Wednesday, September 30, 2009

drinking in fashion…

Since not all of my readers subscribe to Serious Eats, I wanted to share a “hot from Paris fashion-week” post by Adam Kuban.

Christian Louboutin and Piper-Heidsieck are collaborating, releasing a special branded Champagne package, combining my two favorite things: shoes and champagne in my favorite colors red and black.

In celebration of this launch, Louboutin designed a sexy glass stiletto with his signature red sole. It will come in a limited-edition gift box along with a red-swathed bottle of champagne.

It will be available from Colette in Paris at 213, rue St-Honoré, on October 26.

I hope that one can order these on-line from Colette…I will let you know...

Cheers to fashion and bubbly …!

Monday, September 21, 2009

a september sunday...

After seeing the movie last night about my fellow alumni from the Art Institute of Chicago, Georgia O’Keefe, I realized that I needed a breather from my usual routine to get my creative “mojo” working. An afternoon near the water always centers me and clears my mind to see the beauty around me. It was interesting for me to see that Ms. O’Keefe graduated in 1903 and I graduated in 2003… 100 years apart, and yet...
So, if there is any karma there, I could really use it these days, but I digress...

Early Sunday morning, I packed up my little red car and headed east on 95th Street to the first stop going toward the lake, the Beverly Farmer’s Market.

This tiny Farmer’s Market is tucked in iron-gated parking lot that is surrounded by trees, which gives it a country feel and drowns out the noise from busy 95th Street and Longwood Drive. Although small in size, there was nothing lacking about the quality, quantity and diversity of the produce that was on offer here.

The jumbo tomatoes were fresh from the vine, still covered in soil, there were fragrant melons, late sweetcorn with tassels as yellow and silky as Rapunzel’s hair, squashes that renged from the miniature patty-pan to the large beautiful big and blue Hubbard, fresh-picked herbs and at least a dozen of types apples that all begged for attention. Other booths offered fresh baked goods; farm-made cheeses, homemade jams, jellies, tomato and barbeque sauces and sweet and dill pickles whose glowing jewel colors reminded me to get busy with my own canning.

The bright orange of shelves of early pumpkins and crates of multi-colored decorative gourds whisper that in spite of the mellow 78-degree weather, autumn is right around the bend. The gourds that one farmer produced where the most whimsical and colorful on any I had seen so far this year, even at Chicago Green City Market and that is saying a great deal. Needless to say, I purchased quite a few as decoration as well to be photographic subjects in my studio.
After I completed my purchase at the Farm Market, it was still too early for my planned lunch at Calumet Fisheries. So I took this opportunity to take a short tour of historic Beverly architecture focusing on Longwood Drive. The Beverly area is home to Givens Castle and of Chicago’s most exquisite historic mansions and estate properties, rivaled only by Chicago’s North Shore.

Given’s Castle is a replica of a castle from Ireland which was constructed in 1886 when an American businessman, Robert Givens, was trying to convince his Irish fiancee to move to the United States. He had a duplicate of her family castle built from limestone that was hauled from a quarry near Joliet in a horse drawn wagons.
Givens Castle is located at 10244 Longwood Drive, and has been a home, an all-girls college, and is now a Unitarian church and is proudly registered with the Smithsonian Institute as a historical landmark. It also is a highlighted destination of our local Ghost Tours that pass-by this time of year as it has been reported to be haunted.

Set along a hilltop ridge just west of Longwood Avenue, an area called the “hill of means”, one magnificent mansion after another proclaims that Beverly is anything but a typical Chicago neighborhood. Beverly is largest enclave of the architect’s Walter Burley Griffin–designed homes. Walter Burley Griffin and his architect wife Marion were the first employees of Frank Lloyd Wright and well known for his prairie style houses.

But there variety in the styles of these imposing mansions; ranging from Prairie School, Queen Anne Victorian, Jacobean, Colonial and everything in-between. It is also known as the eastern Beverly Hills and this gracious suburban neighborhood is well worthy of its “California-esgue” nick-name.

The sunny picture-perfect skies of earlier had been replaced with a dull grey over-cast ceiling, so I left taking images of these stunning mansions for a more favorable day. I fully intend to return to savor these elegant homes, and I will then share my images of this jewel of Chicago's cultural landscape with you.

As the local church bells rang 12 noon, I headed down 95th towards the lake and Calumet Fisheries for lunch. Since I have previously written extensively about the wonderful food and people at the Fisheries when I posted fast food Friday…Calumet Fisheries this past July, I’ll limit this post to today’s experiences.

As soon as I pulled up to the humble fish shack, the air was redolent of the aroma of wood smoke so delicious you almost wanted to eat it. I ordered the cornmeal breaded fried shrimp that I had been “jones-ing” for as my lunch and some beautiful smoked salmon to take home for later in the week.

I was also thrilled to see that Calumet Fisheries finally had smoked chubs, which were woefully absent on my last visit. Naturally, I ordered several of these to take home as well. The smoked chubs have been a long time fave of mine since my dear dad first brought them home from here one night when he worked nearby on solving a power outage. (He worked for ComEd.)

While my order was being cooked, I went outside to take some images of the urban landscape. I am a sucker for the bridges and water towers that surround the river. As I was photographing, red lights started to flash and alarm bells sounded. The bridge was going up to allow a sailboat with a tall mast that needed to pass under it go by. I know that it may sound silly, but it was kind of exciting to watch this huge bridge “dance” and hold up traffic for this diminutive sailboat.

Once the bridge was back in place, I picked up my order and headed over it to the lake a few blocks to the east. By the time I pulled away, 8 or 10 more cars had pulled up to Calumet Fisheries and people had pulled out camp chairs or were sitting on the sidewalk or in their cars and were enjoy their fish riverside.
I could almost hear all the contented sighs...

Calumet Park is a lovely little pocket of recreational land on the lake that is not well known to Chicagoans. The Park has lovely walking and biking trails, ball fields, a Coast Guard Station, a boat ramp and a small beach with a bright blue beach house.

When I arrived, the lake was beautiful in her moody after-summer garment in colors of a million shades of blues and greens. The strong breezes were refreshing like they had been freshly laundered. The sky seemed to be in a battle between the autumnal blue-grey and golden light of summer as the light shifted eerily ever few minutes. The lakescape’s shifting shapes, colors and sounds inspired me as usual, but food-first…!

Perhaps it was just me, or a trick of the mind, but my shrimp dinner was tastier than ever and I ate more than usual sitting on my fluffy red towel on the sand. I spent many hours at the shore this lovely end-of-summer afternoon. The beach was deserted enough to provide the solitude that I was after for some much needed reflection.

I took enough images to satisfy my creative urges, some good, some mediocre, but some of my lost mojo returned if only for this day. The greens and the blues of the water and the unusual cleansing wind washed through my head and cleared some of the cobwebs.

I collected some lovely blue and gold stones for my birdbath, sat on the still warm sand relishing my delicious food in solitary bites. I walked the slim, long pier to its very end nearly a city block into the lake and felt the splash of the white-capped waves feeling almost a delicious sense of danger as the dark clouds came back overhead. I climbed a grassy hill high above the lake and watched the seagulls in my line of sight winding back and forth, playing happily in an air current only they could see.

My September Sunday where I went from farm to architectural beauty to fishery to lakeshore did not solve all that lay heavy on my mind and heart. However, it was a great way to start to look inward and then to look outward again and discover the beauty that lay just outside my door.

As summer comes to a close, I hope that you all find a day that you can call you own to discover life’s simplest pleasures and undiscovered treasures that will delight you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Guava…latin dining in the Chicago suburbs

The SW suburbs of Chicago have very limited choices for elegant dining. By elegant dining, I mean white linen tablecloths, cloths napkins, fresh, seasonal ingredients and attentive service.
Other than the Dan McGee Restaurant in Frankfort, Chef Paul Virant’s Vie in Western Springs, Chef Jerome Bacle’s Courtrights in Willow Springs, Chef Colin Turner’s Tin Fish in Tinley Park and Chef Burcenski’s Tallgrass in Lockport, there are very few fine dining choices, especially for lunch.

I had heard about a new restaurant called Guava that had opened in Westmont, Illinois where Chef Ricardo DeLeon combines the tastes from South America, Central America, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain, and I was very interested in trying out their menu.

Thanks to soon-to-be Chef Lindsey of the blog Lindsey’s Kitchen who reviewed Guava restaurant on her new blog Supper for Suburbanites I thought this might be the perfect place to take my mother for a lunch that I had long promised her. Tapas and Mojitos are high on her list of faves, so after checking out Guava’s on-line menu, we planned our luncheon.

As soon as we entered the restaurant, we were cordially greeted by the hostess and shown to our table. The interior space presented as warm with rich. The hardwood floors, subdued wall colors that were spiced with bright abstract art pieces that were highlighted with well-placed lighting effects were immediately welcoming and engaging.

The main dining area featured a well stocked bar tiled with earth-toned small glass tiles and ringed by soft orange glass-shaded pendant lights. Rich dark brown Weng wood contemporary chairs surrounded tables that were dressed to impress in pristine white linen cloths with chocolate brown napkins wrapping the utensils at each place. It made me feel like a specially invited guest. The ambiance here was definitely upscale and elegant, yet not at all stuffy.

Guava is known for their signature Mojito menu. We choose the Watermelon Mojitos with luscious chunks of fresh sweet watermelon and fragrant mint. As we sipped our cool sweet-scented drinks, we perused the Tapas menu and made our choices.

Although it was not listed on the Lunch Menu, I asked the waiter if I could possibly order the duck sope that I had seen on their website menu. She asked the chef and he was more than happy to oblige.

The pulled Duck was piled high on a miniature bowl made from sweet potato and garnished with peach salsa and queso fresco. The duck was very well seasoned and the smokey taste that was well balanced by the sweetness of the sweet fresh peach salsa and the crunchy sweet potato sope. The dabs of the fresh queso fresco cheese added richness to the entire tapas.
Queso fresco is fresh cow’s milk cheese that is moist, soft and crumbly.
Traditionally, a sope is a small fried corn-dough bowl, but this sope was made with sweet potatoes that added a new culinary dimension to the conventional Latin favorite

My mother loves squid cooked in any manner, so she was naturally seduced by the Calamari Frita. The crispy fried squid were perfect in their minimalistic presentation paired only with a roasted red and green hot and sweet peppers and a pinch of cilantro for a pop of color. I loved seeing that as the calamari were flashed fried, they seemed to result in individual edible sculptures.

On the side, we were serves a very generous portion of delicious dark-red, house-made smoked tomato salsa and freshly sliced lemons. The spicy and richly smoked flavored sauce was the perfect exclamation point for the gentle flavors of the crispy squid.

The waiter shared with us that the chef wood-smokes his own peppers and tomatoes for this sauce and other dishes. I complimented this sauce so much that the waiter brought out a container of it for me to take home.

Next, we ordered the pork carnitas. The delicately crisp and freshly made soft corn quesadillas surrounded shredded slow-cooked tender pork topped with sweet brown caramelized onions. The delicate quesadillas triangles were circularly drizzled with a house-made avocado and sour cream sauce and garnished with salsa fresco. Yum, just yum…

The spicy, smokey flavor of the pork was enhanced by the sweetness of the onions, and cooled by the creamy avocado and cold concase of tomatoes and onions of the salsa. These were the best quesadillas I have ever tasted, as the flavors were at the same time familiar and surprising….

We toyed with the idea of ordering the Shrimp cerviche as I had heard is was delicious, but decided to save room to split a dessert. The Banana Crème Pie on the menu has been touted on the internet as having won many awards so we decided to put it to our taste test.

We were served a very generous slice of the Banana Crème Pie. The pie itself in presentation was drizzled with a caramel and chocolate garnish with half a banana that had a crispy caramelize sugar crust. As I looked at the plate, I was mentally calculating how many miles I would have to do on the treadmill to work off this amazing sweet treat.

The Banana Crème was richer than any pudding as it stood on its own and had a mellow fruity flavor, made richer still with the fresh whipped cream pilled on top for (what seemed like) another several inches. I wasn’t able to sample the crust as it was made with wheat flour. But my mother said that she tasted chocolate and peanut butter in the dark and thick, crunchy crust. Yes, it is award wining for sure…sugar coma anyone…?
We washed down the delicious banana decadence with aromatic rich Columbian coffee and vowed to come again and taste some of the other offerings on the menu of Guava restaurant.

It is open daily from 11:00 AM - 12:00 AM. Reservations are not necessary, but are suggested for dinner. And Thursday night there is Salsa dancing...I am so there.

Merci beaucoup encore to Lindsey and her new blog Supper for Suburbanites. I met Chef Lindsey last week at the Foodbuzz Chicago Community Table dining experience at Tru restaurant and look forward to eating her superb dishes in the future.