of vitamins in pill form on the V-Diet). Plus, with the CLEAN program, you not only lose the fat weight, you also feel much more energized, crave junk food less and in general feel healthier with clear skin, less mucus, and regular bowel movements.  You'll notice that I experienced the classic 'plateau' in weight a week or so into the program - but Dr. Junger is correct when he says you'll break through that plateau for some final weight loss.

From my nice little graph here, you can see that I lost weight on both programs.

The sad thing I realized after plotting this graph is that my ending weight of CLEAN is the beginning weight of the Velocity diet. After a quick analysis of what happened from May 2008 to Jan 2010, I realized I gained almost a full ten pounds. This was caused by what I’ll call “my single life.” My boyfriend of ~5 years and I broke up at the end of 2007. Therefore, I was going out to meals with my friends, dating, hanging out at bars (which increases late-night eating) and traveling as much as possible in order to fulfill all of that extra time I had recently found myself with. Over the course of this time, I got fat again. I didn’t really notice except my pants were getting tighter and I avoided wearing my shirts that cut off circulation at the sleeves.

In any case, I’m now down to my March 2008 weight. In fact, today I broke through the barrier of 118 lbs (my high-side goal) and weighed in at a 2010 low of 117.8 lbs! As you may recall, I set my 2010 goal weight of 115-118 lbs this year. Ladies and Gents, I’ve accomplished one of my 2010 New Year’s Resolutions, Goal #3.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I’ve wanted to try this restaurant called Mercadito since I hear many rave reviews about the food. Amy, Eugene, Ernie and I had a feast last night! The décor is very stylish with geometric objects hanging on the walls in a patterned design, dim lit lights and warm tones of gold, cream and bronze.

The menu was a little difficult to understand, but after awhile we were able to decipher what was going on. To start, we ordered two guacamoles: tradicional and camote which has cinnamon spiced sweet potato, roasted jalapenos and toasted pumpkin seeds. The camote sounds like it would be very eclectic and different, but it wasn’t anything out-landish. It had a little spicy kick to it and you could taste a hint of the sweet potato, but on the whole it was a slight variation to the tradicional guacamole.

We also ordered two ceviches: camaron (shrimp) and dorado (mahi mahi). Both were excellent and very fresh if you like ceviches. The mahi mahi melted in your mouth. Our appetizers were served with homemade slightly warm tortilla chips and a graham-cracker like flatbread. If you’re a glutoid, avoid the graham-cracker as I am sure gluten is involved.

For the main course, we ordered three taco plates (they come 4 per plate) along with two side vegetables. Since the tacos are plated by fours, it was perfect for the four of us to taste one of each! We had the pastor (pork with grilled pineapple), carne (skirt steak) and pescado (tilapia). Each of the tacos was better than the other, and served with freshly made corn tortillas.

Platanos Machos and Elote Mexicano (Mexican style corn on the cob) were the vegetables of choice. The plantains were deliciously fried with a green sauce that added a little kick. The corn was roasted to perfection with a drizzling of mayo, paprika and maybe some parmesan cheese. Though the mixture sounds kind of disgusting, I assure you that the roasted corn on the cob was a balanced mix of savory and sweet.

After we consumed all of that food, along with wine and beer, we still decided to order two more things… In comes the other pork taco called "carnitas." We also ordered the corn masa quesadillas that had Oaxaca-manghego cheeses, tamarind shrimp, plantain and wild mushrooms. When the dish arrived to our table, we thought the server got the order wrong because they looked like empanadas. She assured us these were the quesadillas, as empanadas would be more triangular than the half-circular quesadillas awaiting. Boy were those quesadillas deee-lish-us! The corn tortilla was so fresh and warm and the mix of plantains and mushrooms with a hint of mild cheeses created an excellent aroma which enhanced the taste on my tongue.

I would highly recommend going, but be sure to make a reservation. Even on a Wednesday night at 6:45pm, the place was hoppin’ and every table filled with jovial young-professionals sharing secrets over flights of guacamole.

Thank you Amy and Eugene for the hands-down the best meal we've eaten in a month!

Mercadito Chicago
108 West Kinzie Street
Chicago, IL 60654-4508
(312) 329-9555

Monday, March 1, 2010

You know your condo is messy when...

I really must be losing it.

Last night circa 11:30pm, I couldn't find my purse. My 2 bed / 2 bath condo is not very large and I scoured it for my well-worn Kate Spade to no avail. Before reaching full-panic-mode, I called Ernie. We confirmed that I must have left the black-and-white Noel print purse on the counter at Whole Foods after we took a snack break. I was feeling very anxious as I hate losing anything - much less my wallet that has all kinds of valuable information such as credit cards and my driver's license. UGH.

I quickly looked up Whole Foods' website to see when the Boys Town location would open in the morning. Phew, 8am. I could get to Whole Foods and still make it to work by 9am, provided that I found my purse.

With so much anxiety, I couldn't fall asleep until 1:30am. Three wacky dreams about finding my purse, not finding my purse, finding a purse but not my purse... I had a very restless night to say the least. It was 5am and I woke up without being able to fall asleep despite my exhaustion and knowing I had 3 hours til opening time at WF. I laid in bed until 5:45am when I finally gave in to my alertness.

After showering, I unloaded the dishwasher, folded laundry, and cleaned the kitchen. By 7:30am, I was on to cleaning the living room. Under a pile of jewelry making supplies and the binder that holds our cost sheets and excess inventory... low-and-behold = my purse.

I had remembered to bring home my purse from Whole Foods after all.

It's really bad when your place is so messy that you begin to think you've left your most valued possessions at the grocery store. I hope I don't find myself leaving my kids there in a few years.

Gwyneth Paltrow on CLEAN

My Co-Worker Jessica gave me this magazine article from the Jan 11, 2010 issue of US.   This was a comparison of several diets including The Blueprint Cleanse, Jenny Craig, Five Squares and The Skinnygirl Dish.  The text on the above image is rather small so here's what it says:

If you... Have big goals and bigger willpower
Try: The Clean Program
What it is: This doctor-devised three-week plan requries you to have two shakes and one meal a day (1100 to 1500 calories).  ($350, cleanprogram.com)

Celeb Fans: Donna Karan, Gwyneth Paltrow

Sample Menu:
Breakfast: Shake made from brown-rice protein powder, plus herbal supplements in pill form to curb cravings and facilitate fat burning

Lunch: Stir-fried chicken and veggies with buckwheat noodles plus herbal supplements. Vegetarian option: Cucumber and carrot slices served with hummus, tabbouleh and marinated kale with radish and pine nuts, plus herbal supplements. (Recipes are included with the plan.)

Dinner: Shake made from brown-rice protein powder, plus more herbal supplements.

PROS: Weight loss is pretty much garanteed if you follow it.
CONS: You might be hungry and likely to regain pounds after.

"I dropped the extra pounds," Paltrow wrote after finishing The Clean Program.  "I feel pure and happy and much lighter."

I agree with Paltrow. You do drop some extra pounds and feel much lighter.  In fact, I lost a pant size and rewarded myself with a new pair of jeans (to replace the two that ripped in the last two months).  I just hope I still fit into the jeans once I'm off the plan.  I will continue to keep some of the habits including liquid dinners every now and then and the 12 hour span between dinner and the next day's breakfast to enhance the natural detox.