Chicago Day 2: Boat Trips

I’m linked up today and for the rest of the month in the 31 Days Challenge at The Nester. By clicking the tab at the top of the page, you can easily access all of the 31 Days in Chicago posts. If you’ve got a story to tell about your experiences in Chicago, I welcome guest posts. Join the fun by emailing me, or if you’re not ready to write, go to The Nester’s web site to follow some other stories this month.

Despite its Midwest location, Chicago has several boat tour options that can jump start a vacation — or a staycation. We have a fabulous skyline when seen from Lake Michigan, and the architectural tours that go up the Chicago River are equally fun.

Chicago River Architecture Tour

The granddaddy of all the current tour operators is the Wendella Sightseeing Company. Started in 1935, Wendella’s dock at 400 N. Michigan Ave. is easily accessible for tourists as it is right by the piers of the Michigan Avenue bridge. Wendella operates a Chicago River Architecture tour, a combined Lake and River tour, and a Sunset Lake Cruise.

Shoreline Sightseeing is almost as old as Wendella (1939) and now departs from a convenient dock in the Navy Pier Gateway Park. I have also taken this cruise and their open  top deck held a lot of passengers without any impediments to the view. You don’t have to worry about which side of the boat you are on since you can see both sides from the deck, and their guides were very good.

A newer entry into the cruise tour market, Chicago Line Cruises uses a dock at 465 N. McClurg Court, about halfway between Shoreline and Wendella. As you can see from their trendy web site, they are doing a lot to entice customers to their cruises. I took both the river and lake tours recently and they were upbeat and informative.

There are also water taxis that operate from the train stations via the Chicago River, and then there’s the Seadog cruises. I’ve never done these cruises, but they look like fun for the adventurous. 🙂

For the more sedate among you, the Tall Ship Adventures ships also go out into Lake Michigan for various cruises. There are three docking locations along the lakefront including Navy Pier and at the museum campus. When I took this tour with family members, we were disappointed to find that although the sails were up, we were always motoring. Still, it’s a fun trip for children who have grown up with Pirates of the Caribbean.

Finally, for the romantics among you, dinner cruises are available on the Spirit of Chicago, the Odyssey, and Mystic Blue. All three are beautiful large yachts with full dinner service, bars, and often dancing and music while you are out on the lake. For a couple of hours, you can pretend to be rich and party like a celebrity.

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Chicago Day 1: Sepia Restaurant

I’m linked up today and for the rest of the month in the 31 Days Challenge at The Nester. By clicking the tab at the top of the page, you can easily access all of the 31 Days in Chicago posts.

If you’ve got a story to tell about your experiences in Chicago, I welcome guest posts. Join the fun by emailing me, or if you’re not ready to write, go to The Nester’s web site to follow some other stories this month.

From its hidden-away front door to its sexy bathroom, Sepia is a treat for anyone who finds it. Every detail is important to the ambiance of this West Loop restaurant carved out of an old print shop. Its cocktails are creative and delicious and its wine cellar is carefully curated to match the menu. Even the coasters (which I desperately wanted to steal but didn’t) are thematic. Sepia is a total experience.

And the food speaks for itself. The Sepia menu is seasonal and inspired.

House made charcuterie selection

Carnaroli risotto, beets, walnuts, pecorino pecato, pickled lemon

Grilled albacore tuna, squid ink couscous, berbere spice

Halibut, sweet corn, fingerling potatoes, crispy onions, curry

Selection of three domestic cheeses

Our anniversary dessert — a nutella mousse

In addition to the beautiful main dining room, Sepia also has a private room available for rent. I took a photo through the door and even empty, it was stunning.

Sometimes I wonder if celebrity executive chefs (Iron Chef) actually are a part of the day-to-day operations of a restaurant, but it seems that Andrew Zimmerman really put his heart and soul into Sepia.

P.S. I’m still struggling with the gaucheness of taking photos in elegant restaurants, and we took these photos with my iPhone. I know they’re not perfect, but they didn’t cause the other people in the restaurant to roll their eyes at us.

October 2012 Challenge

I’ll be linking up with The Nester again this year for the 31 Days Challenge — and what better travel destination to choose than my own beloved city? I’ve combed through my archives and I have lots of beautiful Chicagoland sites to share with you, as well as a whole bunch of restaurants. Some will be new to you and some may be old favorites.

If you’d like to join me as a cheerleader for the home team, I’d love some guest posts about your experiences in our fair (but sometimes windy) city. Just email me — my link is in the contact box on the right. Just send me your photos and text, and I can format the post for you.

Last year I just about killed myself with magazine-style articles about places in Europe that we visited. I’m hoping to keep this year’s posts shorter, with lots of photography. You know that I love a challenge; I think I’m ready to introduce you to my Sweet Home Chicago. See you Monday!

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I’m migrating most of my personal posts over to my other blog — watch for more travel and restaurant posts here.

Retirement 365

The Men I Didn’t Marry (2007) by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger

After being summarily dumped by her husband of 21 years, Hallie first falls into a depression. Then she decides to get back in touch with four former boyfriends to see what she missed when she chose the one who turned out to be a womanizer and a cheat. Although filled with typical chick-lit cliches, the novel moves quickly through Hallie’s soul-searching. It’s your basic beach read, but fun for a quick look at a story about a woman who successfully navigates through a separation and emerges whole. 3/5 Stars

The Lion in Winter (1968) starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole

When Terri suggested that I add The Lion in Winter to my English costume drama queue, I put it in the back of my mind, but didn’t rush out to get it from the library, as I had…

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Photo Stories: DSLR 101 Fail

I put another notch in my retirement bedpost today.

No, not that kind of notch. I actually turned my new DSLR camera off of the automatic setting and tried to take some pictures on manual. I thought that before I go to camera club with the other retirees, I should actually learn how to use my camera. 🙂  I was inspired by Nan’s post on Silver Magpies — and she photographed some cherry tomatoes in a silver bowl for Facebook, so I thought I would try it too.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as successful on my first try, so I tried again.

And again.

I was still unhappy with what I was getting, so I took it in the “flower” mode on the pre-programmed settings. It may have even flashed, but I don’t think so.

According to the book I got from the library, an ISO of 2000 is crazy, even in the low light of my dining room. I’d appreciate any suggestions from my readers… clearly I haven’t figured out this manual setting thing at all. If you click into the photos, I’ve put the settings I used on each photo.

I do love the juxtaposition of the simple cherry tomatoes against the silver compote and the lace tablecloth, though. Thanks, Nan!

One step at a time, baby. That’s what I keep telling myself.

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Retirement 365

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering what to do with all of that basil in your garden.

Make pesto!

First you need to gather together your ingredients — you probably already have them in your house.

Put in all in the food processor and chop till smoothish.

Note: If you are freezing some of it, don’t put the cheese in. Small deli tubs or small plastic bags hold the perfect amount — I fill the ziploc bag, flatten it, label it, and put it on a tray to freeze flat for easy storage. Add the cheese when you defrost the pesto.

Boil up some whole wheat pasta, put the fresh pesto on top and garnish with fresh tomato, more cheese, and basil leaves. It’s an easy, healthy, and yummy meal.

There are many recipes for basil pesto on the internet. Here’s Food Network’s version, which I use often.

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The Sunday Review

Cadillac Records  (2008) directed by Darnell Martin, starring Adrian Brody, Jeffrey Wright, and Beyonce Knowles

Where I Got It: Music Man picked it out at the library.

Genre: Musical biopic, DVD

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Amazon gives it four stars and so do I, but if you’re interested in the stories of early recording artists, this is a good movie for you. Cadillac Records tells the story of Chess Records and its importance to the growth of rock and roll. I’ve always wanted to go to the museum, and this movie reminded me to put it on my list. I gave it four stars because there’s some important history either left out or reworked to make the story have more box office appeal. The actors are compelling and it was fun to see Adrian Brody when he wasn’t being The Pianist or Salvador Dali.

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Where I Got It: Library

Genre: Historical Fiction

My Rating: 4/5 stars

It’s not a perfect story, but it’s not about a perfect person either. Kate Alcott used a real-life survivor of the sinking of the Titanic to create a historical fiction novel about a young dressmaker who hitches her star to famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. While the publication of this novel was clearly timed to coordinate with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, it’s still worth a read. I encourage you to read Kate Alcott’s essay on the Amazon site about why she chose this topic.

Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

Where I Got It: Library

Genre: Romance with a little Mystery thrown in

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Love in a Nutshell wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. It’s very light reading with a typical innocent romance between a needy female and a strong handsome male. I couldn’t find any other articles about this book online, but as several of the Amazon reviewers say, the book doesn’t have much Janet in it. It feels like she put her famous name on a friend’s story to help it sell. It has a super cute cover, though. 🙂

The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Where I Got It: Netflix

Genre: Action Adventure, Mystery

My Rating: 5/5 stars

I finished up the Swedish versions of the trilogy via Netflix; I was totally hooked. I loved how Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist just picked up where they left off in the first movie and developed Stieg Larsson’s characters even more. I watched them all the way through in two sittings. Totally recommended!

Cannery Row (1982) starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger

Where I Got It: Music Man got it from the library

Genre: Fiction/Musical

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Imagine John Steinbeck’s novels (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) turned into a stage play filmed as a movie. It’s an interesting construct that in my opinion worked very well. Nolte and Winger are believable as the crusty scientist Doc and the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Suzy, and they are surrounded with a cast of equally strong actors. In researching this movie I found out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dreams was also based on Cannery Row and I thought I knew everything about RnH. If you decide to check out Cannery Row, just remember that I’m a musical theater nut and that may have colored my rating, but some reviewers called it underrated.

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With my apologies to those who are receiving this in multiple formats — I appreciate your support of my writing!

Retirement 365

They say it takes three weeks to break a habit and apparently I’m living proof of that.

I’ve lost the I’m-crabby-about-work mentality that has driven my every waking moment for years. I’m not angry anymore — and unless provoked by someone who wants to disrespect the teaching profession,  I’m ready to move on to something that interests me more. I’m cured, and apparently it shows in my face. Several people this week have commented on the fact that my whole demeanor is less stressed and more calm. I’ve broken my crabby habit.

On the surface life now seems pretty boring.

As I’m sitting down to write and eat my leftover squash casserole from last night, I’m realizing that my days are starting to have a pattern. I get up at a reasonable 7:00 ish, check my social media sources, make a healthy breakfast, and then embark on the project of…

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Photo Stories

The Sunday Review

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noël Riley Fitch

Where I Got It: Library paperback (500 pgs. of text, 69 pgs. of appendices)

Genre: Biography

My Rating: 5/5 for a discriminating palette

Noël Riley Fitch’s 1997 biography of Julia Child is not for the faint of heart.

It’s also not for the casual reader wanting to know a little something about this icon of the food world. It’s a dense, almost scholarly tome that has been researched and curated to give a comprehensive look at a woman who many of us think we know.

And it’s full of pithy Julia Child-isms.

Food is the live entertainment of the future (498).

It’s a shame to be caught up in something that doesn’t absolutely make you tremble with joy! (480)

I don’t think pleasure is decadent. It’s part of life, it’s the juice of life, it’s the reason for living, for everything we do! (460)

Only Moses disrupting the Red Sea caused more commotion than Julia Child’s hike down the housewares-jammed aisles of McCormick Place in Chicago. She fingered, squeezed, patted, bent, and lifted the new appliances, skillets, and microwaves at the National Housewares Manufacturers Association semiannual exhibition. (418)

She is a tomorrow person, not a yesterday person. (407)

Anyone who wants to read this book will already have read Julie and Julia and My Life in France, or at least have seen the movie.  Appetite for Life covers that time as well, but then goes on to finish the story that we didn’t get in those books.

If you are a foodie, you will love this book. Lots and lost of important people in foodie history are named and dissected and Julia Child’s life is examined in minute detail. Published in 1997 before her 2004 death, it doesn’t take you to the bitter end, but there’s a pretty long history of a woman who helped to change the way Americans look at food.

When Julia returned to the United States from her time in Europe, she was horrified to find all of the convenience products that American women were buying — she said they were shopping in the center aisles instead of the outside aisles where fresh produce was waiting. (242) I can really relate to this because I hardly ever go into the middle aisles anymore; I cruise the produce and meat sections for most of what I buy these days. The thing is, Julia Child was saying this in the early 1960s.

One of the good things about getting to be sixty is that you make up your mind not to drink any more rotgut wine. (368)

She is also a woman who reinvented herself in the second half of her life, and for me, it’s a personal motivator to think that perhaps I can also reinvent myself. And I don’t ever have to drink bad wine again. 🙂

My next Julia book: As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

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